Friday, April 25th, 2014

Ready to Negotiate? Really?

7

Elliotte Freidman has written some nice pieces about the lockout – and he’s not alone among the mainstream media – but I think he is wrong with his story this morning.

For the first time in this process, Bettman is ready to negotiate.

Over the past few months, players launched a blitzkrieg of negative tweets and quotes about the NHL commissioner. Their feelings are pretty clear. Fine. They don’t have to like him. But, barring an Amin-like coup from within the NHL, they have to do a deal with him.

No one’s saying the players have to take the league’s proposal as is. But, it is in their own best interests to sit at the table and make a serious effort at seeing where the next week or two will take them.

This must be business, not personal.

I don’t think there is anything personal affecting negotiations. The players are angry and they think Bettman is a dick, but they are very well aware that the objective is to get the game back on the ice. This is business and they know it.

But it is not clear that Bettman is ready to negotiate. Personally, I don’t believe he is doing anything more than executing a plan that has been in the works for months, if not years. No matter how negotiations had gone throughout the summer, the plan would have had Bettman tabling his best, final offer on October 15th, two weeks before the drop dead date for a full season. I think “Take it or leave it” is now the league’s position.

It is Donald Fehr’s job now to find out whether that indeed is the case. I think he will respond with an offer that accepts the league model but with a higher percentage. He’ll also want the players to retain an option to have the player percentage go back to 57% in the final year.

Is Gary really ready to negotiate? Or has he negotiated himself up to the settlement he has intended to impose on the players all along?

We’ll find out in the next few days. I hope I’m wrong. If I am, I expect Fehr and Bettman to huddle for a week and end up with a deal. If I’m right, the players are going to have to decide whether to take it or leave it.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

7 Responses to “Ready to Negotiate? Really?”
  1. snafu says:

    I hope the players actually have the resolve to continue down the path upon which they’ve embarked.

    The NHL will not budge as long as they feel they can break the union— just like last time. Are the players really ready to give up a season over the player rights issues, the new share level plus giving back money they feel they’re owed? I think their only options are to take the NHL’s deal, or inflict pain on both sides. They’re is nothing they can do that only inflicts punishment on the owners, short of the Russian or European players just taking their pucks and going home.

  2. Gerald says:

    First off … welcome back (one post removed, I guess).

    Second, this idea that the lockout was inevitable is simply not consistent with the facts. What the facts tell us are two things:

    1. The NHLPA has been slow-marching this process right from the beginning. The express intent (for reasons I very much understand and will articulate below) has been to force the owners to lock out the players. The evidence is substantial, and is partly enumerated as follows just off the top of my head:

    (i) repeatedly declining to start negotiations;

    (ii) taking inordinate amounts of time to respond to offers;

    (iii) requests for voluminous amounts of documentation which were unnecessary for the purposes of negotiations;

    (iv) incomplete offers even when the PA deigned to provide them;

    (v) making the same repeated offers, dressed up differently.

    Certainly, this is understandable from the NHPA’s point of view when you are looking at it from their point of view and what I would perceive (based on my assessment of Fehr’s strategy and tactics) to be a long term approach.

    The reality, Tom, is that this negotiation is not about the exact percentage for this deal, or the player mobility restrictions, except on a very tangential basis. THis negotiation is about two things and two things foremost:

    - teaching the NHL players how to be a real sports union in the spirit, tone, style and (Fehr hopes) power of the MLBPA; and

    - radicalizing the players and creating a sense of intense solidarity against the big, mean, nasty owners.

    One can talk until the cows come home about how “fair” it is for the players to accept a 50/50, 0r 51/49, or how long it takes for a player to become a UFA, or any of that stuff. IT. SIMPLY. WON’T. MATTER.

    … unless – unless – the union is solid enough to take, and maintain, a stand for as long as they need.

