VOICE OF THE NATION - Kiss My CBA!

Vintage Flame
September 03 2012 09:30AM

 

When Gil Stein ended his tenure as the NHL’s last President, the owners hired Gary Bettman as the league’s first Commissioner. His mandate included four major tasks: sell the game in the U.S., complete the league’s plans with expansion, modernize the views of the owners and, most importantly, end labour unrest.

On December 18th, 2010, Donald Fehr was voted in as the executive director of the NHLPA by a consensus of the entire membership. Within the description of his new position, Fehr vowed to focus on the “collective bargaining agreement, revenue sharing and the economics of the game”.

Great, two representative leaders on both sides of the coin with common ground in a major league issue that had been in a tailspin for almost the last twenty years. The NHL was bound to be set on the right track finally, right?

Apparently not... Ironic, since that on Labour Day weekend, labour talks between the NHL and its Player’s Association have been halted.

THE NHLPA's MOB MENTALITY

Who would have thought that when Fehr accepted the job with the NHLPA that his mandate would be a series of puzzle pieces that he planned to fit together to form a bigger picture? The concept of examining the economics of the NHL in relation to current revenue sharing practices to prepare for an upcoming CBA negotiation. Does that even make sense as an efficient means of representing seven hundred plus players, where salaries range from half a million to a staggering fourteen million now?

When a labour dispute breaks out in professional sports, the point of view of the fans is that it’s based on a bunch of millionaires fighting with a bunch of billionaires, over a whole lot of hard earned money that the fans pay just to watch a damn hockey game. Unfortunately, it’s a point of view that is voiced the loudest and receives the least amount of consideration; if any at all.

This, of course, should be given some latitude as it’s written with a degree of tongue-in-cheek. Fehr and the player representatives from each team basically have one job, and that’s to get everything they can for themselves and the hundreds of brethren they represent against the fat cats that they work for; yeah, the owners.

This also isn’t to suggest that the fans should have any part in the negotiation process, which would simply be absurd. It has never been a stretch for the fans to side with the players over ownership. After all, it’s the players that we go to see and it’s their names that we put on the backs of our jerseys, not the owners. When there is a break down in the process, significant enough to hinder the fans being able to watch their favorite players, then that burden, that fault, inevitably falls on the owners.

The fans don’t care about the numbers behind a labour dispute. All they see is their money, on an individual level, being flushed down the proverbial toilet because the sport doesn’t know how to manage these funds as a collective. Fans that support the players feel that the NHLPA deserves more because, without them, there is no game on the ice to watch. As for off the ice, it’s the names of their players that drive merchandise sales. How many times have any of you said with disdain in your voice, “I just don’t get it! I would play for free, if it meant I got to play in the NHL!” Well, you might show more favour towards the owners’ position then. At the end of the day, in the heart of a fan, no matter how unrealistic, both sides are right.

The NHLPA and the players know this, and they use it to put themselves into a more favourable light with the fans; and quite frankly, fans should be tired of it. Why is it necessary for the NHLPA to defend their position to the fans with methods that largely resemble the modus operandi of the Mob? Much like the mob likes to strong-arm people into paying protection money, some fans may find it odd that players with salaries in excess of $5 million seem to have the strongest opinions that the players need more. Yes, it’s important for those who make the most money to stand up for the lesser paid players because they indeed carry more clout, but don’t go to the media and sell a tag line to the fans when you just don’t believe the words that are coming out of your own mouth.

”We are all fans of the game as well. We just want to play hockey!”
- Every NHL player that talks to the media

Come on guys. If that was the case, then the fans would be looking forward to the start of training camp and not worried about the coming and going of September 15th.

THE NHL AND ITS LACK OF UNITY

Prior to the hiring of Bettman in 1993, the NHL had suffered one work stoppage in 1992, and it lasted ten days. After the hiring of Count Bettman, there have been two more, with what looks like a third on the way. The 1994-95 season had to be shortened from 84 games to 48. The entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout that lasted 310 days, the longest in sports history. It also marked the NHL as the first professional sport to lose an entire season due to a labour dispute.

