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Why I tend to support the hapless “can’t help themselves” owners in these negotiations…

I was late having the opportunity to edit this piece, so apologies for the typographical errors that were in place when this post first went up.  I've now tried to eliminate at least some!

Let me start today by saying I won’t be commenting regularly on the NHL negotiations.  My comments today are my own—likely un-informed—opinion. Don’t expect a well-thought out analysis.  This isn’t my “job”.  These are simply the musings of an everyday fan.  I well understand others share different perspectives…

(Self-editing note: I penned a piece during the last lockout along the lines of why the players were "losing" fans like me.  If anyone was interested, I can forward a link...)

How many times have we all heard—and said— rather uncomplimentary things about NHL (all sports owners, for that matter) owners.  As in, “These guys can’t help themselves…” and “Who’s fault is it, anyways that salaries are so high..?”.  At some point we usually throw in, “No one made them give crazy money to the players…”.

That’s all true.  And we have seen this movie many times before, in all big-time professional sports.  They seemingly can’t help themselves.  It is their “fault”, largely.  And no one ever forces them to spend silly money on any particular player.  Every year, it just takes one owner to break the bank and logic flies out the window. (Alexander Semin somehow gets 7 million dollars, but at least it's for only one year...)

Oh, they face “pressure”, sure, from their constituency, notably fans who want their team to do well, and that often requires investing money in good hockey players, to state the obvious.

I’m not so much talking about this particular set of NHL labour negotiations, though I don't doubt things will turn nasty at some point.  You would think “billionaires and millionaires” could indeed find an equitable way to cut up the revenue pie that they get from our pockets (we should make no mistake, all of us as fans contribute in one way or another to the multi-billion dollar pot at the end of the huge revenue rainbow).  They always eventually do.  Sometimes it costs the sport a World Series or an entire NHL playoff spring, but fans get over it and start paying to support the entire process all over again. Our bad.

I’ll try to explain why I “support” (that’s probably not the right word) the owners, though I have to hold my nose as I write this.  

I admire a lot of athletes, especially the ones with real character (not the phony ones who come across as nice but are jerks behind the scenes).  Many work insanely long and hard to achieve success in sports.  They risk and suffer injury.  They have relatively short careers.  And they are awfully good at what they do.

But there’s the thing, for me:  just like the owners don’t have to spend “stupid” money, these athletes also don’t “have” to become athletes.  They don’t have to assume the injury risks.  They could do something else with their lives.

But in what other walk of life could the vast majority of these individuals make, say, 5% of what they make as professional athletes?

You often hear athletes say, “I have to take care of my family…”.  Understood.  We all do.  But Drew Brees, after signing for, what, 100 million over five years…he can take care of his “family” for the next several generations.  That’s a very different definition of taking care of your family than what most people face.

Don’t get me wrong.  Corporate greed has always been—and remains—unconscionable.  CEO’s who make ghastly amounts of money, plus bonuses, share options, perks, etc. demonstrate their own kind of greed.  It’s beyond my comprehension that this is the way things still are.

But athletes have become awfully entitled, too.  When I hear baseball pitchers say, “I want to know what I’m worth…” as a free-agent, it just makes me cringe.  Do these guys really and truly think they are “worth” 25 million dollars a year?  When was the last time a second-baseman performed life-saving surgery?  But we complain that physicians make too much.

And athletes get paid whether they play or not.  Wow.

I’ve worked professionally with enough athletes and former athletes, and spoken with enough people in that field to know that it's a huge adjustment when their careers are over.  They are pampered from a very early age.  This carries on to a sense of absolute entitlement as they become more “successful” and wealthy.  They never have to stand in line.  Everyone wants to give them free stuff.  They receive more adulation in one day than most people could receive in several lifetimes.

Back to Drew Brees:  you would have thought the guy was hurt and insulted (he actually was) that the Saints were not just automatically coughing up this ridiculous amount of money.  (I could maybe be a little more understanding if these modern-day NFL players made sure the old-time players who played for peanuts—maybe of whom can no longer look after themselves in our inflationary world—were better taken care of by the rich modern-day players; but most of today’s players couldn’t care less.  It was the old-time players who created the foundation for the massive salaries today's athletes make.)

