SBD/September 13, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL CBA Update: Union, League Remain Far Apart After Wednesday Proposals

Bettman said the league's latest proposal showed "meaningful movement"
The NHL’s CBA talks yesterday resumed in N.Y. "with a sense of urgency and a flurry of activity, but one thing remained unchanged -- the unmistakable gap between the sides," according to Chris Johnston of the CP. With Saturday’s midnight deadline for a lockout looming, NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman each "tabled proposals that highlighted the differing views still held by players and owners on core economic issues." The league's latest proposal "would see players receive more revenue than the previous two it had tabled and also took an important step by using the current definition of hockey-related revenue." It called for the players’ share to be reduced to 49% next season and drop to 47% "by the end of the six-year deal." The league’s original offer in July "came in at 43 per cent and was followed by one last month at 46 per cent." Bettman said this proposal "had meaningful movement in it and it was an attempt to engage the union finally in trying to make a deal." However, Fehr "characterized the change in the NHL’s offers differently." He said that the league "had moved from asking for an 'extraordinarily large' amount of money back to a 'very big' amount" (CP, 9/12). Bettman said that the league's new offer "would give players" an additional $250-300M. Bettman: "Nobody wants to make a deal more than I do." In L.A. Helene Elliott notes the players, however, "are resisting an immediate drop from the 57% of revenue they earned last season." They are "willing to accept a five-year term, a year longer than in their initial proposal." Fehr said that the players "would take a smaller percentage of hockey-related revenue if revenue continues to grow." He also said the that sides "still have 'very meaningful differences' on significant issues, including the NHL's intent to extend entry-level status from three years to five, eliminate salary arbitration and raise the threshold for unrestricted free agency to 10 years" (L.A. TIMES, 9/13).

INSIDE THE MEETINGS: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes Bettman and Fehr "exchanged proposals during a two-and-a-half hour bargaining session." Fehr "made the union's offer first, and Bettman responded after he conferred" with Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Flames Owner Murray Edwards (N.Y. TIMES, 9/13). The AP's Ira Podell wrote Bettman's counterproposal "was hastily drawn up when he wasn't impressed with what he was given." Bettman said, "We're not asking for a rollback. We have said that our proposal -- the one that is time-sensitive -- would have a phase-in, and while it contemplates the possible reduction in player share, if you use our estimates it would be under 10 percent. If you use the players' association's estimate on revenue growth, it would actually be 7 percent." He added, "When you factor all of that in, it seems to me that having a work stoppage and damaging (hockey-related revenue) long term really doesn't make a whole lot of sense" (AP, 9/13). Fehr said, "While it is accurate, in a sense, that the owners' proposal does not take quite as much money from the players, somebody might say they've moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a really very big amount. Something like that" (ESPNNY.com, 9/12).

GULF OR PROGRESS? In Chicago, Adam Jahns writes after a "long day of negotiations and meetings, what became more clear is that the NHLPA and the owners are still far from a collective-bargaining agreement -- despite some minor progress -- and that there are still plenty of issues to address other than how revenue is dispersed." At the "heart of negotiations is still how hockey-related revenue is divided between players and owners." If there was "any progress made, it was that the owners are willing to stick with what currently defines hockey-related revenue, which the union wanted" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/13). In Boston, Steve Conroy notes the NHLPA "did not seem to consider" Bettman's proposal "all that meaningful." Fehr "continued to beat the drum for better revenue sharing among the clubs." He said, "Big market clubs must do their share. So far that's not happening" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/13). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote both sides "on the surface ... moved a little Wednesday." But "in the end, the same philosophical impasse remains: The owners want money off the top from the players, and the players in turn insist they won’t give up any current salary already on the books." It is a "massive difference of opinion." LeBrun: "I don’t see any way this thing is wrapped up anytime soon. You have to begin to think that at least half the season might be in jeopardy now with both sides so entrenched" (ESPN.com, 9/12). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes, "Funny thing was, at the end of the day, what was left for dead on the table actually resembled progress." The NHL had "finally relented on redefining what would be considered hockey-related revenue -- one of the biggest can of worms that had previously bogged down talks." Meanwhile, the NHLPA extended its offer to a five-year deal and backed off asking for 57 per cent of revenues in the final year of it." Mirtle: "So the chasm had closed a little, but it likely still won’t be nearly enough to prevent a lockout" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/13).

POSITIVE SIGNS: In N.Y., Pat Leonard notes Fehr acknowledged that he "was encouraged" that the league "pulled off the table its proposed re-definition of HRR to include rising ownership expenses, a surprising concession since the league had been adamant to force that change." Leonard writes, "Caving may be not a sign of owner panic, but it is an indication they’re impatient about the prospect of cancelling games" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/13). In Dallas, Mike Heika wrote, "The NHL pretty much played its CBA negotiations in textbook fashion Wednesday, making an offer that is about as close to the 50-50 plan that most expected would be their final best offer." It was "the type of offer owners really felt would allow meaningful negotiations in the next few days to get close to some form of 50-50 split before the CBA ends" (DALLASNEWS.com, 9/12). CSNBAYAREA.com's Kevin Kurz wrote, "It’s hard to argue that a 50-50 split of revenues is unfair to either side -- and that’s something that it appears the NHL would be willing to take, with a little prodding." The remaining issues "can be decided from there." There is, "in fact, a deal to be made here" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 9/12). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote, "It would appear that there is a deal to be done, if only the parties are willing to go to the middle ground." Somewhere around 51% or 52%, the players "would be able to avoid salary rollbacks, keeping the cap about where it was for the 2011-12 season." An amnesty buyout, as after the last lockout, "would allow teams that have spent big this summer under the current rules to get back below a cap that would be $8 million lower than under the previous CBA." Spector: "Basically, it would be the NHL’s latest proposal, nudged up a couple of percentage points" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/12).

