SBD/December 18, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 94: Players Would Be "Surprised" If Disclaimer Not Approved

Another day in the NHL lockout passed without communication between the league and NHLPA, who "have no plans to return to the bargaining table and appear to be digging in," according to Chris Johnston of the CP. Both sides said that they are "prepared to meet but neither seems willing to make the first move." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr said, “It seems like the league has ... paused or cut the process off several times over the last few months. I don’t know that we ever have." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "I’m sure if either one of us has a new idea for moving the process forward, we know how to get in touch" (CP, 12/17). Fehr said that there has "been no contact between" he and Daly since Friday, and that "no future meetings have been scheduled." ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang noted the union "has until Jan. 2 to disclaim interest." Fehr declined to comment on "how such a move would impact negotiations." He said, "I'd respond to that by saying I don't want to comment about internal union matters at this time" (ESPNNY.com, 12/17). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle notes the vote to dissolve the union "appears to have put the league and players in a holding pattern in terms of future talks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/18). However, in L.A., Helene Elliott noted the two sides "could still negotiate while the legal maneuvering continues" (LATIMES.com, 12/17).

BREAKING UP THE BAND: Oilers C Shawn Horcoff said that he would "be surprised if the disclaimer isn't approved in a landslide." Horcoff: "Guys are going to be pretty highly in favor of it. I’ve been in conference calls with 200-300 players. We just feel at this point the union has done everything they can for us and we’re not getting anywhere. It’s time for us to go in a different direction." Red Wings RW Danny Cleary said, "If it’s not 99.8 percent, I’d be disappointed" (ESPN.com, 12/17). Cleary: "The way we look at it is, we've got 2 1/2 weeks. Either we are playing, or we're not. I just hope that we get back to playing. I'm nervous" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/18).

JUDGE & JURY: In N.Y., Pat Leonard notes players by Thursday are "expected to give their union's executive board the authority to disband the players' association," and if the board acts on that authority by Jan. 2, it will "open the league's 30 owners to individual player anti-trust lawsuits and punitive damages amounting to triple their salaries." Winston & Strawn Partner Jeffrey Kessler, who previously has represented the NFLPA and NBAPA, said, "The league will be responsible for three times all the salaries it owes to the players -- that will be billions of dollars. If you were faced with a billion-dollar liability, what impact would that have on your desire to settle?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/18). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "Forget this season if these two parties step through the legal porthole. Once this goes to court, all bets are off." Antitrust suits "could mean irreparable damage to the league and its teams." The union "could, of course, fail and be wiped out" (ESPN.com, 12/17). 

RISKY BUSINESS: In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes many see the legal maneuvering as "high-stakes chicken, trying to wring out a concession or two before both sides pull back from the second spiked season since 2004-05." Player agent Ian Pulver said that this dispute "is getting far nastier than 2004-05." Pulver: "Last time it was philosophical, cap or no cap, and it stayed at that level. This time, I sense with the owners going to court that we’re in a new realm. Owners are treating players like they did in football and basketball." He added, "You hear the league is ready to die on a hill (on a couple of sticking points). If only one side wants to be flexible, a deal won’t get done" (TORONTO SUN, 12/18). 

WIN, LOSE OR DRAW: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote, "Almost everyone acknowledges that the league has already won. Now all that is to be determined is the margin of victory." That is what "everyone was saying seven years ago, too, but the NHL is intent on making those words prophetic this time." That is the "main reason why 94 days into this lockout, we’re still not watching any hockey" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/17). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote, "Let's be clear here: The players have done most of the giving in this negotiation. There's no way you can argue otherwise. But as I've long maintained, that had to be the understood context of this negotiation from Day 1." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr's responsibility "all along was to make the best out of that negative backdrop," and in "many ways, he has." His patience in this negotiation "has helped get his membership the kind of offer from the league that I never imagined would ever be available." LeBrun: "And in a comment that I'm hearing more and more from people on the ownership side, I'm not sure the NHL returns with 30 teams on the other side of a lost season" (ESPN.com, 12/17).

DAMAGED GOODS? The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor writes the NHL "has a major marketing challenge facing it, whenever it decides to end the current lockout -- and the longer it goes on, the worse it will get." Level5 Strategy Group conducted a survey as a "tool that might be sold to the multiple corporate sponsors of professional hockey, in order to show what they need to tap into with hockey fans if they hope to regain their former good standing." Level5 CEO David Kincaid said that from a "branding point of view, NHL hockey and its multiple corporate sponsors are facing a huge hurdle." Kincaid: "We found damage at levels we have not seen. It's quite alarming, really. If anyone thinks that the lockout can end and everyone will come back to Happy Valley, it ain't going to happen." The survey of 1,066 people found that one-third of Canadians polled "consider themselves 'passionate' about hockey, one-third is neutral on the topic and one-third has no interest at all." Level5 found that "a lot of males have slipped into 'neutrality' about the game." MacGregor: "The passionate fans are angry, the neutral fans turned off and bored, the mostly non-fans -- the people hockey needs to attract if it hopes to grow -- disgusted" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/18).

FEHR & LOATHING: In L.A., Bill Shaikin profiled Donald Fehr and wrote, "He breathes fire at the suggestion he is not acting in the best interests of hockey. His working life has been devoted to challenging owners who claim the best interests of a sport preclude players from negotiating with the team with which they want to play, for whatever salary that team might want to pay." Fehr said, "We have to remind people that the words we use -- free agency, the reserve system, the amateur draft, and all that stuff -- are simply economic devices to control prices. ... Owners like them, because the way they control the price is to lower the price of what they buy and to increase the price of what they sell. That is what cartels do." He added, "Player rights are not inconsistent with a booming industry. The proof is what the Dodgers sold for" (L.A. TIMES, 12/17).
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