SBJ/May 29-June 4, 2017/Labor and Agents

Hockey-related revenue a likely topic for next NHL CBA talks

The definition of what makes up “hockey-related revenue” will likely be a topic of discussion when the NHL and NHL Players’ Association sit down to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement.

That’s important because hockey-related revenue is the pie from which NHL players are paid a slice under the CBA. NHL players receive 50 percent of the revenue under the deal that was struck in January 2013.

The definition of hockey-related revenue “we negotiated back in 2005,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said during the panel of league attorneys at the Sports Lawyers Association’s annual conference earlier this month.

“Our business is different today than it was 12 years ago,” Daly said. “So there are some things that are associated with hockey and some things that are not associated with hockey that are new revenue streams and are not specifically addressed in the collective agreement.”

Daly wouldn’t say whether what he was proposing would expand or shrink hockey-related revenue, but said the changes would better define it.

NHL’s Bill Daly: New revenue streams have changed the business.
Photo by: STEVE UPTON
The NHL did propose a different way of calculating hockey-related revenue during the last CBA negotiation, but it was not acted on, said Steve Fehr, NHL Players’ Association special counsel, who stood in for his brother, Executive Director Don Fehr, on the panel of players association leaders.

The NHL and NHLPA have a turbulent history of strikes and lockouts. The last lockout shortened the 2012-13 season from 82 to 48 games.

“We were not that far from losing the entire season,” Fehr said. “Part of what was on the table was substantial revisions to rewrite the current [hockey-related revenue] rules. We didn’t have the opportunity to digest, much less, counter the rules, and we said, ‘No, the rules are going to remain the same.’”

The current CBA runs until Sept. 15, 2022. Both sides have an option to terminate the agreement early, which would cause it to end by Sept. 15, 2020. For early termination, the NHL would have to give notice by Sept. 1, 2019, and the NHLPA by Sept. 15, 2019.

NHL players have already spoken out on their displeasure over the NHL’s decision not to allow players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Fehr called the league’s move disappointing and “penny-wise and pound foolish.”

Daly said the league engaged in a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to send players to the Olympics. “In this case we felt the costs outweighed the benefits,” he said.

Executive Directors’ Forum participants: Bob Foose of the MLS Players Union, Michele Roberts of the National Basketball Players Association, Tony Clark of the MLB Players Association, Steve Fehr of the NHL Players’ Association and Sean Sansiveri of the NFL Players Association.
Photo by: STEVE UPTON


> LEAFING THROUGH: The SLA moves each year and this year took place in Denver. Lawyers laughed when SportsBusiness Journal Executive Editor Abe Madkour, who moderated panels featuring the league general counsels and the union executive directors, said, “Seems appropriate — we are in Colorado — to talk about marijuana.”

But weed could become a serious issue, as at least one union, the NFL Players Association, is studying the use of the drug for pain management.

A subgroup of the NFLPA’s health and safety committee is looking at marijuana as a potential pain reliever, said Sean Sansiveri, NFLPA vice president of legal and business affairs, who filled in for Executive Director DeMaurice Smith on the panel.

“We are looking for a policy that takes care of players, as opposed to penalizing players,” Sansiveri said.

Ultimately, science will drive the decision of whether players can use marijuana for pain management, he said. Asked whether the science was there to support it now, Sansiveri said, “It’s emerging. It’s changing every single day. Are we where we need to be? Not yet.”

BIRCH
Adolpho Birch III
, NFL senior vice president of labor policy and legal affairs, said policy would be made based on both science and the law. “The Department of Justice is changing how they are viewing their interpretation of the drug laws and how they are going to enforce those,” Birch noted.

Birch said the NFL would look not just at the players but also at fans and young fans in making a decision. Based on those viewpoints, “I don’t see any reason why we would change” the current policy, he said. He did not entirely close the door, however, saying, “Eventually would we look at something … that might make a modification appropriate? Sure.”

National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts, when asked about the NBA changing policy on marijuana, drew laughter from the crowd when she quipped, “Four words: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

> FAN HARASSMENT: Players union officials said that harassment from fans in stadiums and arenas is a big issue for players.

MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said that he doesn’t know whether the problem is more pronounced now but that it is a problem. Racial taunts and slurs directed at Orioles center fielder Adam Jones when Baltimore played the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park earlier this month made headlines.

Clark noted that adjustments were made after the incident. Among other things, the Red Sox issued a lifetime ban on the fan who made the slurs and MLB consulted with all 30 teams to ensure that players and fans do not feel threatened in the future.

“We were glad that attention was brought to that issue. It was something that I experienced as an active player as well,” Clark said.

Clark, who is African-American, played for 15 years in the major leagues before becoming the union chief. “It’s one thing to be told you are not very good … but it is something else when that issue [of race], that topic enters the conversation,” Clark said.

MLSPU’s Foose: Players suffer abuse in their workplace from fans.
Photo by: STEVE UPTON
MLS Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose said that it is something his union members must deal with as well, and that spectator profanity and other abuse has gotten to the point that some MLS players don’t want to interact with fans at all.

“It’s a very significant issue,” Foose said. “The stadium is their workplace, yet culturally we have evolved in a way that [fans] can say things to athletes in their workplace that they would never accept in their own workplaces,” Foose said.

The NBPA’s Roberts said that verbal abuse is something NBA players have experienced as well and that it’s the responsibility of the arenas to stop it from happening.

“I have gone to games and I have been horrified by things fans — most of them drunk — have said to our players,” Roberts said. “And at good arenas, when they hear it, they throw those people out.”

> CONFERENCE DRAWS ABOUT 830: The two lively panels featuring lawyers from all five major leagues and representatives from the five players unions engaging on a variety of topics from pace of play to player discipline and collecting personal player information through wearable technology took place May 20 and were the culmination of the three-day SLA event (see related column).

The conference, held annually in mid-May, has drawn more than 800 attorneys the last four years, and this year’s event drew about 830, despite the fact that it snowed for the first time in the event’s history.

Other panels focused on issues such as global anti-doping developments, new models for sports television distribution, ethical dilemmas of sports practice, esports, sexual misconduct in sport and athlete activism.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun won the Michael S. Weiner Award of Excellence, the highest honor the SLA bestows on distinguished members of the sports industry.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.


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