NHL / NHLPA Collective Bargaining: What About the Hockey Fan?

Hockey’s current CBA expires on September 15.  Late last week the NHL, on behalf of the NHL owners’ presented their initial collective bargaining proposal to the players’ union.  Initial opinion is that the NHL was asking for the moon.

2012 NHL Collective Bargaining Issues

Included in the proposal from the NHL:

  • a reduction of the players’ share of league revenue from 57% to 46%.  This is closer to what other professional sports leagues currently have.  (Recent NFL and NBA deals are at around 50%).
  • a five-year limit on all player contracts
  • rookie caps for players who enter the league for a period of five years instead of the current three.
  • removal of all signing bonuses
  • an increase the length of time a player has to wait to become an unrestricted free agent from seven seasons to ten.
  • A salary floor that is just $8-million lower than the cap – i.e. for even more parity in the league
  • Elimination of salary arbitration

This is quite the wishlist from the owners.  I can see the reduction of the players’ share of league revenues dropping from 57% to 50-52% which is more in line with the other professional sports.  I cannot see the players giving up salary arbitration or the removal of signing bonuses.  Arbitration is done by a third party and based on facts. Unfortunately, for the owners it exposes their extravagances and bad contract decisions.  The limit on player contracts will be something that the NHL fights hard for.  I don’t think that it will be five years probably more in the six to eight year range.

There has been a lot of discussion that the owners need protection from themselves.  After all it is the owners who agree the the Rick Dipietro deals and the signing of free agents at over-inflated prices.  Small market teams must increase their payroll annually, even though they cannot charge the same ticket price as NYR or Toronto.  Without revenue sharing, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

Another extended work stoppage might be something that the league does not recover from for a long time.  The hockey fan has a long memory.  So on that note, what would happen if the hockey fan had a seat at the table?  What additional concessions would the league and the NHLPA make?  As it is right now, nothing as the fan is left to wait until the negotiations are done.  In many markets fans will be forced to pay more to attend games, park at games or purchase a hamburger and beverage at a game.  Here are five issues that the fans would bring to the table.

The Hockey Fan and the Collective Bargaining Process

Here are five demands that hockey fans would make if they were involved in the collective bargaining process:

  1. A 20% rollback on ticket prices – it is pretty tough for a middle class family of four or more to attend an NHL hockey game.  Depending on the market, ticket prices have sky rocketed in the past ten to fifteen years.  Fans deserve a break too.
  2. Some say in whether a star player is traded – very few players stay with one team for their careers.  The likes of Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic are few and far between.  Wouldn’t if be great if the hockey fans had a say in the trading of their favorite players?  Would Wayne Gretzky have stayed in Edmonton?  Of course this would never happen, but it is always difficult for a hockey fan to see a player get traded away from their favorite team.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have some say in the matter?  Or at least in the players he was being traded for.
  3. An end to the three point games – Gary Bettman wanted parity and he got it, but the three point system is a joke.  Having the losing team earn a point just not right.  On occasion, teams have missed the playoffs with better records than teams that have made the playoffs, due in part to the “loser point” that is awarded for a shoot-out loss.
  4. A say in the performance bonus a player receives – if you don’t perform to an expected level, why should you earn your bonus all or in part?  There should be a rating system for fans to provide feedback on whether a player or team for that matter lived up to entertainment expectations.  I happen to be an Edmonton Oilers fans and I would say that for the past half a decade a number of players and coaches should have been demoted, traded or simply let go.  Tough to do when some of these guys signed ridiculous contracts (i.e. Shawn Horcoff).
  5. A 50% rollback in premium NHL viewing – in Canada and the US we have the Centre Ice Package where for $200 a year you can watch the majority of the NHL games that are plated each season.  If the quality of NHL play is sub-standard, the fans should receive a discount in their NHL TV viewing service.

Hockey fans got the shaft six or seven years ago when the entire NHL season was cancelled.  The NHL players, their agents and the owners still did well financially based on previous earnings.  A plumber, mechanic, teacher or sales clerk would not have been so lucky had they missed a year or employment.  There was a comment made in a recent post at the Globe and Mail: “… The NHL is the only league that supports mediocrity under the ruse of parity. The cap should really be a percentage of each team’s gate. There should be no revenue sharing: you get paid for what you bring in at home only, and teams would be wise to provide significant bonus pay for making the playoffs and getting to the finals …”.  Hard to argue with that.

Related Articles

NHL collective bargaining: The Issues – CBC

NHL labor: Did owners declare war with initial proposal demanding aggressive reduction in players’ revenue? – Daily News