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SBD/January 3, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NHL and NHLPA met last night for over four hours with Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Deputy Dir Scot Beckenbaugh at the league's offices until just before 1:00am ET. Although scant progress was believed to have been made, the union did not notify the league that it had filed a Disclaimer of Interest before a midnight deadline and negotiations continued. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said the union retains "all legal options." A disclaimer can still be filed at a later date if the players re-voted to do so. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said more negotiations would take place today before Beckenbaugh. Chief among the issues still unresolved is player pensions. Fehr said, "Still a ways to go" (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Helene Elliott notes Beckenbaugh has "mediated talks twice before" (L.A. TIMES, 1/3). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes last night's negotiations marked "five proposals -- three from the league, two from the players -- over the last seven days" (Bergen RECORD, 1/3). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes the big news of the night was the NHLPA's exec board "not filing its disclaimer." Sources said that the NHLPA will "very much try to seek out authorization once again for filing a disclaiming -- via another player vote -- if there’s no deal in place 'very soon.'" LeBrun: "Still, it tells me that the players feel there has been enough traction in talks this week that a deal is doable" (ESPN.com, 1/3). In Newark, Rich Chere cites sources as saying that "minor progress was made but that there is still a lot to accomplish if a partial season is to be saved" (NJ.com, 1/3). Bettman and Fehr both said that there was "some traction in some areas," but ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang notes it is "not believed they reached an agreement on any of the issues paramount to each side." They still remain "divided on some of the big issues," including the "proposed salary cap for Year 2." A source said that the NHL is "asking for a $60 million cap in 2013-14 down from $70.2 million (pro-rated) in 2011-12, while the union is seeking $65 million." The source added that while it was believed that the union also may "request a cap on escrow, that has never been a component of any of its formal proposals" (ESPNNY.com, 1/3).
PENSION PLAN EMERGES AS KEY ISSUE: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes players are "very concerned about the new pension plan that has been proposed, particularly how it will be funded" (USATODAY.com, 1/3). In N.Y., Jeff Klein reports the union has proposed that "players finance the pension plan, but owners would be responsible for covering any potential shortfalls that might arise." The owners appeared to "be balking at assuming that risk" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3). In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari notes pensions had been "generally regarded as a settled issue for a while, but players say the league changed the language on pensions in the proposal it submitted last Thursday." Until then, players felt that pensions were "the one area where they would fare better under the CBA now being negotiated than they had under the one that expired Sept. 15" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/3). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur notes for the players the pension issue has "suddenly become a matter of great importance -- not only is it a demonstrable victory for a huge subsection of players whose careers are short, but the players would prefer to transfer some risk to the owners in the event of possible shortfalls" (NATIONAL POST, 1/3). The CBC's Elliotte Friedman notes the players are "steamed about this one, especially since it looked like the two sides already agreed on the pension package." The owners are "concerned about who covers shortfalls and what happens after this whenever-signed-CBA is over." The players felt the league "went back on a promise to split that risk, a change that may cost them double what they'd expected." Friedman: "Is it possible the league will concede on this one for a 'get' somewhere else?" (CBC.ca, 1/3).
BEGINNING TO COMPROMISE: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "We're no longer talking about 20 or more issues. We’re down to four or five, one of the most prominent, surprisingly, being pensions, and the formula through which the league would be liable for a shortfall down the road." Pensions are a "symbolic and highly flammable issue between the league and the players because of the unflattering NHL history on the issue." Cox: "It’s a sticky issue. But resolvable" (TORONTO STAR, 1/3). Bettman said, "Pension plan is a very complicated issue. ... But that's something that we understand is important to the players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/3). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector writes seeking an "optimal pension plan, one of the few areas where the NHLPA still has a chance to claim victory, means that putting off the disclaimer is the smart move for now" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes the players are "being stubborn on the pension issue because they feel they have already made a lot more concessions than the owners." The biggest one in their eyes is "agreeing to drop their share of revenue" from 57% to 50%. It also was "originally thought the players wanted a cap on escrow payments, but that is apparently not the case" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/3). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi noted the NHLPA yesterday "made a huge concession ... backing off on its desire to have a cap on escrow payments" (PHILLY.com, 1/2).
