SBD/November 26, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 72: Players' Proposal Shows Small Progress In CBA Talks

For all the "rhetoric and posturing" from the NHL and NHLPA on Wednesday and the "anger belted out on Twitter by players, the reality is that both sides are closer to a deal now thanks to the NHLPA’s newest proposal," according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. LeBrun: "A lot closer? No. But closer nonetheless." The NHLPA's "willingness for the first time to base a framework on the percentage of hockey-related revenue and not a guaranteed dollar amount was a monumental shift." If this deal "doesn’t get done, it’s because the politics will have gotten in the way of measured thinking." And it is "possible that could happen" (ESPN.com, 11/22).

THE FINER DETAILS: In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote NHL Commissioner Bettman "and the owners seem intent on continuing" the lockout, "even though the two sides are close enough for a quick resolution." Union officials "have wondered whether Bettman and the owners have a date in mind at which they will rake in the concessions they have won, compromise on unresolved issues and move to a quick settlement." If there "is such a date, it could be Dec. 5," when the NHL BOG holds its annual meeting. If the governors "inform Bettman then that they want to settle, the season could start within a couple of weeks" (NYTIMES.com, 11/25). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote why the players took 36 days to made "a valid offer ... is anyone’s guess, but overall I think it took that long for the harsh reality to sink in among the rank-and-file: the owners are going to get what they want, and it’s getting time for everyone to bend a little and get back to stoking the furnace of a $3 billion-plus business." Dupont: "Truth is (at least my truth), the players’ shift to 50/50 was the time for the owners silently to claim victory and get the deal done." The owners "know they’ve won now, and their reluctance to stay at the table and cut a deal last week tells us that they want more than victory." They "want a humbling, a pummeling." The "longer this grind continues, the more fans begin to believe it’s just business, nothing more, and the more sponsors/advertisers stop believing in the NHL as a viable, honest business partner" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/25).

STAYING POSITIVE: Canadiens President & CEO Geoff Molson is one of the rare owners to talk to the media, saying, "I'm not in the room negotiating and I won’t comment on that anyway. But I believe that we’ll get back to playing and I’m looking forward to that day. ... More than half the people who work at the Bell Centre are on a four-day week and to some people, every day matters. This impacts everyone." Molson: "I respect all of our players greatly and I can't wait to see them get back on the ice together. But out of respect for them, and I think they have the same respect for me, we just keep our distance for now." Molson added, "I am there behind the scenes and I’m very well informed and very much in touch with people at the NHL as well as the people on the committee. And I feel comfortable with the involvement. ... Gary's in charge of our league, he's doing a good job" (Montreal GAZETTE, 11/22). In Montreal, Pat Hickey wrote, "If I was looking at tens of millions in lost revenue because the NHL has cancelled games through the middle of December, I would want to be part of a solution. But Molson isn't alone." Hickey: "So who is negotiating? A collection of losers who need a new deal because, during a period of unprecedented growth in the NHL, they can’t figure out a way to run a business" (Montreal GAZETTE, 11/23). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the NHL needs a "hero or two (or four or five) to emerge from the ranks of the Board of Governors in order to put a stop to the madness." It is "hard to believe the owners of the Maple Leafs ... will stand by silently as the league seeks nothing less than unconditional surrender from the players." It is "impossible to believe the owners ... will continue to cede authority" (N.Y. POST, 11/25).

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE LEADERS? The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek wrote if Bettman and Donald Fehr "are ultimately unable to come to terms on a new CBA in time to save the 2012-13 season, then both should immediately resign from their respective positions when the cancellation becomes official." And "more importantly, they should pledge their willingness to do so, publicly, now" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/24). In Montreal, Jack Todd wrote Bettman "has become hockey's worst enemy." If Bettman "cared, we would not be enduring this completely unnecessary lockout." The lockout is "dragging on and on because you have a commissioner and a small clique of owners acting contrary to the interests of millions" (Montreal GAZETTE, 11/25). In Vancouver, Iain MacIntyre wrote decertification, "however remote, gives Fehr and the NHLPA an exit strategy."  But what is Bettman's "exit strategy?" MacIntyre: "Please tell me owners have a grand plan beyond merely waiting for players to fully capitulate. ... Because at the moment, Bettman's game plan looks a little thin." MacIntyre: "This is what we signed up for? In a sense, the dispute is far worse now than when Bettman triggered it in September" (VANCOUVER SUN, 11/24). In DC, Thomas Boswell profiled Fehr and wrote the most "troubling development to me is that hockey's leaders now sound like MLB owners a generation ago." NHL leaders "need to realize, in a fraction [of] the time it took baseball, that if you go to the mat with a Fehr union, everybody suffers, but you might get it worse." If "you work with them, then one day you wake up and Albert Pujols has a $275 million contract and the Dodgers sell for $2 billion" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/22).

THE SPIN: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted the owners and Bettman "have, for the most part, taken a beating via Facebook and Twitter from players, agents and fans." What will "be interesting is how sponsors respond to that." Burnside: "Do they shy away from returning or extending existing contracts based on the anger and resentment that seems to be much more prevalent this time? Why wouldn't they?" (ESPN.com, 11/21). In L.A., Helene Elliot wrote if there is not "any reason to believe pucks will drop ... when Christmas rolls around, the NHL can say goodbye to a meaningful season and the dwindling number of fans and advertisers who care about its future" (L.A. TIMES, 11/23). Ducks D Francois Beauchemin said, "The league has done a lot of damage right now. We just keep doing it every day that we're not playing. We're losing fans" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/24).

AT THE TEAM LEVEL: In Vancouver, Brad Ziemer noted Canucks fans Meredith and Dean Stevenson "cancelled their pair" of Canucks season tickets "they had held for 14 years." Meredith Stevenson said, "The last lockout (in 2004-05) didn't seem to bother me as much. Now that this is kind of the second time around and we are faced with the same old argument, I just found myself feeling increasingly frustrated." Stevenson last week "called her account representative with the Canucks" to cancel their tickets. Stevenson was the "first and only female producer at EA Sports on its NHL team." She said, "I am too angry to sympathize with either side right now" (VANCOUVER SUN, 11/24). Also in Vancouver, Tony Gallagher wrote there are many Canucks fans "wondering when this lockout will end" and there are "many who recognize that, while they would like so much to do the opposite, they will return to paying the freight like the whipped dogs they are" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 11/25). Meanwhile, in Nashville, Josh Cooper notes the Predators "have needed to get creative to publicize their business supporters." Every Friday, "for instance, the team holds a social-media-driven 'pride day' to push Predators fans to sponsor venues." Predators CEO Jeff Cogen said, "There are different initiatives for different partners, but they’re not isolated to the partner." Team salespeople "have also called and visited each sponsor." Nissan Product Communications Manager Josh Clifton said, "They have done a good job of keeping us updated" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 11/26).
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