Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 24 No. 154

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr acknowledged industry speculation that NHL owners may try to roll back the players’ share of revenues in negotiations for a new CBA this summer, but indicated players would fight such a move. Fehr filled in for his brother, NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr, during the Sports Lawyers Association’s annual conference in San Diego. Steve Fehr said the players still do not know what the NHL owners will be seeking in negotiations for a new labor deal this summer. Formal negotiations have not begun and the agreement expires on Sept. 15. He said, “I think it is fair to say that if the approach is what many are predicting: That the owners come in and say we have to shave 5, 10, 15, 25, 30 -- pick a number -- points off the percentage of revenues in the cap that players receive, there will be some players who say, there may be a lot of players who say, ‘Wait a minute. ... We already gave at the office. We made massive concessions last time that were designed to fix your so-called problems. If it has not fixed your so-called problems, we need to have a long, hard discussion about what those problems are and what we should do about it.’” Fehr was referencing the '04-05 NHL lockout, in which players agreed to make many concessions, including accepting a salary cap, after the league shut down for an entire season. But Fehr said he did not know if NHL owners would follow the path of NBA and NFL owners, who asked players to take a reduced share of revenues in '11, or if they would follow the route of MLB owners, who did not seek major economic concessions and reached a labor deal without a lockout last year. “If, on the other hand, there is more of an approach that was taken by MLB, it may be a quick and easy negotiation,” Fehr said. “That is actually what Gary Bettman has said, that he expects a quick and easy negotiation and he probably knows more about it than I do, so perhaps that is the direction it will take.”

The "harshest critics" of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman must "take a look at what is transpiring in these playoffs and wonder if [he] is on some kind of roll," according to Jeff Blair of the GLOBE & MAIL. The hockey has "on many nights been a mundane festival of shot blocking and is over-coached to the point of tedium but the only people noticing seem to be Canadian hockey fans, and as the NHL knows they’ll watch paint dry if it’s sponsored by the NHL." Now, Bettman can "see a dream final for U.S. television: the New York Rangers against the Los Angeles Kings." It is the matchup that "every league in every sport desires." A cross-country Stanley Cup Final "between the two biggest TV markets would be an astounding marketing confluence." Blair writes, "The hand-wringers wondered what it meant that ratings took off against the background of early-round thuggery, but those ratings have largely held firm as the mayhem has dissipated. ... If Bettman gets his dream final and really has solved financial issues in Phoenix, St. Louis and New Jersey, he will go into a summer of collective bargaining with a spring" in his shoes (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/14). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "What we have left, to say the least, is a most unusual group of conference semifinalists, with the distinct possibility that the Cup final could produce the first New York-L.A. matchup in league history, the kind of matchup that every other major sports league would love to have." Based on regular-season results and the first two rounds of the playoffs, a Rangers-Kings final "is what we should see." But in a year when "making predictions has simply been a way to look foolish, Coyotes-Devils is just as possible" (TORONTO STAR, 5/14).

NETTING A WIN: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin notes the last time the NHL "was riding this high, in the estimation of American public opinion anyway, was during the spring of 1994 when the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years." Much is "being made in some corners of the ascension in NHL playoff ratings and the concurrent decline in the NBA’s ratings during its just-completed first round." The NHL is "not about to surmount the NBA in popularity based on this year’s ratings." The NBA is still "comfortably ahead of the NHL on all the judges’ cards," but the first three weeks of the NHL playoffs on NBC "were the most-viewed on network TV" since '98. A Rangers-Kings final series "would no doubt set new benchmarks for the leauge" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/14).

DEAD PUCK ERA? In Montreal, Jack Todd writes under the header, "NHL Playoffs Are Boring." Todd writes, "Halfway through the playoffs, a dozen series played, four teams left standing -- and we’ve seen exactly one entertaining series," the Flyers-Penguins first-round matchup. Todd: "My New NHL looks suspiciously like My Old NHL, circa 1997. Yeah, the games are close. Ever watched a nil-nil soccer game? They’re close, too. Doesn’t mean they’re fun." The new NHL was "supposed to be all about movement, skating, offence and talent." Right now it is "about obstruction, shot blocking, grinders and boredom" (Montreal GAZETTE, 5/14).

Cash going to NFL players was actually up and not down or flat as has been previously reported, in the first year of the new 10-year NFL labor deal, outgoing NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen told about 600 lawyers at the Sports Lawyers Association this weekend. Berthelsen said, “This first year when the public perception was that players took salary cuts ... that turned out not to be true at all.” He added, “In 2011, we had our best year since 2006.” Berthelsen filled in for NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith on the sports union panel Saturday at the annual conference in San Diego. Berthelsen noted NFL players received a little less than 55% of the football dollars generated in '11. Historically, NFL players received 52-53% of all football dollars generated. He said the salary cap, including non-salary benefits to players, was set at $142.4M this year, but the amount of actual cash spent on NFL players was $160M. “We call that cash over cap, the amount clubs actively spent over the cap,” he said. The NFLPA held one of its annual seminars for NFL agents at the Sports Lawyers Association, in which it made a presentation to the agents. In the NFLPA’s economic analysis document, a copy of which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, the union stated, “Contrary to recent statements by some NFL owners, the claim that player salaries are 'Flat' or are going to remain flat under the new NFL CBA are wrong.” Additionally, the union stated in its documents, “A number of comments have also been made in the media suggesting that the new CBA is not much better than the proposal the owners made to the players in March of 2011 immediately before the lockout. This claim is also flatly wrong.” The document outlines a number of reasons the deal players turned down in March '11 was worse economically for players, including:

* The owners’ proposal called for a fixed salary cap and benefits amounts each year from '11-14, and offered no clear percentage for the players after that, including of the dramatically increased television revenues that were expected to start in '14.
* The owners' proposal in March '11 set a fixed salary cap and benefits amount in '11 of $141M.

FUTURE SHARE UNKNOWN: Berthelsen, in his speech to the Sports Lawyers Association, said it was not known if players would receive more or less than 55% of revenues in future years of the agreement. NFL Senior VP & General Counsel Dennis Curran, who was the moderator of the sports league panel, had no immediate comment on Berthelsen’s or the NFLPA’s statements about the economics of the new labor deal's first year.