APPROACHING DEADLINE: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites a source as saying the NHL is motivated to strike a deal by Jan. 11 because “there’s enough teams that have made it clear to Bettman that they’d rather play this year than see another cancelled season." The sides are "close to a deal on term limits for player contracts and the year-to-year salary variance, which could be in the 15-to-20% range." The term of the next CBA "still has to be agreed upon." The players also "desire to have at least one exhibition game if there is to be a shortened season this winter" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/3). ESPN.com's LeBrun writes, "My sense is they get a deal done over the next few days. I just think they're too close in the overall picture to let the Year 2 cap, the pension or any other of the remaining issues prevent this from getting done and save a season" (ESPN.com, 1/3).
CHANGING TACTICS: CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty wrote the sides have "finally patched up the leaky back channels that had consistently unearthed details about both sides’ offers, and done everything possible to make the other side look like mud." A silence has "dropped over the negotiations, and that is one of the most promising signs yet that a deal might [be] in the wings." It appears the NHL’s strategy was "to grind out the players until January, throw the non-traditional NHL markets a bone by cutting off their three least profitable months of the season, and then cut a deal before throwing itself off the NHL fiscal cliff" (CSNNE.com, 1/2). SI.com's Stu Hackel wrote the owners "should have steered away from all their divide-and-conquer stalling tactics, each designed to make the players miss paychecks, weaken their resolve, and get them to accept proposals that were always portrayed as 'the best we can do' when, in fact -- as Fehr told his troops -- there were always better offers waiting down the road after each intermission." The more the league "schemed, the more unified the players became." This was a "major miscalculation by ownership, one of many in this lockout" (SI.com, 1/2).
THE LAST DON: In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes the players "have their self-respect back -- and, through Donald Fehr’s infuriating-but-effective stall tactics, probably gotten more out of the NHL than Gary Bettman ever imagined when he planned this lockout." It always was going to be "a bad deal for the players, but the deal they’re going to end up signing this month contains some vital elements that will soften the blow" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes it was the owners themselves who "drove players into the arms of Fehr's classic labour perspective." From the moment Bettman proposed "a drop in players' share of revenues from 57 per cent to 46 per cent with four-year maximum contracts, players united behind Fehr." And the league "had the disastrous fight it spoiled for" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/3). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless writes Fehr has "certainly fought a good fight for his players but it's over. Get on with it, Don." Do a deal "and go into hockey history as the man that revived the union." But "don't overstay your welcome" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 1/3). The TORONTO STAR's Cox wrote on his Twitter feed, "Fehr created the perception of player unity. But PA will eventually understand this has cost them hundreds of millions with nothing gained." He added, "Fehr's lack of understanding of hockey history shines thru. Key is to keep playing, NHL owners will always undercut themselves and partners" (TWITTER.com, 1/3). In Boston, Stephen Harris writes "give and take has occurred" from both sides. But fans everywhere wonder "why ... didn't these negotiations happen many months ago?" Once this "absurd mess is resolved, it's hard to see how Gary Bettman ... can continue as commissioner." And "isn't it time for the removal of Bruins owner Jerry Jacobs as chairman of the board of governors?" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/3).
IF THIS, THEN THAT: In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi cited sources as saying that if the NHL and NHLPA agree on a new CBA, "the Penguins likely would face the Flyers in Philadelphia for a nationally televised matinee on Jan. 19." The sources also said that “plans are subject to change.” The sources added that a 48-game season “would begin Jan. 19, with most of the NHL‘s 30 clubs playing that day.” Games would be played “throughout the day as part of a celebration of hockey across North America.” A source said that rivalry games “would dominate Day 1 of the shortened season to placate the NHL's national television partners in the United States and Canada.” A 48-game schedule “will preserve most of the previously booked arena dates” (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/3). Meanwhile, the OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch cited Rogers Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos as reporting late Tuesday that the NHL and NHLPA “have had talks about allowing four more teams -- two each in the East and West -- into the post-season this spring.” That would “increase the playoff pool to 20 teams and would offer the opportunity to create more fan interest in the post-season this year” (OTTAWASUN.com, 1/2).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber yesterday fired back at FIFA President Sepp Blatter, saying that he was "surprised by recent criticism of the league," according to Andrew Das of the N.Y. TIMES. Garber said, "We still have a lot of work to do -- we understand and accept that. But arguably there’s probably not another sports league in the world that has achieved as much as we have in the last 20 years." Garber said, "I know that the president believes in American soccer and believes in the league. Sometimes I think these things happen when you’re not here for a while. When you’re not here or travel much to the U.S., it’s hard to fully understand what the sports market is like here. When you’re not living and breathing the North American sport market, it is easy to believe MLS is being lost in some of the noise." Garber said that he would look to "correct that by inviting Blatter to a game." Garber: "I'm sure if he does, he'll see how far we've advanced, and I think he'd be very, very excited about that." Das notes while it is "not known if Blatter has seen an MLS regular-season or playoff game, a league official said his attendance at one would be a first" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3). Garber said, "I really don’t believe the president believes we are struggling. I don’t think anybody in the pro sports community would describe us that way. In no way are we struggling, but we are less than 20 years old; we haven’t gone through a full generational term." He continued, "MLS, in a short period of time, has made great progress. But we have not been around for 100 years like (some) other (U.S.) leagues and certainly like the European soccer leagues, and as such, our development is appropriate to where we are from an age perspective" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/2).
