Players Counter, Bettman Lifts Nose
By Stephen London
There was a time when it was thought that the NHL collective bargaining agreement issue was going to be dealt with appropriately. It is still possible, but the owners and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have not only set the bar high, but the players also have to jump through a flaming hoop.
On Tuesday, the NHLPA counter offered the original CBA proposal by the owners. The players are willing to take a $465 million reduction in salaries if the league continues to grow at an average rate. The executive director of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr, said that number would increase to $800 million if the league continued to grow at the same rate it has for the last two seasons.
Although details of the counter proposal are limited at this time, the NHLPA also announced that the proposal did include a revenue sharing system to help the financially struggling teams like the Phoenix Coyotes.
"We do believe that the proposal the players made today, once implemented, can produce a stable industry," Fehr said.
Attending the meeting on Tuesday in Toronto were 23 players, including Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin, Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos.
"It's clear to me that they didn't put [the proposal] together in an hour or two," Bettman said after the meeting, "and as a result we're going to need to take a little bit of time to evaluate it."
Wednesday, the very next day after the proposal was offered, Bettman changed his tune.
"We're not on the same page," Bettman said. "It wasn't particularly responsive to our proposal. ... I'm not sure that there's yet been a recognition of the economics in our world, and I mean the greater world and the sports industry, taking into account what recently happened with the NFL and the NBA."
Fehr responded to Bettman's comments by saying: "When you start with the proposal the owners made, how could it be otherwise?"
Bettman's comments, although insulting to the players, make some sense. But despite the pay cuts player associations have taken in various sports leagues, the NFL and NBA have not had record-setting growth rates in sponsorship sales, attendance and other important revenue sources. The NHL has set league records in total revenue during each of the last two seasons and in 2011, growth of revenue (14.8 percent).
Bettman's comments are interesting in the sense of what actually happened between the NFL and the NFLPA. The NFLPA decertified as an organization. Now, if the NHL players did not want to miss any games, they can sign the best proposal they can get before Sept. 15 (the CBA deadline).
After signing the CBA, the players and the NHLPA should do what the NFLPA did -- but much earlier. If the players decertify, it opens up the NHL to anti-trust lawsuits, as well as stops anything to do with the players right after the CBA expires. Would that prove to Bettman that the players have an understanding of how the economics work in the sports industry?
In a New York Times article, writer Jeff Klein pointed out that the NFL shares 80 percent of the owners' annual portion of revenues, the MLB shares 31 percent, and the NBA will be transferring $196 million from the richest teams to give the most needy teams $16 million each. Klein also noted that the NHL's current revenue-sharing system uses less than 15 percent of revenue being shared.
If the owners cannot even share among themselves, how is it possible for the players to be able to negotiate a fair and reasonable CBA? They have a few weeks to get a new CBA signed if both sides want to start the season on time. If the owners do not budge, the players should take the best deal they can and decertify immediately after signing the CBA.
Posted Aug. 16, 2012