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The NHL and the NHLPA met for two and a half hours in N.Y. yesterday, but the union said it was not ready to respond to the league’s proposal from last week. The proposal included a reduction in the share of hockey-related revenue from 57% to 46%, among other rollbacks. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the meetings continue to be “cordial” and “constructive,” but would not discuss the specifics of yesterday’s meeting or the owners’ first proposal. Asked whether the league would consider continuing to operate without a signed CBA before its Sept. 15 expiration date, Bettman said, “My focus is on getting a deal done, not on what will happen if we don’t.” Although the proposal was criticized by some columnists and player agents, Canucks C Manny Malhotra said the union will not overreact in meetings or in the press. “No one flew off the handle,” said Malhotra. “It’s a long process.” Rangers C Brandon Dubinsky said there was no reason yet to respond to the league’s proposal “until we get all of the information.” NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr was asked if he was concerned negotiations would be all about rollbacks for the players. “I hope not,” Fehr said. “We will see where that goes.” Meetings are scheduled for today and Friday in N.Y. (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal).
NOBODY PANIC: SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote after yesterday's talks, it was clear "that the widespread panic in the hockey world after the NHL's initial proposal last Friday did not spread to the players." Malhotra said, "Instead of getting wrapped up emotionally and going off the handle, it makes far more sense to be educated in what they’re trying to propose and understanding in great detail, to make sure we know what to counter with” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/18). Fehr said yesterday, "The purpose of the meeting was for them to give us a more detailed explanation of the proposal they made last week." Fehr confirmed that the NHL "asked the players to reduce their share in hockey-related revenue." Dubinsky said, "I think everybody's expecting us to say how upset and disappointed we were, but it's a negotiation and that was our starting point." Malhotra said, "(The NHL's proposal) wasn't very shocking. It was no surprise. I think the union as a whole, we're in far better shape than we were in the past -- the unity that we have, the education we have as a whole, and the way that information is being passed around" (ESPNNY.com, 7/18). Former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly said, "I don't think people need to get all that nervous and upset at this point. There's a long way to go. If we're still having this discussion and there's still this polarization come late August, then I think people ought to be concerned” ("NESN Daily," NESN, 7/18). Meanwhile, Fehr said that it will "take some time before the union made its own offer." Fehr: "We’re not to that stage yet. We will make our own proposals -- whether it’s a counterproposal to something they said or something of our own -- when we’re ready, after we have fully digested what they’ve done, are sure we understand it, have had all the discussions with them we need to have and have had all the internal discussions we need to have" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/19).
LEARNING LESSONS FROM HISTORY: Bruins RW Mark Recchi said, "The game has grown so much in the United States over the past six years since the last lockout. The Kings winning it all this year, Boston the year before and Chicago before that, so you won back those Original Six cities and it’s going so well now. So you have to believe, and based on talks I have had on both sides, everyone realizes how bad another lockout will be. That’s why I think we’ll be OK and they will find a solution and avoid that." He added that the sides also "must work out a more specific definition for 'hockey-related revenue' since that [determines] how any new revenue sharing works." Recchi: “The owners don’t want another lockout either, but when it comes down to it, this whole process will be about them learning to save themselves from themselves. You've got guys like (Minnesota Wild owner) Craig Leopold crying broke a few months ago and then signing two 13-year contracts worth $98 million each." Recchi said, "This is how negotiations work. You shoot for the moon and then come down. The owners did that and they know they’ll have to come down. They also know the players won’t go below 50/50. People are getting worried and up in arms over this, but this isn’t any surprise. The PA had to know that was coming and now they will go from there" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 7/18).
Spending by teams in MLB's amateur draft "dropped by 11 percent in the first year of restrictions imposed by the new labor contract," according to Ronald Blum of the AP. MLB figures indicated that teams allocated $207.8M to draft picks, down from $233.6M last year "though still the second-highest annual total." The decline in the first round "was even more pronounced," a 17% drop from $89.5M to $74.3M this year. Just 10 teams "exceeded their signing bonus pool, incurring a total luxury tax" of $1.6M. But no team "reached the second level of the tax, which would cause a club to forfeit its next first-round draft pick." MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred said, "We think that the system performed well in its initial year. It accomplished the goal, in our view, which was to allow the weakest teams with the best opportunities to get the best talent." The decline in spending "was the first since a fall" from $158.9M in '06 to $154.5M in '07 (AP, 7/18).
