SBD/October 8, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 23: Bettman, Fehr Give One-On-One Interviews To Globe & Mail

Bettman says as NHL commissioner he can't be "thin-skinned"
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

Q: What differences have you noticed negotiating with Gary Bettman compared to baseball commissioner Bud Selig?
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).
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