How many times have we heard athletes say they were “insulted” by the team’s offer.  Insulted by being offered, say, 20 million dollars over three seasons?  Amazing.  Some of these people have lost touch with something. 

And this is why I have little time for these negotiations.  I don’t plan on writing about this subject again.  I love sport, appreciate hockey, but never enjoy having the fact that I’m only a “fan” essentially thrown in my face by two overwhelmingly greedy sides in a so-called “labour” dispute.  These owners are fabulously wealthy.  These players have privilege and freedoms that their predecessors could only dream of.  They are given freebies galore, food, lodging, transportation, support services, career counseling—in addition to unbelievably high salaries.  Many will never need to “work” again.

That’s fine.  Sports entertainment happens to be one of the fields that allows for massive incomes.   But I don’t need or want to hear the day-to-day whining that we were subjected to in 2005 or whenever it was.   That was phony on both sides—and painful.

Speaking of 2005—I recall listening to U.S. hockey commentators, as that “lockout” dragged on, saying it would be difficult for a number of American markets to rebound.  The further we went with no hockey, people just didn’t care, they said.

On that note, some of you may have read the piece I posted the other day here on markets that wouldn't even miss their NHL team if the franchise left.  Can you imagine what another protracted strike/lockout would do in places like Carolina (a real hockey hotbed, eh?), Florida, Phoenix and Columbus?  Honestly, how many “fans” would really care in markets where hockey is maybe 5th or 6th on the list of sports entertainment priorities, behind WWE wrestling and local high school football?

If both these parties are so stupid as to allow another work stoppage or whatever we want to call it this time, go for it.  It won’t kill the sport in Toronto, or in Canada.  And it won’t even kill hockey in the United States.  You can’t really “kill” something that is barely noticeable on the landscape, anyway.

But whatever these two parties do, I can’t believe I’m the only one that wishes that, for starters, they would just do their job.  In 2005 we were inundated with “spin”, message control, media manipulation, intentional and well-timed “leaks” and all kinds of silliness.  It was like a very public and nasty Hollywood divorce.

Don’t bother this time.  I couldn’t care less.  I truly couldn’t.  I have no use for greed, corporate or individual. 

I “support” the owners only in the sense that without someone taking the risk and footing the bill, there is no game.  The players could try to make the same claim (that there is no sport without the players) but they can’t, really.  There are always athletes who would replace them, or play for less, eventually, just for the shot at playing professionally.  But you can’t always find capable owners.  (Just ask Gary Bettman, who has brought on board some wonderful characters…)

And one last comment about my opening paragraph, which conceded owners make mistakes and can’t help themselves.  It’s true, but since they are not allowed to “collude” (and I still think they should be allowed to establish contractual parameters like 5 year limits…that’s just good business practice. Why is it collusion and why must it be negotiated—it’s their league) to ensure salaries stay within reason, they are stuck. These owners are competitive people.  They want to see the team they own “win”.  If they don’t spend, fans go crazy and criticize them.  So they cough up big money trying to build a better team and win- and then are criticized for spending crazy amounts of money.

We say they can’t have it both ways, but then neither can we, as fans.

And neither can the players.

Look at how NHL players have joined NFL, baseball and NBA guys in demanding the most they can possibly extract from ownership.  Then, many of them complain because their team is no good.  They want to be traded to a “contender”.  Well, maybe if they didn’t have to make 10 million a year or whatever, the organization would be able to build a more balanced team around them (say hello, Shea Weber...).  But the stars rarely care about that when they are signing their own deal—only afterwards.

As for the NHL talks, my sentiment is simple:  Call me when it’s over.

The hypocrisy drives me crazy.  I’ve said my piece.  Again, I’m sure many of you strongly disagree and as always, feel free to drop your comments in the box.  Just be respectful!


  1. I was at a Jays game today for the first time in I can't remember,and had a weird thought:not so long ago the players on the field made about as much as the Cop guarding the sidelines...the same applies in hockey-many have pointed out in the 60's the players made equivalent to cops,firefighters,teachers...but season ticket prices are a bajillion times what they were then, so it's not just going to the increased player salaries...of course, franchises today aren't family owned by the Norrises,Patricks and Smythes(pity) but by large corporations who make money not only by bums in seats,but by owning the mediums of broadcast. Owners broadcast their own teams on their own networks today more and more...who do they pay for broadcast rights...themselves? Complicated issue, indeed.

