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The NHL owners, with their new CBA proposal, are "posing a first test to the new unity of a union they crushed and dismembered in their previous negotiations" in '04-05, according to Stu Hackel of SI.com. They want to "see how the players react, test their mettle, learn how good a job" NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr has done preparing his membership. Hackel wrote, "What we are seeing is a probe, a sortie, gamesmanship." The owners and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "have to know better than to expect the players will accept a whopping reduction in their share of revenue." Hackel: "So what was the players’ first reaction? We don’t know because, after being presented with the proposal, Fehr and the various union members who were at Friday’s meeting with him didn’t utter a thing about it in public. ... We may shortly learn how the players reacted to the league's stance, maybe no later than Wednesday when the next get-together is scheduled in New York" (SI.com, 7/16). Meanwhile, Denver-based hockey agent Kurt Overhardt said the NHL's first proposal to its players was "embarrassing, arrogant, short-sighted and greedy." Overhardt said, "Based on my understanding of it, what's clear is that there is no real bargaining in good faith. What's clear is that this is a league that received hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions from the last lockout. What's clear is that this is a league which the commissioner ... puts up on a pedestal and tells us that revenues are at an all-time high. And what's clear is that all the league wants to try to do is claw back more cash for the owners. It's embarrassing." Overhardt added, "Gary wanted his parity and he got his parity, okay? Now I think the league needs to fix its own economic problems internally with the money they have." Canucks G and NHLPA bargaining committee member Cory Schneider said yesterday that it is "too early to panic." Schneider: "Yes, it is a little shocking when you first look at it but, again, that's how negotiations work" (VANCOUVER SUN, 7/17).
SIMMER DOWN: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote, "Perhaps we can all take a breath here and realize this is a negotiation." This is the "start point, not the final result." Almost everyone has "known for months now the owners want the revenue split to be 50-50, so by making their first offer 46 percent, they give themselves some wiggle room to move up on their position and still get what they want." Campbell: "That’s not even Collective Bargaining Negotiating 101." The owners have the right "to ask for all the clawbacks they think they can get, even if they’re taking in record revenues," and the players "are free to refuse to comply" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 7/16). Gowlings attorney Eric Macramalla said, "All of these proposals work together, there is a possibility of compromise on a number of points. Salary arbitration is an obvious point of compromise for the NHL. But if they give that, they want the (players) to give them something. Maybe the players association is willing to negotiate a bit on the share of revenues, maybe down to 52 per cent. Maybe they’ll be willing to accept eight or nine years before unrestricted free agency or four years on entry level contracts" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 7/17). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote, "When details of the union's labor plan emerge -- and despite the best efforts of both Fehr and Bettman to keep negotiations private, details always find a way to emerge -- that is when we will really know how far apart the players and management are." With NHL revenues "rising exponentially, logic dictates that spending on player contracts should rise as well, but what the NHL continues to lack is truly meaningful revenue sharing to ensure that the rising tide of cash does lift all boats" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/16).
DOOM & GLOOM: In New Jersey, Andrew Gross writes the NHL season "will not start on time." Eventually, the league and the NHLPA "will reach accord" on a new CBA. Gross: "Quite possibly, that will come just in time to salvage the league's signature event," the Winter Classic. But the NHL's first proposal "made its intentions regarding a new CBA very clear and unless the NHLPA just capitulates -- ridiculous to think after it hired skilled negotiator Donald Fehr -- there's no way this can be resolved without games being missed" (Bergen RECORD, 7/17). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle wrote, "My sense at this point is we won't have hockey until at least December" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 7/16). In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason writes under the header, "NHL Players Better Armed This Time." Gleason: "The NHL is headed toward another long labor dispute. Rather than work with a reasonable number, Bettman stuck out his chest and essentially challenged Fehr." Owners continue to "sign players to contracts nearing and exceeding nine figures in guaranteed money." The owners "can't cry poor when they refuse to control their own spending." Gleason: "This time, the players are right. And they're more equipped to fight" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/17). Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz said, “It’s just a starting point right now. I'm not buying all the doom and gloom prognostications just yet. We're still two months to go.” Kurz said there will be an NHL season because “back when they had the first lockout, hockey revenues were somewhere in the $2 billion range and since then, they've grown to $3.3 billion. There's too much money on the table, there’s too much to lose. You're going to hear this rhetoric probably for the next two months.” Kurz added, “Is it possible that we’ll lose a month or two of the season? Absolutely, that's possible” (“Chronicle Live,” CSN Bay Area, 7/16).