Looking back at the original mandate that was given to Gary when the owners offered him employment, there may be cause for concern.

It’s obvious that we haven’t seen an end to labour unrest. In fact it’s gotten worse, significantly worse. Bettman has been successful in over-seeing NHL expansion into six new markets. At the same time, many have questioned those as successes as he opted to choose cities in the Southern U.S. rather than more favourable markets in the North and even Canada. These expanded markets have continued to be a source of both ridicule and strife for the NHL. Because of this strife, maybe Gary did not manage his mandate to sell the game to the U.S., but did manage to just sell out the game, period.

Then there is, of course, his task to modernize the views of the owners. Depending on how you define “modernizing”, this is what has to be seen as Bettman’s greatest failure in his tenure as Commissioner. If it is the job of the Commissioner to represent the ownership groups of thirty NHL markets as one unified voice for the game of hockey, then Gary gets a big fat “F” for sure.

How does he negotiate with the NHLPA with any reasonable expectation of success, when at the same time, owners are negotiating massive contracts behind his back? What must have been the look on his face when he sat across the table from Donald Fehr, trying to make his case that the owners just can’t afford to pay the players like they have in the past, that it’s time for the players to give a little back; only to have Fehr look at him, and without blinking say, “Hall and Eberle just signed in Edmonton for $6 Million... each.” I imagine he would have the same look on his face as he does in the title picture above.

It’s not exactly clear to a lot of people what it is Gary Bettman has to offer the NHL. He is viewed as failing miserably for almost two decades and has dragged down the stature of the league to that of the punchline that plagues him. What is even more confusing is that he has the unilateral support of the ownership groups, yet he basically is on the outside of the group looking in. What does he do on a day to day basis if he is not involved in the inner circle of the owners? The NHL is not in a position to think about expansion, he’s already sold out the game and he clearly has no method for changing or modernizing the views of the owners. Oh, and we are headed for another work stoppage.

Why did this guy make $8 Million last year?

Maybe a starting point in finding a solution to all this is for both sides to shut up for a minute and actually listen to the fans for once. Not about percentage numbers or revenue dollars, but to one suggestion that we have all been yelling until we we’re blue in the face for the last fifteen years...

”FIRE BETTMAN!!!
- Everyone
E42f2ca09dfb26046c3060ff46473aff
Vintage Flame is a Calgary based sports junkie that prefers to call hockey a "religion" rather than an addiction. He believes there are two types of hockey fans. Those who cheer for the Flames, and those who don't understand the sport yet. Follow Vintage_Flame on Twitter
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#1 Alt
September 03 2012, 10:43AM
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What strikes me is that the NHL is made up of haves and have not,s.The rich teams and the poor teams.There is no unity amongst that group,so it diminishes everything that comes out of Bettman,s mouth.He should be fired as well 5 teams.That get,s rid of a large number of borderline players ,teams with little fan base,and makes the competition for a NHL job that much harder.The players need a wake up call,in regards to playing a game for millions of dollars. I don,t begrudge them all that money,but would like too see them work harder for it

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#2 Kent Wilson
September 03 2012, 11:30AM
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@Alt

That's a good observation. The ownership group actually has actors with vastly different markets and incentives - they have managed to cast the NHLPA as a enemy in these sorts of negotiations, but you can be sure the Rangers, Flyers and Canadiens owners have vastly different views of what is ideal than folks in Florida, NYI and PHX (if PHX had owners).

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#3 doughboy
September 03 2012, 11:32AM
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I keep track of negotiations during the last strike. At this point, I could care less, there are better things to worry about. I guess the season starts when the season starts...

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#5 Kent Wilson
September 03 2012, 11:50AM
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@Vintage Flame

Unfortunately, storming out of the room and signaling the others parties demands are unreasonable is a big part of negotiating. It's just too bad the parties didn't start doing this stuff 12 months ago.