STANDING UP FOR ITSELF: Garber said he did not think Blatter's comments "hurt" the league, but noted it is "important to stand up and say that Major League Soccer -- while we have a lot of work to do -- is now thriving and making an impact." Garber downplayed whether Blatter's comments "would hurt MLS with potential multinational sponsors." He said, "The sports industry has enormous respect for us. Our corporate sponsorship base continues to grow. Our relationships with municipal governments providing support for soccer stadium development is at an all-time high. Investment in our league is at an all-time high and in some ways the envy of soccer leagues around the world." SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote it was "clear that Garber was trying to stay positive about MLS without opening verbal fire on Blatter." But he "didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the FIFA president." Meanwhile, Garber yesterday "canceled his plans to attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich next week -- he has been a regular at the event in previous years -- and will instead be on hand next Monday at Soccer Night in Newtown" (SI.com, 1/2).
AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke said that no NFL franchise “has yet to indicate serious interest in relocating” to L.A., according to Dakota Smith of the L.A. DAILY NEWS. Smith noted the NFL last year “asked teams seeking to apply to move to Los Angeles to submit applications between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, 2013.” Leiweke said that he has “had talks with team owners on two National Football League committees, including a committee focused on Los Angeles.” He “believes the plans for AEG to be sold by its parent company may be delaying football franchise owners from seeking a move to Los Angeles until the company's new owner is determined.” Smith noted the Rams, Raiders, Chargers and Jaguars have “all been subject to speculation in the last year as possible candidates for relocation.” The Rams “may be the most eager team to move given the club's ongoing dispute with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the stadium, over renovations." Smith wrote, “Excited about a possible NFL return to L.A., the City Council last year OK'd AEG's $1.5 billion stadium, hoping a speedy approval of the downtown project would allow the company to ink a deal with a team in time for the 2013 season” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/1).
THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Rams Exec VP/Football Operations Kevin Demoff said, “The state of the franchise is as healthy as it’s been in a long time. But we obviously have some things out there looming, most notably the (Edward Jones Dome) arbitration that may go on through the winter and may go on into the early spring.” He added, “We have to get that resolved and put at ease people’s concerns about where we’re going to play our games within St. Louis over the next 20, 30, 40 years, and then that will put that question to rest.” In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote, “If you are one of the multitudes of Rams loyalists who have been waiting for someone of significant power within this organization to state their desire to keep the franchise in St. Louis at all costs … this borders on earth-shaking.” When it comes to the business affairs of the Rams, Demoff “answers only to [Owner Stan] Kroenke, which means his words have some true cachet." This is as "close as we’ve gotten to anyone saying anything remotely that sounds like the Rams’ true intent is to stay in St. Louis, not race off to a pretty new yet-to-be-built stadium in Los Angeles.” Burwell, on the upcoming arbitration with the city, wrote, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the result of the Dome arbitration ends without a resolution, because I’m not sure anyone on either side of the negotiating table ultimately wants the Rams to be in the Dome for the next 20 years.” He added: “But to all the sky-is-falling folks out there, it doesn’t mean the Rams are on their way to LA. In fact, a stalemate after arbitration might actually be a good thing” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/2).