The 2012 CBA
In the wake of the NBA settlement, a panel on Bob McCown’s show talked about the possibility of a work stoppage in the NHL next season. All participants thought a stoppage was likely but that it will not be a long one this time, presumably because the players will give up more quickly than they did the last go round.
The results from the NFL and NBA do not auger well for the NHLPA. NBA players used to get 57% of revenues just like hockey players get 57% today. Now they get about half the revenues. Why should the owners of basketball teams get so much more that the owners of hockey teams? Why shouldn’t hockey players take another cut when the owners can easily force another cut? The players have no leverage in collective bargaining and they never will have any leverage:
1) A work stoppage is almost never in the financial interest of the player. Careers are too short to recoup the cost of a strike or lockout. For the individual player, a pay cut is almost always better than missing a season or a substantial part of a season.
2) A work stoppage to force substantial pay cuts works fine for the owners, even for ones with a wealthy team. Lost profits can easily be recouped once the players give in.
3) Fans don’t really care about the CBA. They want competitive balance which is why the owners always market a lockout as necessary to protect small markets. This is nonsense – leagues do not want a level playing field because they do so much better when big markets are advantaged. Still, it is easy to paint the players as greedy millionaires standing in the way of a fair league. Particularly since…
4) The league owns the hockey media and, as a result, controls the coverage of the lockout. The most interesting part of the exchange on Prime Time Sports came after Michael Wilner questioned how hard the owners would work to avaid labour strife. The players and fans wanted it settled, but how about the owners?
Elliote Friedman: “One smart thing that [Bettman] has done is he’s dialed down the rhetoric. Remember the year leading up to 2004, it was unbelievable. It was every day if you wanted a clip from one of those guys, you could have gotten one saying how the system needed to change.”
John Shannon: “More importantly, there was a lot of reminders to people in the media ‘Hey, we’re keeping score.’”
[Murmurs of agreement from the rest of the panel]
“There was a lot of, ‘If you start to criticise us, we’re not going to help you.’ And there was a lot of that and people won’t admit that today. [The NHL ran what] was more like a true political campaign, somebody running for office rather than someone trying to settle a labour agreement between a sports league and the players.”
I don’t think Shannon’s revelations are a surprise to any one who experienced the coverage of the 2004 dispute but I was shocked to hear him say it out loud. I don’t expect him to keep saying it when Gary fires up his 2012 campaign machine and the hockey reporters start playing his re-election tunes.
5) The league is a cartel, offering a product the consumer can’t get elsewhere. Work stoppages may anger fans, but most come right back when the games resume.
Donald Fehr or no Donald Fehr, the players do not have either leverage or a viable bargaining position. Therefore they probably can’t avoid taking another big paycut. One wonders why the players are so attached to collective bargaining when the best they can expect is a long term between reductions in their revenue share.
If the fans are lucky, the players will give it up quickly and quietly. I won’t blame them if they decide to squawk a bit as they get screwed over, but the ending seems inevitable.
Wake me up when the NHLPA disappears.