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#6 mattyc
September 03 2012, 11:56AM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

There is nothing that drives me more crazy than when you hear that talks between the two sides have broken down. Nothing!

I honestly don't care if Fehr and Bettman have to be locked in a room together with a speaker phone to communicate with those they represent.

Your job is to negotiate with eachother, not pout and storm out. This is the biggest reason I question why Bettman gets paid.

I have no proof that he hasn't been, but honestly, Bettman should have been starting this negotiation a year ago with both sides tracking revenues and other issues that were going to be a source of contention when it came time for CBA talks.

The whole process needs to be a living, breathing, process... Not something that starts to ramp up 2 months before the current deal expires.

This is what you're paid for, both Gary and Donald. Park your pride and get back to work.

Bettman makes a point of EVERY interview saying that he was ready to negotiate last year and that Fehr et al knew last october/november that the CBA wasn't going to be renewed. It was (according to Bettman anyways) the NHLPA that was dragging their heels.

I think your view is a little unfair to Bettman too. I don't want to start being an owner apologist, but he makes the money he makes because he is a high-powered owner who is essentially the CEO of a 3.3billion dollar company. He also makes significantly less than other commissioners (http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=ys-investopediacommish081310)

As well, this whole "pouting, storming out" business is completely misunderstood. I really don't think that "ego" or whatever is playing any role in these negotiations. Breaking off negotiations and all the drama of the post session pressers is just bargaining. Bettman (by extension the owners) didn't like the offer the NHLPA tabled, so all he's saying is I'm not going to negotiate on specifics of something my owners won't agree to in principle.

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#7 mattyc
September 03 2012, 11:58AM
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@mattyc

and I mean Bettman is a "high powered lawyer" not owner... He owns lots of suits, but no NHL teams...

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#8 bruins
September 03 2012, 01:07PM
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doughboy wrote:

I keep track of negotiations during the last strike. At this point, I could care less, there are better things to worry about. I guess the season starts when the season starts...

best comment I have heard during these negotiations!!!! I don't like bettman or fehr as they both talk in circles. 50 50 sounds good to me

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#9 Kevin R
September 03 2012, 01:58PM
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This whole thing is simply about money, not improving the game, not about reducing revenue because they want to reduce ticket prices to make the game more affordable for fans, not for improving the calibre of the game because there are too many injuries to the elite players because they are cramming too many games in a season. No, its about how they can grow the $$$ being sucked out of us & how much of a lion share they each want to extract.

There was a time when there was only 6 NHL teams and kids played hockey because it was fun. Maybe its time to end the Bettman expansion era, agree to a split of their riches(50/50 sounds fair), collapse the teams that cant make it, and get the NHLPA to come up with a form of dispersal draft & the likes of Crosby/Weber/Iggy/Hall/Eberle/Hartnell & any other mega paid player(especially the ones in the photo) how they want to fund the packages of players who lost their jobs because of the league contraction.

Until then, someone wake me up when this is over.

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#11 beloch
September 03 2012, 04:50PM
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If the fans did have a say, they'd slash everyone's salaries (especially Bettman's) and lower ticket prices. Maybe that's what the players and owners would do if it was really just about the hockey, but it's obviously not.

I think I'm going to try going to some Lacrosse games this year.

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#12 BCFLAME
September 03 2012, 05:21PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:
I think your view is a little unfair to Bettman too. I don't want to start being an owner apologist, but he makes the money he makes because he is a high-powered lawyer who is essentially the CEO of a 3.3billion dollar company. He also makes significantly less than other commissioners (http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=ys-investopediacommish081310)

Thanks for the link to that Matty. If I could quote one part of it to answer you about my views on Bettman.

