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NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an e-mail that the league and NHLPA "met Friday at the union offices in Toronto," according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Daly "was joined by" Commissioner Gary Bettman in the meeting with NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and Special Counsel Steve Fehr. Daly said that there was "nothing more to report." Sources said that during Friday's meeting, the NHL "strongly urged the NHLPA to come up with a new proposal." The sources added that the NHLPA "also asked the league to come up with a new proposal." The meeting came a day after the NHL canceled the opening two weeks of the regular season and "was not announced to the media" (ESPN.com, 10/6). The CP's Chris Johnston noted a union spokesperson said that the two sides "met in both the morning and afternoon in an effort 'to move this process forward' ... and they are expected to keep in touch by phone over the coming days." Johnston noted both sides "seemed optimistic that another negotiating session would be scheduled" for this week (CP, 10/5). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote in a "refreshing shift, both sides released nearly identical statements after Friday’s meeting that displayed no emotion or rancor, containing the simple but consistent message that they had resumed meetings and planned to continue talking" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 10/5). The AP reports a union spokesperson said that the sides are "likely to meet Wednesday and Thursday in New York" (AP, 10/8).
WHO WILL MAKE THE NEXT MOVE? In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes as the lockout "enters its fourth week with no solution on the horizon, a question is quietly being whispered: When are we going to see cracks in the armour?" The belief is "not everybody on the NHL's board of governors is happy the league is in the midst of its third lockout in 20 years -- all with Bettman at the helm -- and he's getting some heat to try to find a solution." A league source said, "My guess is you've got about 10 teams that are pretty nervous right now. But (Bettman) has the power of the executive committee behind him." The source added, "The dissenters are being quiet and waiting to see how far (Bettman) can (make) Fehr go" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/8). Sharks D Dan Boyle said, "It's a certain group of teams that are controlling 30 others. It doesn't make any sense to me that eight teams can control the fate of 22 other ones." He added, "But the eight guys ... what if there are 22 teams out there that want to play right now? How do eight teams control their fate? That bothers me the most" (QMI AGENCY, 10/5). Player agent Neil Abbott said, "It's a miscalculation by the owners if they think we're going to fold quickly. I just don't see it." In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote Bettman has "perfected the art of closing ranks and buttoning mouths among his billionaire employers." But it will be "nearly impossible" for Fehr to "keep his side as focused or as tightlipped." The players are "far more informed than they were under Bob Goodenow 7-8 years ago, but they are still individual contractors, many with families, all with bills to pay, and all with expiration dates on their careers." The owners are "hoping that Thursday's action is the first step in making the players feel the pain, then acquiesce to their demands." Abbott said, "At some point, you have to wonder about ownership's good-faith bargaining" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/7).
TOUGH TALK: Capitals D Karl Alzner said, "We know we're going to have to take a hit. It's just how big of a hit we need to take." He added, "No one wants to lose the negotiation. We understand we're definitely not going to win it" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 10/5). In Toronto, Dave Feschuk wrote under the header, "Going For Broke In Standoff With Owners Likely To Cost Players" (TORONTO STAR, 10/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote the players "have to 'win' this time." They have "a score to even and ... are not budging from their initial stance." The league is saying the players are "not even counter-offering in the usual spirit of difficult labour negotiations" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/6).
THINGS ARE DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND: QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote there is a "sense this time is way different and it would seem to be a presumptuous assumption the fans will be there the way they were in 2005." The longer the lockout "drags on, the better the chances fans will stay away this time" (QMI AGENCY, 10/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes the NHL "knows its approval ratings with sponsors, TV networks and fans are more vulnerable this lockout than in 2004-05." Sources said that the NHL "did tracking on whom fans supported in the last lockout, and the result was 60 per cent for owners, 25 per cent for players and 15 for neither side." Dowbiggin: "Safe to say, however, that the league has had greater problems selling its message on changing revenue models this time out." But the players "remain as unpopular as ever in many quarters" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote under the header, "If Owners Are Thinking Big Picture, Where Does TV Contract Fit?" Even if there is no NHL season, NBC "still will pay the league $200 million -- and then get a free season on the back end of the deal, in 2021-22." Spector: "Shouldn't that free season be a concern if the owners are thinking about the big picture? Conventional wisdom would say absolutely, but don't be so sure" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/5).