    And that,my friend, will not happen until the players have gotten good and radicalized against the owners. Not Bettman; he is now age 60, and there is a possibility that this will be the last CBA he negotiates (assuming a deal of 6 or more years). No, I think Fehr feels that their radicalization must be against the guys who write the checks, same as it was against guys like Gussie Busch in baseball. If he can’t get it, Bettman will do, I suppose, but the owners are the guys against whom he needs to get the players riled up permanently.

    Mr. Fehr needs a lockout in order to provide the required solidarity, and he has always needed one. It is only through a lockout – even a relatively short one, like the ’72 baseball strike – that he can demonstrate to the players that they must stick together in order to achieve their ends, whatever they may be. A union that cannot sustain a strike is barely a union at all, and is certainly a toothless one at best.

    In short, the above is a more detailed description of what most sensible folks assumed his first job to be – rebuild a shattered NHLPA (circa 2007). What has never been discussed is what “rebuild” means, and what that looks like. Well, I suggest to you that it looks like a slow patient process of education, followed by the objectives laid out above. If you have read “Lords of the Realm” by John Helyar or Marvin Miller’s autobiography, this is all set out pretty clearly by Marvin Miller, the oracle of sports unions himself.

    Thirdly, as far as Bettman et al are concerned, one can like them, hate them or rest in between,no one can seriously doubt their negotiating savvy or technique. Rule #1 of negotiation is: know and understand your own positions/motivators, but rule #1A is: know and understand the positions and motivators of the other side. I have no doubt that Bettman et al have been thinking about #1A since the day Mr. Fehr came on the scene. Mr. Fehr’s history, approach and philosophy are well known to sports business observers; it’s the hazards of prominent and prolonged success, of course.

    I suspect Bettman et al know all of the above. They do have a certain amount of imperatives in terms of the percentages, economic risks being what they are in an uncertain environment. Long term, though, the bigger issue is how they can prevent the union from turning into a truly effective foe.

    The smart move business-wise is and always has been to get what they can get consistent with other sports. Back in the last CBA, this 54-57% number did not spring like Athena from the head of Zeus. It came from the NBA CBA at that time in history. THe NHL went with it. Today, with a different world in place, the “norm” is closer to 50%, so the NHL has been aimed towards that. Even the 43% first offer was nearly identical to the NBA’s first offer in their negotiation.

    Circling back for a moment to the earlier observation about the player’s delaying tactics, the NHL seems to have gone to pains to try to deny that tactic to Mr. Fehr. It is not contested that the NHL first tried to start serious negotiations around August 2011. When I heard that, my first thought was “ah – good move”, because it seemed like a good idea to deny Fehr his shot at creating antagonism. REcall back then that the overall buzz was that the players were feeling pretty good about their deal at the time. Revenues high and getting higher, leading to higher salaries in lockstep. Not too conducive to union solidarity, Mr. Fehr would have thought. Accordingly, we had months of stonewalling, in the face of repeated efforts by the league to get it going and create a different negotiating dynamic. THen came the document dump, a ludicrously transparent ploy, given that the NHLPA gets the URO’s of every team, every year on schedule and has actually engaged in some hand-to-hand combat over them in years past since Fehr’s arrival.

    My point of showing all of the above is that the facts are entirely inconsistent with your proposition that this lockout was planned by the NHL. The actions of the parties say otherwise, and smart business sense says otherwise. THe actions of BOTH sides have, to me at least, been perfectly aligned with their long term business objectives, once they are properly understood, as well as some short term objectives.

    I see your contention as being that the NHL would feel that they can do whatever they want to the NHLPA. Others agree with you. That has always struck me as extremely odd, for the following simple reason:

    If that is in fact the case and the owners can do whatever they like, and the players would have tocrawl back, and that is the sum of the NHL’s objectives, then why 50%? Why not 43% (which I think is roughly where the MLBPA is these days)? Why not 35? Why relent on arbitration or UFA ages or anything of the sort, except to the most minimal amount required to demonstrate good faith bargaining to the NLRB? THe NHL has highly qualified lawyers on retainer whose winning percentage is very high. THey could find that line easily, and march the NHL up to it but no further, and it would be a far worse deal than what they have offered the players so far.

