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Reaching a new CBA is a negotiation, not an exercise in fairness

Sep 1, 2012, 12:59 PM EDT

Bettman

When the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA expires on Sept. 15, it will have done just that – expired.

Over.

Done.

Finito.

No longer will the owners be obligated to pay the players 57 percent of hockey-related revenues.

In fact, hockey-related revenues won’t exist anymore, at least as they’re defined in the current CBA. Because, again, the current CBA will no longer exist.

For this reason, we hear league commissioner Gary Bettman saying things like: “Somehow there’s an entitlement [for the players] to be at 57 percent. There is no such entitlement.”

To which union chief Donald Fehr has rightfully responded by saying the salary cap is still on the table. No entitlement there, either.

Nor, for that matter, are the owners or players entitled to fan support.

In one of the more sensible (i.e. not hysterical) columns we’ve read on the CBA negotiations, ESPN’s Scott Burnside writes:

You can argue who owns the moral high ground in the now stalled talks between the NHL and the NHLPA until your toenails turn a nice shade of blue, but it is the ultimate moot point, a distinction that has no bearing whatsoever on however or, more importantly, whenever this labor dispute is resolved.

The owners own the teams — hence their title — so why shouldn’t they want to make as much money as possible, even if their financial problems are almost all of their own making? They don’t call it the charity of hockey, they call it the business of hockey, and after getting cost certainty with a salary cap last time around, the owners want something more this time.

After seven years of a system that saw the players receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenues, the owners have decided they need to reset the economic landscape. Reset means, of course, giving the players less, starting with the 2012-13 season.

If you were an owner, wouldn’t you want that?

It remains a mystery why so many people seem surprised by the owners’ tack.

A veteran union negotiator, Fehr sure isn’t surprised.

“Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less,” he said. “That’s not a surprise to anybody — it’s disappointing sometimes — but it’s not a surprise.”

Fortunately, both sides remain motivated to reach an agreement. The players want to play and get paid. (Obviously.) The owners of the profitable teams want to get back to selling tickets and making money. (Obviously.) Even the owners of the non-profitable teams don’t want to sit around watching their investments rot.

So, what will ultimately bring the owners and players together? According to the National Post’s Bruce Arthur, it’s the “knowledge of what is almost certainly coming. Antipathy, rancour, missed games, missed paycheques, lost revenues, a shortened season, a storm of condemnation, and, in the worst-case scenario, lasting damage to the game.”

Noticeably absent from that list?

Fairness.

Related: History suggests fans will come back if there’s a lockout

  1. trom09 - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I’m sure this isn’t possible, but can’t an independent group of mediators come in and design something they think is fair to both sides? That could be a starting point at least with something that takes everyone into consideration

    • Jason Brough - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:22 PM

      They could bring in a mediator — they did during the last lockout, with no success — but it’s doubtful the sides would agree to binding arbitration.

  2. bcsteele - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    This article is the most unbias true article I’ve read so far…well written and absolutely right on.

  3. paperlions - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Honest question:

    Did the players actually receive 57% of revenues or was the salary cap set so that they COULD receive a maximum of 57% of the revenues? Because there are a LOT of teams that were no where near the cap, suggesting maybe the players received closer to 50% of the revenues regardless of the cap that was bargained.

    • Jason Brough - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      Yes, they did. Which is why they had to pay a percentage into escrow.

      From Wikipedia:

      Notwithstanding the cap and the nominal value of the players’ contracts, the CBA stipulates that a fixed percentage of total league revenues (currently 57%) is to be paid to the players each season. To ensure compliance with this provision a percentage of each player’s salary is withheld in escrow until the season is over, at which time the funds are divided between the players and owners so as to balance the aggregate league payrolls to the agreed percentage. In the first season of the current CBA, revenues exceeded expectations to such a margin that players received the entire escrow back plus additional funds from the owners, however in subsequent seasons this has not been the case. For instance, in the first quarter of the 2010-2011 season, the escrow rate was 17%

      • paperlions - Sep 1, 2012 at 1:53 PM

        Thanks.

  4. thomaspratt - Sep 1, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    Hockey is eternal, but there is nothing essential about the NHL. When the lockout starts, there will still be junior A, major junior, the AHL, college. Heck, even from my Podunk border town, I can drive about an hour and see any of them. Makes me realize the NHL is selling a sports-related soap opera.