VOICE FOR THE PLAYERS: The TORONTO STAR's Feschuk profiled Octagon Hockey Dir Allan Walsh, who "currently represents a long list of well-known players," from Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury to Sharks RW Martin Havlat. But he is "perhaps best known as an irrepressible voice on Twitter, where his frequent posts are always interesting and often controversial." Walsh during the lockout "has been his usual vociferous self." Havlat said, "A lot of people like him for it and a lot of people hate him for it. He does anything to help his players. And now he’s helping the whole union and all of the players with his comments (on Twitter). He’s always honest. He speaks from his heart, and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. Sometimes when you say the truth publicly, you’re hurting a lot of people. ... Sometimes the truth hurts.” Walsh said, "I want to make sure lines don’t get crossed and people don’t mistake the fact -- ‘Hey, if Allan Walsh is saying it, that must be the official PA position.’ Because there’s actually been very little communication between me and the PA about anything I may tweet. But at the end of the day, it’s no secret where my allegiances lie” (TORONTO STAR, 10/5).
BETTMAN'S LEADERSHIP STYLE: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes under the header, "Like Him Or Loathe Him, Bettman Brings Brains To Bear." Nowhere in the "frustration or in any of the other critical assessments of Bettman’s handling of the lockout is there any suggestion the commissioner doesn’t know what he is doing." As many a "hockey man or would-be hockey man from Bob Goodenow to [former RIM co-CEO] Jim Balsillie discovered, you trifle with Bettman at your peril." Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said, “When I worked for the league we would say about a guy, ‘He’s smart but he’s not Bettman-smart.'" Former MLSE President & CEO Richard Peddie said, “The profile of any leader is they’re all very aggressive and assertive. And Gary would be high on that scale of assertiveness. But [NBA Commissioner] David Stern comes off a lot more aggressive than Gary Bettman, a lot more.” Shoalts notes Peddie’s "only complaint about Bettman’s leadership, aside from impatience with governors who do ask a lot of questions, is a reluctance to go into great detail about the league’s financial problems such as the Phoenix Coyotes" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/8).
BETTMAN'S INFLUENCE: The TORONTO STAR's Feschuk writes in "most scenarios Bettman only needs the consent of eight owners to veto any agreement." It is "no wonder, then, that Bettman’s hawkish anti-union base often gets its way while the let’s-just-play moderates in Toronto and New York and Montreal get ignored." A "decent argument" can be made that Bettman "has seen his annual salary balloon to $7.8 million simply because he has figured out how to rule unchallenged at the head of a mutual admiration society" (TORONTO STAR, 10/8). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth noted author Jonathan Gatehouse has a new biography titled "The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever." Hoffarth asked if Bettman is "the right guy to 'carry on' and lead the league another 20 years." Gatehouse said, "If Gary Bettman wins this lockout -- which I'm convinced he will -- he's emperor for life. Whether he's the right guy to carry on will be immaterial. The owners respect money and he's made them plenty." He added, "I came to respect and even admire him in some ways. He's a smart guy and he has a really difficult job." Gatehouse said what he wants readers to take away most from his book is to "have a better understanding of how much influence Bettman has had on hockey -- the product on the ice, the way it's marketed and broadcast, even where it's played. It's really Gary's game now" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 10/7).
WANING IN POPULARITY? Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Gail Fischer said, “You can tell the popularity of a sport by how much the fans are clamoring during a lockout, which we saw with the NFL and the NBA a little bit. I’m not hearing a whole lot of grumbling right now from fans” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/5). CBS Sports Network’s Jim Rome said of the NHL lockout, “We actually are talking more about it right now because they’re not playing it than we would be if they were playing.” SI's Andy Staples said hockey is the “best in-person spectator sport," but it is a "terrible TV sport, and all the money is in TV contracts." Staples: "Until the owners figure that out and make a CBA that they can handle and stop spending so much and save them from themselves, this is going to happen” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 10/5).
After the NHL last week announced it was canceling 82 regular-season games due to the ongoing lockout, Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr sat for separate Q&As with the GLOBE & MAIL. Bettman spoke with columnist Roy MacGregor. Below are excerpts from their conversation.
Q: You are portrayed as the bogeyman ... Does it hurt?