  2. Different world, eh Sean? When Rocket Richard was the highest paid guy in hockey in the late '50s, he was making maybe $25,000 a season. That may have been, what, 5 times what the everyday fan might have been earning. Now, the top paid players in hockey make close to 10 million a year (more in some cases with bonuses) and what does the everyday fan make?

    The ratio is out of whack....

  3. Well said, Michael!

    I appreciate your desire to say your piece and be done with it, however... what if it was possible for the fans (who pay players and owners alike) to be added to the CBA negotiation team? I think our hockey enjoyment could grow immensely with voices like yours in the mix.

    In my fantasy world, the state of the game; the injured/retired player;, the insane contracts; the corporate intrusions into my life because I enjoy a game; and many more topics could be addressed if we were allowed (demanded?) a say in the game that prospers upon our backs.

    Sample Beef: I can filter a lot, though some Sportsnet broadcasts seem to have computer generated advertising 'in the glass' behind the nets... I am so often distracted by that offense that I turn off those games. Post your images during the breaks, but not during play!!!

    I would love to see more restraint exercised pertaining to such 'hockey related revenues'. I'm already 'tuning out' or do the advertisers even care, how bout the players and owners? How much is enough?

    I am 50 (with plenty of post secondary training) and have yet to gross what the lowest-salaried minimum 1 year NHL contracted player would earn.

    Yet, I am guilty of playing GM, but do we ever really think about the meaning of the actual numbers we discuss when we think about what we'd pay for a player?

    - like we ever could -

    Why don't we consolidate the gains that the league has attained and give something back to the fans (while considering the buffer solution that could resolve a lot of issues I've touched upon before) and the game itself.

    A message to the NHL from a lifelong fan:

    Take a step back and consider what your new CBA could accomplish... Be leaders in a brave new sports world that considers the lives of fans who enjoy your game (heavy emphasis on that last word might put this into perspective for you), but may be pushed beyond any kind of participation if 'greed' prevails... Gordon Gecko was wrong - Greed is NOT good.

    We truly can live without you... can you prosper without us?

  4. I don't need to add a thing, InTimeFor62- your post stands on its merits. Outstanding. Thank you.

  5. Without going so far as to stand behind the players, I simply cannot stand behind the owners in this. I am just as insulted as anyone when I hear millionaire players bemoan their contracts, and they feel insulted. Yeah Drew Brees needs to feed his family, he needs that $100 million, on top of how much he's already made in his career? It's just out of whack with the common man.

    If the players wanted my support in their plight, they might do better to defer the mega-contracts in favour of after-career care. For every superstar (or even Bobby Holik) there is a guy who struggled through four or five pro seasons making league minimum, and crawled away with his body destroyed and nothing to fall back on. Of course, don't forget all the players of yesteryear who didn't make a fraction of what the players today make, and they constantly get shafted on pension benefits.

    In spite of their loose grip on reality, I support the players in the sense that this is a business, and there are real dollars flowing in to this business. The billionaire owners are billionaires for a reason. The scent of money attracts them, and they are happy to pocket every dollar that someone else does not claim. I don't blame the players for demanding full disclosure on the owners' part and demanding their fair share.

    I blame the owners for their blind allegiance to Gary Bettman, the man who promised to spread hockey throughout the U.S. (fail), who promised to get cost certainty through a salary cap (fail, in the sense that their is also a cap floor which several teams struggle to afford), the man who has put the other owners on the hook for a league-owned franchise in Phoenix (fail no matter what ends up happening with Jamison).

    For the life of me I cannot understand why the owners continue to support the proven failures of Gary Bettman. They have been drinking his Kool-aid for far too long, convinced of his notion that they can shoulder the cost of failed franchises because, well, sooner or later they will turn the corner and the NHL will get that billion-dollar TV contract in the U.S. The ownership saga in Phoenix, along with past disasters such as Boots DelBaggio and John Spano, should be a clear indication to the owners that NHL franchises are not worth what they think they are, otherwise legitimate investors would be pounding on the door to purchase a franchise.