    I am coming around to the idea that the players should just take what is on offer. I hate it. I hate greedy plutocrats like Snyder and Jacobs. But unless the players are actually going to sit for a year, decertify and legally challenge the league for bargaining in bad faith, they are just going to end up with a tweaked version of the bad deal on the table. And who among the majority of modestly paid players wants to lose paychques to an open ended dispute?

  5. firemarshal1 - Sep 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    As a public safety employee who is in high risk job, has not received a raise 4 four years. I sorry, I don’t have much empathy for NHLPA. Gentlemen, let’s get real make a deal with the owners. You don’t have the leverage from the fans, we’re hurting financially too. Make a deal.

    50/50 split with hockey revenue, with 2 percent used for operation improvements (I.e. stadium renovations).

    Free Agency established at 29 years old or 10 years in the league.
    Arbitration eligibility set after three years.
    Rookie contracts capped with three year max contracts.
    Free Agent contracts set at a maximum of Six years.

    Let me be the arbitrator, we’ll get a deal established that protects the game and makes the league financially solvent for years to come.

    Players, what are you afraid of? NO MORE Wade Redden contracts for the fans to pay for. Hey, you guys $crewd yourselves with greed. The NHL owners, like Daniel Synder need a tight leash around their neck’s from offering stupid contracts like the Shea Weber contract.

    Again, make a deal.

    • tatdue - Sep 1, 2012 at 9:37 PM

      If the NHL was willing to actually negotiate a deal that was fair to the players they would still be talking but they are not….Do you not pay attention…The NHL is only willing to talk to the players if they are willing to take a major cut in pay, period! Would you work for a company that every time a contract came up they wanted you to give up a quarter of your earnings….and before you say you would take their job and pay in a minute well they wouldn’t hire you because nobody would pay to see you play….These guys are the elite and that’s why they deserve the money they get and if you don’t agree then be happy watching your kids play….Oh and by the way Mr Smart guy Daniel Snyder is the owner of the Washington Redskins NFL team..Ed Snider is the owner of the Flyers and it was his GM Paul Holmgren who made the offer which was accepted by the Nashville GM David Poile…that’s your lesson for the day idiot!

      • sunderlanding - Sep 1, 2012 at 10:16 PM

        I would if I got paid millions of dollars to do a job I love. You can’t compare being a professional hockey player to working for an average company. The idea is absurd. The players are being babys. They’re still going to make millions of dollars. Even if they agreed to the first offer. If I was working a job for 3 million a year, and my owner said you can work for 2 million next year, or take the year off, I’d work for 2 million. This is supposed to be the game they love!

      • kometfan4841 - Sep 4, 2012 at 11:26 AM

        Good grief! Stop acting like there’s some moral component to all this. “Fair” is a place where people show cows and pigs in the summer. The NHL and the NHLPA are negotiating the terms of an economic transaction, and the only obligation either of them has is to honor those terms. Yeah, the players play because they love the game; they get paid huge $$ because some owners believe they can make even bigger money charging folks to watch the players play. And remember, the large % of owners that are losing money will in some respects be better off if the NHL never plays again. I don’t think the players can say the same thing.

  6. id4joey - Sep 1, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Is the current CBA that bad? After all, the owners gave the players what they have, and continue to this day to give out contracts exceeding five years. I guess they need to be protected against their will to spend and alter ego greediness.

    • tealwithit - Sep 1, 2012 at 9:25 PM

      The problem is, it’s the “rich” teams that control the market. If the not-so-rich teams want to take any part in free agency, they have to match the sort of deals that teams like Philly are offering. (The Wild are a perfect example.) All it takes is a couple of dumb GMs to start signing those absurd 10 year front-loaded contracts, and then the rest are forced to give out comparable deals to comparable players, because you can bet the players are paying attention to contracts around the league and upping their demands accordingly.
      It’s so easy for fans to say “If the owners don’t want to lose money, they shouldn’t spend so much.” But those same fans won’t be all too happy if the owners of their team start saving money by putting less talent on the ice.