Bettman: If you’re thin-skinned, you don’t belong doing what I do for a living. I have the support of ownership. I constantly try to do what I believe is in the best interests of this game.
Q: A lot of people would point out that Hockey in the last 20 years has had one players' strike and three owners' lockouts. ... Is it possible that if someone else were head of the league there might not have been so many stoppages?
Bettman: I suppose that anybody in my position, knowing what I know, would have done the same things. But it’s not just hockey. The NFL and the NBA in the last year and a half have both had work stoppages, and baseball, I think prior to the last decade, had eight consecutive work stoppages.
Q: When it was settled in 2005, not only was the game improved but the owners felt that they had a good deal ... But now the owners say it is not a good deal. How is it that costs and other issues require that you relook at this arrangement?
Bettman: The fact is the cost of doing business, particularly in the recessionary environment that we have been through, has increased daily. ... Since costs in this recessionary environment have gone up so dramatically -- I’m told that the fuel that flies the planes that we use to move the players around in has gone up 175 per cent in the last five years. Other costs have gone up, perhaps not as dramatically on a percentage basis, but in a recessionary environment it has become more difficult to do business.
Q: Prior to the very end of this last collective agreement, there was a flurry of player signings ... Is that helpful?
Bettman: Not particularly, but it was perfectly acceptable under the system. ... These long-term, back-diving contracts are really attempts to circumvent the system. And the fact that they have become so prevalent has actually pointed out the need to fix it. I know that lots of people look at what they did and scratch their head. I can understand how they could be complaining about it (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/6).
Meanwhile, Fehr spoke with columnist Jeff Blair. Below are excerpts from their conversation.
Fehr says the players would discuss a deal that
includes a soft salary cap and a luxury tax
Fehr: If you put Roger Goodell in Gary’s job or Gary in Roger Goodell’s job you would get positions which are more or less the same because they are dictated by the owners and not the commissioners, unless they’re dictated by the common labour strategy of lock out and ask questions later, which exists in the cap sports. Baseball is different in one particular way, and this strikes me as more important as time goes on: Bud Selig is different than any other commissioner I know of with the exception of Al Davis in the early years of the American Football League and the reason is he owned a club and ran a team and he understands what it’s like at the ground level. Without that experience I’m not sure your perspective can be the same.
Q: A lot of people wonder about NHL players going overseas during the lockout to take other players' jobs away ...
Fehr: The owners in hockey locked out the players for a year last time. With the same outside advisers, you had a lockout in football and basketball and even had a lockout of the NFL officials, for goodness sake. They’ve been talking about it for a long time; everybody has known for a long time that the lockout is the strategy of first resort
Q: The owners seem to be saying that you haven't made a real counterproposal, that you are merely repositioning. How would you respond?
Fehr: It's spin. ... You have to distinguish between offers which are really made for the purpose of trying to reach an agreement and those which aren't.
Q: My Globe and Mail colleague David Shoalts wrote recently that a soft cap and luxury tax could get a deal done. ... Do you think it would work?
Fehr: There has been zero interest in discussing anything except an absolutely hard cap on the other side. It’s just a question from the owners position what the numbers would be. I think it’s something we’d be prepared to talk about if they were.
Q: How do you repond to owners' criticism that you delayed negotiations?
Fehr: Spin. Does anybody think that our problem negotiating is that we haven't talked enough?
Q: Why not just go to a 50/50 split and be done with it? Would that get a deal done?
Fehr: It would get it done in the immediate term, because it's a 12 1/2-per-cent pay cut. We have told the owners that the players were willing to -- if we got revenue sharing and other stuff -- have a fixed dollar amount share for two or three years which would have the effect of having it fall toward 50 and consider things past that (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/6).
AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE: Webster Univ. sports economics professor Dr. Patrick Rishe said of Fehr, "I know he's a tough negotiator and for years he was used to getting his way by virtue of the fact that MLB is still the only league that doesn't have a salary cap. But I think the wrangling that will go on over the course of the next month or two is simply seeing what (off-ice) concessions he can get ... just like the NFL got fewer workouts, this that and the other" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/8).