CLOSING THE GAP: The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes, "For a time there was a sliver of daylight if you weren’t looking at the bigger picture." The NHL "moved, and not by a little. Movement is good. Movement is how two sides meet." However, "within an hour or so the players had come back out and said no, they were not interested in moving, and everything was returned to normal." Any progress "these two sides have made is largely illusory." The players "refuse to concede that this is concessionary bargaining," while the NHL "refuses to concede that it is not." Arthur: "That is the big gap, philosophically and economically. It is not exactly a small one" (NATIONAL POST, 9/13). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote that Fehr views ownership moves as "a pure power play." He said the owners' position in bargaining is that a lockout "worked so well last time, we get to do it all over again." The owners "have been frustrated by what they consider the union's foot-dragging." But as much as Fehr "insists the union respects the Sept. 15 deadline, his actions don't indicate he does, and neither do his words." The players "walked into the league office Wednesday armed with what they called a new proposal." But the "problem is, the players ignored the owners' biggest demand -- that the players take an immediate pay cut." Bettman "sent a clear signal that there is room to negotiate, and he's right: When you factor all of this in, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have a lockout and damage the business long-term" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/12)

ICING THE PUCK: In Winnipeg, Paul Friesen writes, "Why they can’t just make this a 50-50 relationship is anybody’s guess. My guess is they eventually will, but it won’t be before the real deadline." What both parties "risk losing is fan support, at least in the U.S." Friesen: "You’d like to think it could even lead to a few cracks in the ice up here." The current "hockey-mad state of Canadian affairs developed over time, and there’s nothing that says it can’t erode over time, too" (WINNIPEG SUN, 9/13). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote Bettman "is in a serious bind." Engel: "No one is supporting the owners or Bettman this time." During the '04-05 lockout, "nothing was really fixed but the problems just looked different; now we know that the '04 lockout and this potential stoppage is another money grab disguised as a solution" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 9/12). In Edmonton, Jim Matheson writes, "The prevailing feeling is the owners can handle a lockout because they don’t care if there are games in October and into November in the U.S. because they’re battling the NFL and high-school and college sports in their town for the fans’ dollar anyway." But that is "short-sighted thinking" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 9/13).

Jacobs is seen as having a large influence
on the CBA bargaining process

ROLE OF JACOBS
: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "If there is one owner who appears to have a disproportionate amount of sway within the ownership group -- and hence the bargaining process -- it's Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs."  Jacobs is "seen as a hard-liner who would like to see the players' share of the revenue pie reduced significantly from the 50-50 that many believe is a target for much of the ownership side." A source said, "I can't tell you how powerful he is" (ESPN.com, 9/12).

PLAYERS SPEAK: Stars LW Ray Whitney "does see the owners' side in the negotiations." Whitney said, "They’re entitled to make money the same as we are. If I have any kind of business, I want it to be profitable. But I don’t know if the high-end ones should be making all the money and the lower-end ones should barely tread water" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 9/13). Red Wings D Ian White said, "We're the workforce out there, and we're the product, so maybe we should get two-thirds of the pie. Who knows? We just want a fair piece, and we don't want to get taken advantage of" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/13). 

UNITY AMONG PLAYERS?  In Edmonton, Robert Tychkowski writes, "After playing the villains to perfection in their last hard-line negotiation with the National Hockey League, it’s strange seeing the NHLPA wearing white hats this time around."  The "soon-to-be-locked-out players are certainly not being cast as the money-grubbing mercenaries they were before" (EDMONTON SUN, 9/13).  In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes Fehr "has done a marvelous job keeping his players unified -- but that is why he wanted to control the message on Wednesday, rather than have Bettman drop the bomb that the owners are coming around." Some players, "especially those who survived the last lockout, are starting to get antsy." Seravalli: "The stronger and more unified the union, the longer this unavoidable lockout will go and the more games will be missed" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/13). The Red Wings' White said, "Guys are all on the same page. Pretty much everyone across the board is informed. The last one was pretty much the polar opposite. No one really knew what was going on. Things were going on behind people's backs and stuff. It's a lot different this time around." He added, "Players are thinking collectively" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/13).

A DIFFERENT FEEL: In DC, Stephen Whyno writes, "Fehr gets it, and that’s not to say ex-union head Bob Goodenow didn’t. But what Goodenow wasn’t able to do in 2004-05 was keep the NHLPA from splintering." Whyno: "Today’s climate doesn’t feel even like 2004-05, when commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners were steadfast on their desire to implement a salary cap. It’s less poisonous, but it appears, at least through meetings, emails and conference calls, players are more prepared" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/13). In Ft. Lauderdale, Mike Berardino writes, "Betrayed too many times in the past by unfaithful (Alan Eagleson) and ineffectual (Bob Goodenow) leadership, hockey players are talking tough in the face of ownership's demand for sweeping concessions." Berardino: "Just the same, no one should expect the players to buckle anytime soon just because the owners are crying poor." This time around, the "Fehr Factor is on their side" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/13). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites sources as saying that the players "are concerned" that Bettman is going to try to break the union. A veteran NHL player said, "He did it once before. He might be trying to do it again" (OTTAWA SUN, 9/13). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "There’s absolutely no evidence the NHLPA will stand together this time, either." The NHLPA "has been stitched together and appearances are improved, but proof of a stronger union won’t come until they’ve been through a tough battle together" (TORONTO STAR, 9/13).
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