    Well I hope I'm not veering too far off topic, once I get ranting on Bettman I'm hard to stop. But ultimately the owners are in the driver's seat, they are responsible for protecting their own investment. I can't blame the players for taking the huge contracts they are offered. I realize the owners can't collude on how much they spend (legally at least), but I still think they are their own worst enemy in this. They are the ones who have tolerated Bettman for nearly twenty years and recently gave him another contract extension. They are the ones who approve his ideas on a near-unanimous level time and again. So if ever they see this ship sinking and Captain Bettman going down with it, they know that he is their captain because them made him who he is.

  6. As a long time fan of your blog, I am sorry that this is the time that I feel I need to put in my two cents. I could not disagree with you more. My loyalties have, and always will be with the players. For every dollar or penny they can get from the owners.

    There are a multitude of reasons that this is the case for me.

    When I was a boy someone told me I needed to find a CBC film called Net Worth, and watch it. I did, and it forever changed the way I viewed sports, owners and athletes. I know that you have seen this, not sure if many of your readers have. Please track it down and watch it if you have never had the opportunity.

    Athletes absorb all the risk of entertaining you on a Saturday night. All of it. From concussions to paralysis, broken bones and even the prospect of dying while doing something for your enjoyment. Would you trade places with Marc Savard for the rest of your lives? To be unable to enjoy a lot of the things you used to be able to do?

    Common consensus is that the owners won the last round of collective bargaining. If the NHLPA accepts the present offer, the owners will have won dramatically again. Will you continue to support the owners the next time they cry poor and hold fans hostage? What about the time after that?

    Why are the owners so unwilling to help each other in any meaningful way? They agreed to expansion each and every time and gladly cashed the expansion fee cheques. A healthy 30 team league would surely increase the overall revenue for the NHL. A rising tide does in fact float all boats. Why is there no significant revenue sharing from the owners? It can't be because they are greedy, could it?

    If the owners are truly in such a tough bind that only dramatic concessions from the players(again) can solve the problem. Why are people like Craig Leopold so eager to own multiple franchises? Maybe they should ask the players to take the entire league off their hands. If in fact owning a franchise is such an exercise in financial futility.

    If it comes down to giving a dollar to Sidney Crosby, Shea Weber or Jeff Finger. I will choose that one million times out of a million before I would choose to give it to Comcast, MLSE or some corporate shell company. Why do fans never complain about how much money Ed Snider makes, or Tannenbaum and Peddie?

    Just one fans opinion. I do enjoy your writing immensely, thank you for doing it and the opportunity to debate in this forum. Your regular readers are some of the best that I have had the pleasure of reading on the internet. Thank you.


    A proud NHLPA supporter.

  7. hypocrisy indeed... the love of money is taking over all walks of life... it's only a matter of time before this affects the olympic athletes and other 'good sportsman' events.

    it's interesting how these CBA negotiations occur... in the NFL for instance, part of the CBA that was determined last winter is that every player on each team needs to have a complete medical, vision and dental exam. being a dentist, this is where i come in... i had the opportunity to perform dental exams on the bills players a month ago... what a huge cluster-headache trying to arrange for nearly 90 guys to all be checked out over the course of a few hours on some random morning! i'll have a blog-update on that coming up btw... hehehe.

    i wonder if the complete dental/medical/vision exam will be a part of the nhl-players' new CBA. you KNOW those teeth need a-fixin'.

  8. Noticed your new editorial insertion in the article and I'd love to see (the link to) the article you penned during the last lockout!

    Thank you for your kind words, too... seems we're on the same page!

  9. I fear we fans are the ones who bear the responsibility here. If we refused to pay the exorbitant ticket fees, if we stopped watching games on TV as a protest, ultimately the salaries and budgets would shrink.
    But the sport is growing, for crying out loud! High def TV has finally allowed many US viewers to be able to follow the puck, the New Year's Classic has opened the door to a whole new fan base... And since the owners are the ones who benefit from these developments, it makes financial sense for the players to want their piece of the (considerable) pie. It's pretty well impossible for most of us - all of us? - to relate to the actual numbers, but that's just good old capitalism and supply/demand at work, isn't it? If I had that kind of leverage at my job, I'd use it!
    However, like you, Michael, the po' folks posturing on both sides is wearisome - white noise I shut out.
    As a side note, a friend once told me that, during the last stoppage, Canadians supported the owners and Americans supported the players. I wonder how it will be this time, if it happens again?