The WNBA “continues to fly under the radar even as it prepares for its 16th finals this week,” and though it “wouldn’t be accurate to say that nobody cares, league officials say they wish more people did,” according to William Rhoden of the N.Y. TIMES. WNBA officials said that merchandise sales have “increased 19 percent over last season and group sales by 20 percent,” while season-ticket renewals for ‘13 are “up 10 percent.” But Rhoden writes, “Metrics are one thing, passion quite another." Despite an uptick in season-ticket sales, the WNBA “had its lowest average regular-season attendance, 7,457 fans a game, since its inception.” The WNBA in a “significant shift" is now promoting "its top talent, like Minnesota’s heavily tattooed star Seimone Augustus.” Former WNBAer Chamique Holdsclaw said, “Sometimes it wasn’t the best players who were being promoted, but the best image. I see the league getting away from that.” She added, “The league realizes that it has to support and have a place for its gay community. ... You have players, some star players now, who openly identify as being gay. Early on, the league would not market them because of that. That has changed.” Meanwhile, Rhoden notes there have been “suggestions that the WNBA should play in smaller arenas to create a more intimate experience." Sparks Owner & CEO Paula Madison said, “In order for us to gain the kind of marketing dollars and sponsorship dollars, we have to play big." Holdsclaw said, "The WNBA and NBA need businesswomen and women executives buying season tickets and going to games after work. ... We’re not there.” Madison added that the Sparks are the “only WNBA team with a paid local television contract" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/8).
NBA Commissioner David Stern appeared on NBC Sports Network’s “CNBC Sports Biz: Game On!” Friday and discussed the league’s international efforts. The league will again hold a regular season game in England, while preseason games are taking place in China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Turkey. When asked by CNBC’s Brian Shactman why the league is behind a “continual push” to play in foreign countries, Stern said, “This is just continuing a series of moves we’ve made. We've got offices all over the world and we've got television sponsorship, merchandising events all over the world.” Shactman said expanding the brand “is an easy sell,” but to what “extent do you actually expand profitability?” Stern: “Our games are on TV in 215 countries in 43 languages and in none of those countries do we give it away. So that's a very profitable opportunity for us. adidas in China, for example, has 6,000 shops and 2,500 of them sell NBA merchandise, as well as our online presence which is expanding in China as well. So there are commercial arrangements that accompany this expansion that make it more profitable for us to do it than not to do it.” Shactman cited Navigate Research as estimating that international media rights, licensing and merchandising netted the league some $450M this year. The league's “international revenue has grown more than 10% every single year since 1992,” and Navigate estimates the NBA “will earn $1B in international revenue by 2022 and $1.7B 10 years later.” Shactman: “The NBA’s international business could generate more than a quarter of the NBA's revenue in 20 years” (“CNBC Sports Biz: Game On!,” NBC Sports Network, 10/5).
GOING GLOBAL: In Orlando, James Fredrick reports last night's Hornets-Magic preseason game in Mexico City drew 18,133 fans to Ciudad de Mexico Arena, and they "stuck around to relish the last few moments of hosting NBA players." The league has "not announced whether it will play any other games in Mexico" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 10/8). Meanwhile, in Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman notes the Heat left yesterday for Beijing, and while "plenty of cultural and corporate events will be mixed into the schedule, there also are a pair of exhibitions and four practice sessions scheduled over the week." Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is "insisting the week also will be about basketball." However, with the "drudgery of last week's training camp at AmericanAirlines Arena behind them, Spoelstra said that there is "no need solely for non-stop basketball" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/8).
The UFL "could shutter shortly if it is unable to pay its players," according to sources cited by Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The sources said that the players "have yet to be paid this year." The four-team league, which is "operating without a commissioner, several weeks ago hired the law firm Morrison & Foerster to defend it from the claims that have been brought against the struggling outfit from ex-employees and vendors." Some agents have been "advising players not to compete until they are paid, further contending that some players have left clubs." Agent David Canter, who has three UFL player clients, each owed $28,000 for the season, said, "I have told my clients in writing that until they are compensated they should not play. My understanding is before one game players were basically begged by the coaches to get on the plane to go to a game" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/8 issue). Sacramento Mountain Lions Owner Paul Pelosi said, "The players have not been paid yet. ... We guarantee that they will be paid ... and we're going to do that very soon." Virginia Destroyers Owner and acting UFL Chair Bill Mayer: "If you talk to players that have played in past seasons, they got paid. Not always on time, but there's no one who hasn't gotten paid" (SACBEE.com, 10/6).