NBA Commissioner David Stern at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference yesterday "credited Twitter, technology and the Internet with his league's increasing popularity," according to Andrew Travers of the ASPEN DAILY NEWS. Stern said, "I do think that social media has something to do with it." Stern said that he and league officials, "early on, encouraged players to use Twitter rather than try to control or censor them." Stern: "What we decided to do was to say to our players, 'Hey guys, go at it. Can we help you sign up?'" He added that the NBA is "attempting to use technology to improve the game itself, with expanding instant replay." Stern said that the league also is "interested in technology that would instantly decipher the top of a ball's arc on the way to the net, to definitively call goal-tending violations." While some "other conversations at the conference have centered around protecting online video content, Stern said he encourages fans to take video content and re-post it, or re-edit it for YouTube." Stern: "We do want to empower the fans. ... I'm not going to spend time taking them down" (ASPEN DAILY NEWS, 7/17).
FREE AGENT FRENZY: In Florida, John Torres writes, "Welcome to the NBA's version of Monopoly." Only a "few weeks old, this has been the strangest, silliest, richest, most exciting off-season in recent memory, and it's devilishly fun." The offseason has "been about wheelbarrows full of 'make-believe' money thrown at players teams don't even want as they try to block rivals from signing players they really do want" (FLORIDA TODAY, 7/17). CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote in the first 72 hours of the NBA's "first, full-fledged free-agent negotiating period of the new collective bargaining agreement, owners handed out approximately $400 million in contracts -- roughly the amount of revenues lost as a result of the lockout." It is "only Year One of the lockout-induced reset, so it's too early to conclude the rich are getting richer." The "best that can be said is that the new rules haven't made them any poorer -- yet." League salary data shows that the NBA "collected the lowest amount of tax revenue last season since the dollar-for-dollar tax was implemented in 2002-03, and the top-spending team had the lowest payroll in 10 years (the Lakers at $85.7 million)" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/14).
The Scottish Premier League is “scrambling to salvage its financial future after its clubs agreed to accept that the newly formed Rangers club will be starting the forthcoming season in the Scottish Football League Third Division,” according to David Conn of the GUARDIAN. SPL CEO Neil Doncaster and SFL CEO David Longmuir had “warned of potential financial collapse if Rangers were made to join the Third Division,” because the SPL's $125.1M (all figures U.S.) TV deal and its sponsorships “depend on both Celtic and Rangers being in the league.” Central to the SPL finances is “a new TV contract with BSkyB and ESPN, due to begin this season and run for five years until 2017, in which the broadcasters agreed in November to pay [$125.1M] over those five seasons, but have still not actually signed.” SPL sources before Friday's SFL vote said that broadcasters "had intimated they would walk away, or certainly renegotiate their deals, leading to the warning" that $25M a season could be lost. With Rangers' absence “until at least 2015-16 now apparently accepted, the SPL must now conclude its commercial arrangements.” Doncaster said, "We will be working intensively over the coming days and weeks to clarify the position with our commercial partners.” BSkyB, whose deal “was to include showing" th clubs' SPL matches, "declined to comment.” ESPN in a statement said, "We want to have a continued relationship with Scottish football and, naturally, that would need to make sense for Scottish football, for fans and for our business." Conn notes it is “expected that the broadcasters will renegotiate the [$125.1M] which is in the contracts, given the reduced commercial value of the SPL to them, but neither BSkyB nor ESPN are likely to want to be associated with a major financial collapse in Scottish football.” The Clydesdale Bank said that it “will maintain” its $3.13M sponsorship payment despite Rangers' absence. However, next season is “its last of a four-year deal, and the bank announced in November it will not renew after that” (GUARDIAN, 7/17).
UNCERTAINTY REIGNS: In London, Ewing Grahame reports Sky’s withdrawal would represent “a massive PR disaster for both Sky and Doncaster.” But the prospect “remains that the clubs may now not receive” their next payment of $992,774 from the station on Aug. 6, "an outcome which would plunge several of them into severe financial difficulties.” Doncaster “refused to provide any guarantee that Sky will be showing Scottish football next season” (London TELEGRAPH, 7/17).