Jim Williams: NHL, union running out of time

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Sports,NHL,Jim Williams

Here in the District, our focus is on the possibility of going over "the fiscal cliff" on Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the NHL is facing a cliff of its own.

If the league does not have a new deal in place by the end of the year, it, too, will be in trouble. The owners and the NHL Players' Association must craft a new collective bargaining agreement by New Year's Eve that will have teams back on the ice for a 50-game season. If they fail to come together, then it is likely the NHL will lose an entire season.

The league and its players association have returned to the table, this time with some help. Federal mediators Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney -- who first tried to bridge the gap between the sides Nov. 27 and 28 -- have rejoined the process.

The NHL and NHLPA are at loggerheads on three issues: the length of a new CBA, the rules governing term limits on contracts and the transition to help teams get under the salary cap. These talks will be a test to see whether any goodwill remains after last week's meetings ended poorly.

The NHL has done a good job of building its brand with the help of Comcast-NBC Universal, with which it inked a deal last year worth $1.8 billion over 10 years. The Winter Classic played outdoors on New Year's Day has become a big hit on NBC. Meanwhile, NBC Sports Network has been a great home for regular-season games.

But a lost season would be a television disaster for the NHL.

For years, the Big Four in sports have been the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. But from a TV rights and ratings standpoint, times have changed. The NFL, MLB, NBA, NASCAR and the PGA all bring in more dollars and viewers than the NHL.

There is also a real threat to push the NHL even further into the niche sports area as soccer continues to be a growth sport in this country.

The NHL would be wise to get back on the ice and the air as soon as possible before nationally more people care about Manchester United than the Detroit Red Wings.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

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