"The National Hockey League Commissioner took home $7.2 million in salary last year. This is a generous salary for a league that has been plagued by labor unrest and financial troubles. The NHL’s television ratings are not as strong as the other leagues’ and regular season games are no longer carried by major networks. Bettman has seen his compensation escalate as the NHL struggles. Only 11 NHL superstars receive more compensation than the NHL’s chief boss."

Am I still being unfair in my assessment?

As well, this whole "pouting, storming out" business is completely misunderstood. I really don't think that "ego" or whatever is playing any role in these negotiations. Breaking off negotiations and all the drama of the post session pressers is just bargaining. Bettman (by extension the owners) didn't like the offer the NHLPA tabled, so all he's saying is I'm not going to negotiate on specifics of something my owners won't agree to in principle.

This is my point, and my criticisms are not limited to Bettman here. Fehr is equally to blame.

If Bettman doesn't like what the PA is selling then he has to work with them in the negotiation process. That goes for Fehr as well, he can't just say, "Gary, call me when you have something else."

It's like you said, Bettman isn't an owner so realistically, there isn't much consequence to him financially if there is a season or not. He doesn't have something personally vested like the owners do. That also goes for Fehr in his relation as the player's rep.

Sure, both of them could be fired, but Gary is working on work stoppage #3. How many will or should the owners let him have before they say enough is enough?

How many stoppages should the owners let him have? Are you that naive? Bettman may have a large part in formulating a comprehensive strategy that he believes will serve the economic well-being of the NHL in the long term and thereafter selling it to the owners, but he jumps only so high as the owners collectively tell him. Given the different financial predicaments of the various franchises, they probably have some sort of process -democratic or otherwise -that decisively decides what Bettman's mandate shall be.

To think that Bettman formulates his own agenda and bargaining strategy is silly. There may be potentially three lockouts during Bettman's tenure because the owners decreed all three times that they were not satisfied with the NHLPA's offers and would therefore not resume operations. I, for one, support them as we can not have a financially healthy league with 25+ teams if the upper cap limit is 70 million and incrementally increasing every year.

The other part about Bettman expanding into supposedly non-hockey markets is also specious. They expanded into Florida, Phoenix, etc. because those are the biggest markets in North America. In order to grow the sport in popularity and thus economically, one must target the largest population centers. The fact that the gamble has thus far not worked is no reason to decry taking the gamble in the first place. You don't get billion dollar t.v. deals by putting a team in Quebec of Winnepeg. You get billion dollar deals (or 200 million in the NHL's case)by opening up shop in America's south. It's silly for deriding Bettman -who most assuredly expanded at the behest of pretty smart if not brilliant billionaire owners -of attempting to expand and enhance the footprint of the NHL at a time -the mid-to-late nineties- when the NHL's popularity was increasing south of the border.

In sum, stop shooting the messenger!!!!! Because that's what lawyers are!!!! They represent YOUR interests, for which they are remunerated in cash. His salary may be excessive for Joe Blow but it is in line with what successful lawyers in large firms make across America per year.

So stop blaming Bettman because he does not represent the fans' interest to see exciting hockey every year without stoppages. His job is to represent billionaires who pay his checks and whose agenda is centered on creating a successful league that affords them the maximum amount of profitability possible through negotiations with the players. In most instances, given the inequitable distribution of finances amongst owners themselves, Bettman has a pretty damned hard balancing act to achieve.

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#13 Alt
September 03 2012, 06:22PM
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@BCFLAME

Don,t blame Bettman .He,s done a great job? At what? Bringing us back to where we,re at now? Selling teams in the south did not work!Where,s these billion dollar tv revenues? Why should anyone believe that Phoniex deserves a hockey team? Why would anyone believe that the owners are unified and all share the same interests?Bettmans pay may very well be in line with similiar CEO,S in the US.Everything iv,e read lately has common Americans fed up with CEO,S and there greed.

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#14 Sean Bennett
September 03 2012, 06:57PM
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@Alt

Wow, I don`t even know how he would respond to your statement as not only did you not get the overall drift, but your retort is a series of rambles with bad punctuation and grammar. I could excuse the latter, if there was some logic to the former.