    So, why then? If the NHL just wants to take and take and take from the players, why bother doing it over a series of negotiations? Why bother with the “… and take and take” part of the above equation?

    The answer is in the above paragraphs. When you are negotiating with someone who you must have an ongoing relationship, you cannot simply screw them to the ground. Any negotiator worth a pinch of salt knows this. It simply goes unsaid by the parties. Bob Goodenow, God bless him, didn’t understand it, and that (together with his amateurish tactics and terrible judgment) informed my disrespect for his competence. If you have a business partner, you must give him a deal that allows him to want to continue in the partnership. You must give him a way to achieve his ends as well, at least to some degree; if he can achieve success on his terms comparable toyour own success on your tems, all the better.

    Do you REALLY think that the NHL guys don’t understand all this? All of their tactics to date indicate that they do.

    Even the negotiations after the season cancellation last time around belies such a strategy. The common misunderstanding is that the NHLPA simply had to sign whatever the NHL put in front of them last time around. I expect that, as a closer observer, you know differently. The CBA wound up being meticulously negotiated, with significant concessions made each way on dozens of separate issues. EVen a cursory read of the document demonstrates that many issues were sawed off in the middle (or relatively close to it), particularly in the HRR calculation provisions. Once the threshold of having a salary cap structure was resolved, it wound up being a relatively even handed – JUST like one would expect it to be between two sides who know they have to live with each other.

    • Tom says:

      Shorter Gerald Carpenter:

      1) It’s all Don Fehr’s fault.

      2) The owners can’t just impose anything on the players. The proof of that is if they could impose, they would be cutting them even more.

      3) When the owner profits get large enough they will stop taking as much money from the players.

      • Gerald says:

        Well, if that is what you got from my post, you whiffed twice and foul-tipped the third.

        1. It is not a question of “fault” on Fehr’s part. It is a strategy – nothing more, nothing less. Nothing evil about it or anything. I fully understand why he is slow-marching negotiations. Even you seem to agree the PA has a very tough hand to play here. Unity is the sine qua non of labour negotiations, and the owners are strong on that count. Fehr is playing the hand available to him.

        THe above is only reflecting the factual record. This record has become obscured by a lot of folks.

        2. Not only am I not suggesting that the owners couldn’t impose anything on the players, I am pointing out that they COULD. For reasons that are plain business sense, they didn’t do so last time. They haven’t done so this time either. IF it was all about screwing the players, they would have obtained it, BECAUSE they could do so if they wanted. Their leverage is that strong (I think you would agree).

        3. Half right. When the owners start making more money, their leverage will be reduced. Not eliminated. Just reduced.

  3. Gerald says:

    As an aside, there is another reason why this era of concessionary bargaining will not last forever, as you seem to suggest.

    Simply, it is easier for owners to pay a price to achieve concessions now, since the amounts they are losing are less than that being suffered by the players. The leverage is not aligned. Put another way, the owners have less to lose via a lockout than the players.

    As and when the owners’ profitability increases, they will have more to lose, and the players will have less. THe leverage equalizes to a much greater degree.

  4. snafu says:

    From Larry Brooks on November 13, 2011:

    http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/more_sports/nhl_union_gets_book_smart_qgUyqQpJRx5p36FawOdh7K

    ” * A high-ranking executive of one of the league’s most successful clubs on and off ice matter-of-factly told Slap Shots during the course of a conversation about something else entirely this week that the players, “will get 48 to 50 percent, and there will be a rollback” in the next CBA as if it is a fait accompli and Fehr doesn’t exist. ”

    I think the lockout has been in the works for several years because this is just too close to what Bettman has been pedaling all along. The lockout is definitely on the owners.

Trackbacks

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] CANUCKS  CORNER: Tom Benjamin suggests NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is merely following a CBA negotiation plan which was months, if not years, in the making. [...]



Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!