  10. Thank you for a very thoughtful and passionate post, Pete. In fact, I tend to agree with much of what you say.

    I was expecting a lot of disagreement, and I thank you for framing it as kindly as you did!

  11. That's a superb post, Jim. I can't debate your points as everything you say is valid and reasonable.

    As I mentioned to Pete, thank you for sharing your disagreement in a respectful way. I was getting some things off my chest, and I'm glad you did so as well. Well done.

    (And sincere thanks for the kind comment at the end of your post...)

  12. Alex C.- you gave me a smile today! 90 dental appointments- wow. Now if you can just get the NHLPA contract with the Sabres!

    Let me know when your new blog post is up....

  13.'s the link....


  14. White noise....I'm with you, Gerund O'! Well said....

  15. Thank you again for hosting a blog where people act respectfully towards each other, it is appreciated.

    Why as fans consuming an entertainment product do we complain or whine about how much players are making in a year and never do the same for other forms of entertainment?

    While I am not old, I am not young anymore either. I have never heard anyone say that Tom Cruise should make less money per film so that the price of going to the theatre would come down. Nor have I ever had someone say to me that if only the cast of Friends made less per episode there would be fewer commercials during a given show on TV. I am afraid that it doesn't work that way and it never will. It is a nice idea, but not realistic in any way. I find the fact that this happens only in sports to be fascinating.

    Just like everyone else, when a player sits down to negotiate their terms of employment. Anything that the employer agrees to is fair game. This goes for me and you and should be the same for the players, no?

    One more point and then I will stop. I believe that the NFL is not a good example of the points you were trying to make. For the sole reason that the vast majority of NFL contracts are not guaranteed. If the player is hurt, injured or unable to perform the team simply cuts the player and they receive nothing, even though they have a contract. This happened to Peyton Manning this offseason.


  16. Michael, I can't argue with your underlying thought that greed and player's salaries are getting out of hand. I suppose what hit home was your comment about players from the past who earned a comfortable salary at the time, but who may be suffering now in today's economic times.

    Not sure if you saw a recent sports special about two great players who used to play for the Blackhawks. The two guys were none other than Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. It was an excellent program. During an interview Bobby Hull reminisced about the meeting he and his parents had with Tommy Ivan the GM of Chicago at the time. Bobby has a habit of changing stories sometimes, but anyway he said Ivan said to his parents "We want to sign your kid to a professional contract for $6,500". To which Bobby's father supposedly said "I can't afford that kind of money!" To which Hull's mother said "No Bob, I think he's wants to pay Robert to play for the Blackhacks".

    Hard to believe but Bobby Hull later was the first player to be offered a 1 million dollar contract. He played for an unbelievable 23 years before he retired. I don't know what his contracts totalled over those years, but I'd say just Parise's signing bonus exceeded Hull's total career earnings.

    I don't begrudge what players or owners make today, but the players certainly can't say they are not well paid for what they do. The top players (and their agents), seek out the best possible contracts they can obtain. I thought the last CBA would curb the insanity, but it hasn't. The new CBA needs to implement the Cap in a more meaningful way. Salaries will still be high, but a new CBA will hopefully prevent the rich-market teams from abusing the system and stock-piling the star players.

    For example, NYR have 5 players under contract, totalling more than 35 million dollars salary! Four of those five are premier star players in the NHL (Richards, Nash, Gaborik, & Lunqvist). The last player is none other than Wade Redden, who is making 6 million dollars salary to play in the AHL, and his salary doesn't even count against the CAP!

  17. Sounds like you are pretty fed up with the negotiations Michael, and very much on the side of the owners. When I read the NHL's initial proposal, I understood what the league and the owners were trying to rectify in the new CBA. Some of their ideas are well founded, but in some cases still a bit unfair to the players (their employees/partners in all this).

    For what it's worth, I reviewed the components in their proposal, and offered up my ideas on how it might be improved/modified.

    Basically, the owners still need to be protected from their own insanity, and the players need to put greed aside for the health of the league and all the members of the NHLPA (not just the premier players).

  18. Imagine a parallel universe where sporting events are considered integral to the health and wellbeing of our community and are therefore fully subsidised by the government. As a result, professional athletes have never lived in a true market place where their popularity can drive demand and owners could become incentivised to pay a premium for the elite talent. Imagine that in this universe the game of hockey is otherwise unchanged.