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#16 mattyc
September 03 2012, 07:51PM
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@Vintage Flame

I don't want to rehash everything BCFlame said - but essentially, my problem with your argument (and I guess by extension your article) is that you're attributing all the "wins and losses" to Bettman and Fehr. They're lawyers. They're hired to represent the interests of their constituents. If there is a lockout, it isn't because Bettman unilaterally decided he didn't like the NHLPA offer, it's because it's his job to get the most for his client(s). Maybe he has big pull - but maybe he should. He's paid in part for his expertise and advice. He's also be running the business for a long time, he's been around way longer than most of the owners.

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#17 Sean Bennett
September 03 2012, 09:46PM
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@Vintage Flame

Just one point: It is the owners that decided to give him that authority in 2004 because all involved agreed that the interests of a few should not trump the viability of the league, which was in dire circumstances at that time. Thus, the authority was invested in him at that time by his bosses to promote solidarity -or at least a solidarity predicated on the agreement of at least 23 owners.

All this shows is that there was a diversity of interest that Bettman had to navigate, and the owners wanted to ensure that an overwhelming majority approved of any deal Bettman authorized at the time (i.e. that the league was not at the mercy of a cabal of rich owners like Toronto, N.Y Rangers, etc., or the have-nots like Columbus, Atlanta, etc.).

Sounds to me like they had him on a short leash if he needed such a resounding majority rather than a simple majority. Why you would use this point to substantiate your prior argument is beyond me, as it shows that Bettman had to seek the consensus of over 75% of ownership before he could make a deal. In other words, his ability to ratify a deal of his own accord, or with the blessing of even a simple majority of owners, was severely constrained.

In sum, as I said before, Bettman was invested with the authority to negotiate a deal only insofar as he served the interests of an overwhelming majority of his bosses. Once again, don`t shoot the messenger! p.s. I also posted under the moniker of BCFLAME above, as it is my old forum name, under which I post when I am not logged in. It takes too long to write the current one. Also, though I may not agree with you, keep up the good work as always, Vintage Flame. Your passion for the Flames and the game is vindicated in every article!

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#18 dougtheslug
September 03 2012, 10:35PM
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Personally I don't know why the players don't just sign whatever is offered them, safe in the knowledge that the owners simply can't stop themselves from paying out the dough no matter what the CBA says. Last time round the owners locked the players out for a year, costing a lot of marginal players a ton of money (and some, their careers), wrung every concession out of the NHLPA that they thought they needed to be profitable, and what happened? They immediately set about doing everything in their power to cheat, undermine, and circumvent the rules to sign the players they thought they needed, players salaries skyrocketed, and here we are 6 years later back in the same boat, with the owners pleading poverty and blaming the players for signing the contracts they were offered. So why bother negotiating, NHLPA? Don't worry, you'll get your money!

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#21 Sincity1976
September 03 2012, 11:33PM
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This negotiation isn't about stability, parity, or right and wrong.

The NHL is not the good guy. They aren't looking out for the best interest of the game. They are not trying to establish parity. They are not trying to create an environment where small market teams can make a buck.

The NHLPA is not the good guy. This isn't about finding better alternative strategy to solve the leagues problems. It isn't the principle that the players gave up a lot during the last negotiation.

It is about money and leverage. Pure and simple. When there is a billion dollars + on the line right, wrong, and principles don't factor into it. That is just PR garbage.

And right now the NHL has the leverage. The NBA and NFL set the precedent on revenue splits between owners and players. And the NHL can out wait the players. If the players lose a year the vast majority of them are out money over the course of their short career.

Fehr is doing whatever he can to create leverage and minimize the damage.

As for firing Bettman, give me a break. The NHL has flourished under his leadership and right now he is just doing his job. Which is to get as much money as he can for the NHL ownership group. And he has done that since taking over. And he will do that this negotiation.