IN PURSUIT OF PARITY: MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo noted the Royals were the "biggest winner in the first Competitive Balance Lottery," held yesterday at MLB Network Studios. The Royals received the "first pick in the official drawing," meaning that the team, as it stands now, "will get [an] additional pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft at No. 32 overall." The Pirates received the "second of six 'Round A' picks, with the D-backs getting the third." The Orioles, Reds and Marlins "round out Round A." Reps from many of the contending teams "were on hand to watch the drawing and the results were announced on the Network." The original 13 teams "entered into the lottery were a combination of the 10 lowest revenue clubs and 10 lowest market teams." The Tigers were added to "Round B because they were the lone team not in the original group that receives revenue sharing money" (MLB.com, 7/18). Rays President Matt Silverman, after "losing out on a 'trifling' extra draft pick" in the competitive balance lottery, said that significant "change is needed to the game's overall economic structure." Silverman said, "We've been involved in baseball for seven years, long enough to see two new basic agreements get ratified. From Day 1, we have advocated for meaningful change, especially when it comes to addressing the dramatic imbalances in our game. Meaningful change has not occurred. It must go well beyond a trifling draft pick that a team in our position may or, as (Wednesday) showed, may not be fortunate enough to receive." In Tampa, Marc Topkin notes the competitive balance lottery "was added as part of the new labor agreement to provide an additional pick in next year's draft to small-market and low-revenue teams." But the Rays, "despite being both, missed out, while less needy teams" got extra picks (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 7/19).
NOT WILD ABOUT IT: ESPN.com's Buster Olney noted MLB has "worked to bolster the integrity of the division races and reward teams for prevailing through the grind of 162 games." But in doing that, the league "may have diminished the perceived value of a wild-card berth to the degree that some teams won't extend themselves in pursuit of that carrot." The trade market this year "has been surprisingly stagnant, general managers report, and the perception of some of them is that the reduced value of a wild-card berth is partly to blame for that" (ESPN.com, 7/17).
Locked-out NFL referees say no new negotiating sessions are scheduled with the league, though the group wants them to start. Speaking on a midday conference call, NFL Referees Association Exec Dir Mike Arnold said the league’s strategy had been to lock out the refs, which occurred at midnight on June 3 after the CBA expired May 31. The NFLRA contends the league is putting player safety at risk by recruiting replacements, which the group termed “scabs,” for a minimal cost savings. The referees union's last proposal is $16.5M more over five years than the league’s own, Arnold said. The two sides are also split on pensions, with the league wanting to immediately move all referees to a 401k-type system, while the NFLRA wants existing members to continue receiving pensions. A source familiar with the league’s proposal said it offered a seven-year deal with increases of 5-11%. Arnold said the referees, who had been negotiating since October '11, last month offered a proposal that reduced the officials’ demands, but the league took five minutes to reject it. The NFL issued a statement saying, "We have negotiated in good faith for the past nine months. We are available to meet with the NFLRA at any time to negotiate a new contract" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). Arnold said, "Why would an organization with $9.3 billion in revenues which is expected to rise to $12-14 billion in the foreseeable future jeopardize the health and safety of its players and the integrity of the game by hiring scab officials? The difference in our compensation request and what they have offered is insignificant when you compare it to (total) revenue." He added, "We think it’s a reasonable request, especially given the compensation level in other sports" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/18). NFLRA President Scott Green said, "Lockout seems to be their negotiating strategy with everyone. We don't want to be locked out. We want to get back to the table and get this resolved." The league responded that it "began the process of hiring replacements when the officials told the NFL of their intention to authorize a strike" (AP, 7/18).
JEOPARDIZING SAFETY? THE SPORTS XCHANGE's Len Pasquarelli noteed, "NFL game officials yesterday raised a somewhat unexpected issue that could be one key ramification of a lockout. Player safety." It is a "significant issue potentially, but one that had not previously generated much attention" (THE SPORTS XCHANGE, 7/18). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman noted an NFL memo sent to scouts in June "basically outlines what the NFL wants in its replacement refs." Freeman: "And what they want is scary. ... The NFL is going to trust its billion-dollar business to semi-pro refs and dudes who just got off the back nine?" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/18).