    My point and a genuine question: if you were to put this hypothetical situation to today's hockey players and ask if they would be a professional hockey player if they and all their fellow players were on $50K per annum, how many would say yes?

    Curious to know anyone's thoughts

  19. Great Bobby Hull story, TML__fan...I had not heard that!

    Like you, I had thought the new CBA would settle things down a bit, but it really didn't....

  20. Thanks for sharing that Don (TML__fan). You've broken down the owners original proposal very well and your analysis is excellent (and entirely reasonable). I hope people read your assessment.

  21. To me, that's an interesting question, KiwiLeaf.

    While I absolutely concede that the players take the physical risk, etc. and are the individuals who provide the entertainment, the "value" of that entertainment is certainly high nowadays. There is indeed significant interest in the product, and that naturally drives "prices" up.

    As Jim quite correctly said above, actors are paid incredibly well, and no one (few, anyway) seem to begrudge that or much care.

    But again, interesting question. Setting aside the way things have in reality evolved in the marketplace, what do people think a hockey player's value would be under the world you describe?

    Would a "max" be, say, what top doctors make (I have no idea...half a million or more a year?)?

    And if that was the "going rate", would players be quite happy to play for that?

  22. I wouldn't be at all surprised if most would say "Yes, of course I'd play." Having played semi-professional sport myself, the joy of getting paid to play a game you love is an incredible draw. I think the apparent greed in sportsmen desiring higher and higher salaries is as much an expression of the implicit ranking that it involves and their competitiveness as it is about the actual numbers.

    For the record, I think you'll find that surgeons who split their work across private and public practices can make an awful lot more than $500K. Even in New Zealand.

  23. I think you're right, KiwiLeaf. Love of the game is the attraction and has always come first. But then the reality that you can now make millions takes over. Look at Shane Doan...well-regarded individual and he has made so much money he can take care of generations of his family if he never played another day. But he "wants", we're told, 7-8 million a year for four years, when he will be well past his prime. It's just the way athletes begin to think- that they're entitled....

  24. How much is enough?

    The question pertains to both owners and players alike.

    But, do we ever consider the possibility that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that foments discourse between those who primarily earn between 5 and 6 figures, respecting those who earn minimum mid-6 figures to low-9 figures (100-110M multi-year contracts) while trying to compare or defend their share of the pie in contrast to owners that may earn 8-9 figures per year and have control over 10 figures in many instances.

    That's alot of figurin' and a pretty long, run-on sentence fragment!!

    Why do the paying fans tolerate such inanity?

    Why are we fans?

    Why does this system allow for such power in the hands of these people (players or owners alike)?

    Is there a functionality to the inherent distraction of sports that keeps us from asking why a Bobby Hull (who once earned a million $ contract in the WHA, when dollars were worth more) has reportedly fallen on hard times (and may stand to receive help from a buffer use of revenue sharing as I have suggested)? Why is any era's million dollars during our lifetimes, not sufficient for the ones who have once earned that? Well... a million doesn't buy what it once did... and do we stop to ask a fundamental question: 'Why is that?'

    Perhaps that is why athletes are paid so well... it keeps us playing zero-sum, win-lose games amongst ourselves. Never asking why we're playing those games in the first place.

    Are not the well-paid athletes touchstones or proxies for our own dreams, desires and secret entitlement/rights expectations?

    The labour unioner will project solidarity with the players whose skills may be exceptional, but are rewarded out of proportion with their contribution to society... unless their ability to distract, IS the contribution for which they are receiving compensation.

    The entrepreneur will consider costs and a host of bureaucratic hoops through which they must jump in order to function in the marketplace, and will therefore likely side with the owners.

    Both may see more altruistic possibilities before a negotiation, but, systemically, we are somehow bound to a lower ideal that often degrades into an antagonistic, polarized grab-fest to obtain shares of a limited pie. Why is this? Why are we so limited? Why doesn't everyone have the kind of seemingly unlimited opportunity that has been made available to the owners and players alike... but not us?

    Many questions to ponder...

  25. InTimeFor62...that's a great reflection..."their ability to distract"- I don't think I've ever heard it phrased quite that way before. And yes, I think that is a lot of what they are being paid for, and what we are all directly or indirectly paying for.

    You raise a lot of food for thought...