SBD/August 24, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL's Gary Bettman Says League Is Paying Its Players Too Much In Salaries

Bettman said it is going to be difficult to proceed without dealing with economic issues
Negotiations for a new NHL CBA will reconvene in N.Y. on Tuesday "with both sides still far apart ahead of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s Sept. 15 lockout deadline," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. After a 90-minute negotiating session with the NHLPA in Toronto Thursday, Bettman said, "We think we're paying too much in salaries." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said, "I'm not sure there's any employer that wouldn't like a reduction in what it pays people. That's not a surprise." When asked about the potential damage of another lockout, Bettman said, "We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans." Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly Tuesday "will meet with Fehr and Fehr's brother Steve, also an NHLPA executive, in a small group session that will focus on the core economic issues dividing the two sides" (NYTIMES.com, 8/23). The CP's Chris Johnston wrote another NHL lockout "is beginning to feel like an inevitability." Johnston: "Unable to move beyond the philosophical stage of talks, the owners and players have watched another week slip by without progress" (CP, 8/23).

ECONOMICS 101: Bettman said that Thursday's session "dealt, in part, with an NHLPA proposal on players' contracting issues." He said, "It's clear we're at a point where it's going to be very difficult to move this process along until we deal with the very fundamental economic issues." In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes Bettman "indicated Thursday that league-wide revenue-sharing was not a divisive issue in the CBA talks." He said that the league "has proposed $190 million a year go to revenue-sharing, and the union proposed a $240 million pool that offers more flexibility in helping franchises that are struggling financially" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/24). Penguins RW Craig Adams said, "On the core economic issues, we're still far apart. So far, we're early in the process. People don't want to hear that, but when you've sat out a whole year before, you realize it's only August. We have a long way to go" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/24). Red Wings G Jimmy Howard said, "The proposal we gave them was very creative, and it addressed their (ownerships') concerns." Red Wings RW Danny Cleary: "I was optimistic when we gave them our offer, but the league didn't respond to it (favorably). The game has never been better. The parity is obvious, there are probably 18 teams who have a chance to win (the Stanley Cup). Revenues are growing. Everyone would like to see the season started on time." Cleary added, "Guys are behind what we've presented. We're behind Don and our leadership" (DETROIT NEWS, 8/24).

CONTRADICTING WITH CONTRACTS: In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes two days "of owners and players butting heads in Toronto this week did very little," as a "wide gap in philosophy remains." Bettman "zinged the union by saying 'we believe we are paying the players more than we should,' and cited huge increases in the average salary in the life of the current CBA." Yet owners are "still offering mega-dollar contracts, some longer than the five year maximum they've demanded the union now accept." The "one good thing from the two days of Toronto meetings, both which lasted just half a day, were that the sides are still cordial" (TORONTO SUN, 8/24). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote Bettman's statement on player salaries is "one that comes off as entirely hypocritical" after the Wild spent $196M to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the Predators matched the Flyers' $110M offer to Shea Weber. It would "be a lot easier for Bettman to make his case if star players were only getting offers from teams in the biggest markets." There is a "salary cap and a salary floor, and when the small-market Predators talk about wanting to be a cap team, it doesn't do much for the case that the players are overpaid" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/23).

LEARNING FROM HIS PEERS: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote, "Emboldened by ownership wins in the NBA and NFL, the NHL's owners want to dramatically reduce that 57-percent of revenues down to, at best for the players, a 50/50 split." This would "be accomplished via a rollback on existing contracts." The players "might even consider dipping down to the expected 50/50 split with the owners ... if the rest of the financial system was in fact the status quo." But the league "wants a reduction in salaries and revisions to the current system that will, again, protect the owners from themselves" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/23). The NATIONAL POST's Michael Traikos writes Bettman "wants a mulligan." He "wants the economic system that he envisioned in 2005, complete with cost certainty and a conservative salary cap." Essentially, he "would like to go back in time and repair the glitches that he did not foresee happening." Traikos asks, "How did the CBA, which seemed to benefit the owners and punish the players, transform into something the players want to keep but Bettman can no longer live with?" Traikos lists five key points: the strength of the Canadian dollar; the salary cap; front-loaded contracts; entry-level deals; and "owners being owners" (NATIONAL POST, 8/24). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes the NHL and its players "are headed for a lockout on Sept. 15 because of leverage, and also because of a lack of leverage." At its "cold beating heart, this is about money." The "most important leverage may be the leverage hockey has over its fans, especially in Canada." That is "where the NHL is negotiating from" (NATIONAL POST, 8/24).

FANS LIKELY WILL COME BACK REGARDLESS: SportsNet N.Y.'s Kerith Burke said the league "thinks the fans will come crawling back like fools, even when owners want to be greedy again and let the CBA expire on September 15th." Burke: "If that's the perspective leading into these lockout talks, I think we're in trouble” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 8/24). The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc said, “I do think the fans will come back. I think hockey fans are a rare breed, I think they love the sport." It would hurt the "casual fans" (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 8/23).
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