      • tatdue - Sep 1, 2012 at 9:42 PM

        I agree that that is the problem so they need to fix those contact issues and move on…they don’t need a 24% rollback of current contracts…that’s just greed period…

      • tealwithit - Sep 1, 2012 at 10:00 PM

        24% is high – It’s still early in negotiations (maybe not as far as fans are concerned, but unfortunately this is how CBA negotiations go), so the owners will ease up on the percentages later. But the players do have to come down from 57%… Probably to somewhere around 50-50. Roughly two-thirds of the teams are losing millions every season, which is kind of absurd. And as far as the contract issues go… It sounds like the players have no interest in allowing any changes. Which is just weird.

  7. atwatercrushesokoye - Sep 2, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    Here’s the problem with the “take what the owners give you” arguement, last time the players did just that, they got crushed and took exactly what the owners wanted to give them, turns out that deal was actually good for the players and not the owners, but having already had the players completely give in once the owners again want to try it again, but this will lead to one side winning and one side losing which means that 5 or 6 years from now when this CBA expires we’ll be doing this all over again.

    The best deal that can possibly be made is the one where both sides feel like they lost, because that usually turns out to be the fairest, and despite what Scott Burnside thinks about fairness, when you have that it usually leads to a longer period of peace between the sides.

    Two examples, the NFL after the resolution of the Reggie White case, the deal wasn’t perfect for either side but had some things each liked and some things each hated and this led to a period of 18 years of labor peace (with one minor hiccup along the way) because neither side hated the bad things enough to give up the good things, until last year of course.

    Also baseball post 1994, neither side has the perfect agreement for them but they both have things they want and because of the balance they’ve had labor peace for 18 years, several of those CBA’s having been negotiated by Donald Fehr.

    • kometfan4841 - Sep 4, 2012 at 11:30 AM

      Unfortunately, the NFL has an advantage that the NHL will never have. For the time period you describe, the NFL made (and still makes) stupid amounts of $$. It’s a lot easier to have labor peace when you’re splitting up a growing pie.

  8. trbowman - Sep 2, 2012 at 1:53 AM

    Reality is negotiations won’t go anywhere until the pressure heats up. I bet we’ll start to hear some ‘minor’ progress as the 15th nears, but there will be a lockout and until games are threatened, it’ll be deadlocked.

    Point blank, owners almost always come out in these labor disputes. The owners have a license to be ridiculous. Either the owners stop being such massive, well, I’ll bite my tongue – or the players fold like a lawn chair.

    Until we reach that point, we’ll be missing hockey.

  9. trbowman - Sep 2, 2012 at 1:56 AM

    Also, if NHL owners don’t think they risk losing a substantial part of their fanbase in the event of a canceled season, they need to get a clue.

    I’ll be back for hockey in 2013/2014 even if the full year is missed. I’m not going to lie myself. Love the game too much, love the Sabres too much. Diehards like us posting on here will be back.

    But the fringe fans? Ya, you’re risking quite a bit with them.

    And man, ESPN couldn’t care less about hockey – not that it’s anything new. Leading up to and during the NFL lockout, ESPN was all over it with coverage. If a pin dropped in the negotiating room, Mortensen and Schefter were there to report.

    Not like that with hockey.

  10. irishjackmp - Sep 2, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    If anyone has read Forbes magazine “The Business of Hockey” article, it showed a small handful of the high end teams (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Detroit, etc…) are very profitable but a majority of the teams are either losing money or breaking even. In a league where teams play to 97% capacity it shows the economics are broken.

    I am not “pro owner” per se, but if over half are losing money or breaking even, it is hard for me to support the players still getting 57%… especially since baseball and football players only get 50%. Split revenue 50/50 and give the players some non financial concessions (i.e. earlier free agency)

    • atwatercrushesokoye - Sep 2, 2012 at 11:03 PM

      Those two sports also have extensive revenue sharing though, if the NHL wants a league where some teams are in locations where they have absolutely no chance of making money then they have to support those teams.

  11. jmebro - Sep 3, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Boycott the NHL! Plenty of other leagues to follow. Let’s take a stand,show the owners/players we won’t take it this time!!

  12. gatorjr - Sep 4, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    Just a bunch of millionaires arguing over the money us middle class people scrounge up to pay their exorbitant salaries and by their overpriced merchandise. Common sense be damned!!! Let’s squeeze them more say both sides.

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