As a fan who wants hockey I dislike his tactics. But he doesn't report to me. And he is doing well for the people he does report to.

Personally I expect a short lock-out (though a Sep 15 last minute signing wouldn't shock me). As long as there can be a season Fehr maintains some leverage and he will want to play it all out. But as soon as the drop dead point and the season is lost the NHL PA has zero leverage. At that point there is absolutely no reason for the NHL to make concessions. The players aren't giving up two seasons.

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#22 Reidja
September 03 2012, 11:46PM
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There is some common ground between the players and the owners: they all have nice cars.

So, while you are all thinking of things to say about rich people, or between reading the archival 2004 'rich people fighting' news clippings, enjoy Season 17 of Top Gear. Now on Netflix.

Anything but post about the CBA...

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#23 RKD
September 04 2012, 12:55AM
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Gary has kept his job this long because he knows how to make the owners money, anyone else in his position would have been out a long time ago.

After 20 years he has not been able to sell the game in the U.S. NHL hockey will be the fourth major sport after NFL, MLB, and NBA down south. Franchises like Phoenix, Columbus, Tampa Bay, and we all know what happened to Atlanta are struggling to keep their heads under water.

Gary doesn't seemed to bothered by another work stoppage, he's a shrewd businessman. He's probably hoping the players will cave in eventually and that the NHL will get their way.

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#24 Alt
September 04 2012, 07:24AM
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@Sean Bennett

And your logic is post as 2 different character.s?

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#25 Rude
September 05 2012, 03:32AM
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Damn CBA! Can't we just get back to threads where we all whinge about matt stajan's contract

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#26 MC Hockey
September 05 2012, 09:16AM
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Wow. Fun discussions here! It's really difficult to get a handle on everything but I agree that Bettman and Fehr are 99.8% focussed on their constituents (and not fans) as that's their jobs. So when they come across as jerks or whatever, remember that fact. I believe the biggest problems are: a) Owners want more share of Hockey Related Revenuewhich is reasonable-ish but players want to keep majority. b) Owners want to re-define HRR but players not so much, but this point could be negotiated with some real creativity (fake example: OK, take parking revenues out for those parking 2 hours before game, but only at 50%). c) Big-market owners don't want to share so this could be a big problem but middle ground is surely possible between all the sources of $ available.

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#27 rubbertrout
September 06 2012, 03:25PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:
Sounds to me like they had him on a short leash if he needed such a resounding majority rather than a simple majority. Why you would use this point to substantiate your prior argument is beyond me, as it shows that Bettman had to seek the consensus of over 75% of ownership before he could make a deal. In other words, his ability to ratify a deal of his own accord, or with the blessing of even a simple majority of owners, was severely constrained.

No Olli, you have that backwards. Bettman didn't need 75% of the ownerships approval. Let me quote that part of my response...

"Under terms of Bettman's contract, if he recommends a tentative agreement to the board then he'll only need a simple majority or 16 owners to certify it. However, if Bettman presents an offer to the board, but withholds his blessing, he needs only 8 votes to turn it down."

If he brought a deal to the governors that he liked, he would need 16 or 53% approval. If he brought a deal he did NOT approve of and did NOT endorse, he would only need 8 owners to side with him and he could veto the deal from the NHLPA.

That is a far cry from having him on a "short leash" as you call it.

I think the counter point was that he would have had to get a large majority of the owners' approval to get that kind of power. If the owners gave him that power back then it is because they had enough consensus amongst themselves that that was the right thing to do. It doesn't come out of the ether. if he has that power it is because someone (usually represented by a majority and in this case likely a special resolution) that needed 75%.

Of course him getting that then doesn't mean that he has it now.

Also, didn't the NHL do pretty well with the new NBC contract? Compared to the OLN/Versus days anyway. If the league revenues have grown substantialy (and they have) then I can see why the owners follow Bettman. He has achieved what they wanted all along.

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