In case you stopped paying attention when they lost an entire season to a lockout in 2004-05 (or were never paying attention in the first place), the National Hockey League is once again on the verge of a work stoppage. Training camps are supposed to begin in one week, and yet both sides are still locking horns in vitriolic negotiations.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr joined Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt on The Fan 590 in Toronto to discuss negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement with the lockout looming.
On commissioner Gary Bettman claiming he won’t engage, and on the situation in general:
“I’m almost at a bit of a loss and chuckling a bit, but I know the seriousness of the situation shouldn’t be reflected that way. But here’s the basic situation that we confront. You had a season lost, massive player concessions over the life of the agreement, in the billions of dollars, seven years of record revenues, even through a financial crisis when things basically fell off a cliff back in ’08 for western economies. And we get to this point, $3.3 billion in revenues, and the response is to say, ‘We got an enormous salary reduction from the players last time, let’s see if we can do it again.’ That seems to be what it is. So they made a proposal initially, right out of the box, which said, ‘We want another 24 percent plus reduction and we want to destroy all individual player bargaining rights.’ And the players at that point had two choices. One choice would have been to do what the owners did and say, ‘OK, instead of 57 percent we want 71 percent.’ That’s the flip side of what the owners did, and then move it down slowly to 68 and 67. Instead, the players didn’t do that. What they said is, ‘Look, we don’t think you need anything, we don’t think you’re entitled to anything, but there is a disparity, so we’ll make a proposal based on three things. First, we will limit future growth so that you can grow your way out of this. We’ll take a much smaller share of what it is going forward until we can get to an equilibrium point. Secondly, we think it’s important to have much more significant revenue sharing and if there’s a problem in a given city where they need revenue sharing — and I’ll take Phoenix because it’s owned by the league at the moment — then the high-income teams, if it’s a real problem, oughta be willing to help out with that revenue sharing, rather than just take big salary reductions themselves. And then third, if there’s a real issue, that there oughta be some shared sacrifice.’ There’s gotta be some other cost that the NHL or the leagues or something, that they would be willing to cut. And their answer appears to be entirely, ‘Until the players go backwards absolutely in terms of what their salary levels are, notwithstanding what they did the last time, notwithstanding the revenue increases, notwithstanding the fact that there are no net revenue-sharing payments the owners want to make because all they want to make is more than compensated for by the salary reductions, the players are sort of in a hard place to figure out what to do. And we’ve been doing our best, and what you need to understand, what the fans need to understand, is that the players moved in the owners’ direction, notwithstanding enormous backwards move from the owners in terms of their initial proposal. So that’s a long way around saying the following: If we ever have an additional proposal that we can make today, tomorrow, the next week, whenever it is, we’re not going to be bashful about making it, we’re not going to stand on ceremony, we’re not going to hold back, we’re not going to play tit for tat games or anything like that. But when I said that it’s up to the owners to avoid the lockout, what I meant was precisely this: This is a lockout of choice. They don’t have to do this. They can say we won’t lock out for another four or five days to negotiate, to see if we can still make training camps. They can say, ‘We’ll open training camps and if we have to lock out we’ll do it at the beginning of the season.’ They could continue to negotiate. They have chosen not to do that, and one thing that Gary has said in the past — I don’t know if he said it today — but one thing he’s said in the past is that, ‘We were told as long ago as last November they wouldn’t go another season under the current situation.’ Well back then if they were already talking about a lockout, the only proposal they could have known about was theirs. And when you make proposals like they did, you ought not to be surprised when the players react as they did.”
On Gary Bettman suggesting that NFL and NBA negotiations set the bar, and that these negotiations change based on those:
“I think that’s just a construct, and I think nobody pretends it’s anything more than that. If it was anything more than that, you would hear somebody saying, ‘We need this amount of money to go from this player or this team to this other team because…’ You don’t have any of that. All you hear is, ‘Well, football players took less and basketball players took less, so who the heck do hockey players think they are?’ Back in ’04, what I am told is that the position of the NHL was, ‘We have to have the cap because we’re different than the other ones. That hockey economics on its own demands it.’ Now they’re saying, ‘Well, gee, look at basketball and football.’ What they don’t say of course is, ‘Look at baseball.’ Baseball is the only sport that’s stable now on a labor relations basis. There hasn’t been a hint of a problem in more than a decade and a half. Several agreements in a row negotiated without any meaningful difficulty. Baseball, low and behold, has no cap. And what that means is, among other things, that if I have a franchise and I want to spend a lot less, I can. And if I want to spend a lot more, I can. What does that mean? It means that owners are sort of expected to manage their franchises like all businesses are expected to do. So we could say, in much the same way, ‘Look at baseball, let’s do it that way.’ We don’t think that’s a productive way to reach an agreement and we don’t think bringing other sports who don’t have the same economics would. I suppose we could say that if they had $12 billion in revenue like the NFL or whatever it is, maybe we take the NFL number, but I don’t think that’ll get us to an agreement.”
On the state of hockey:
“I think this sport is poised, if it isn’t screwed up, to really do some great things.”
On if they can build the business and relationship they want to build without revenue sharing:
“I don’t want to say it’s impossible but my experience is that that makes it easier. But that’s far and away not the only thing. There are a lot of other things that go into that. But that piece of it was one of the things which created the construct that I think has led to stability there.”