Reaching a new CBA is a negotiation, not an exercise in fairness

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When the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA expires on Sept. 15, it will have done just that – expired.

Over.

Done.

Finito.

No longer will the owners be obligated to pay the players 57 percent of hockey-related revenues.

In fact, hockey-related revenues won’t exist anymore, at least as they’re defined in the current CBA. Because, again, the current CBA will no longer exist.

For this reason, we hear league commissioner Gary Bettman saying things like: “Somehow there’s an entitlement [for the players] to be at 57 percent. There is no such entitlement.”

To which union chief Donald Fehr has rightfully responded by saying the salary cap is still on the table. No entitlement there, either.

Nor, for that matter, are the owners or players entitled to fan support.

In one of the more sensible (i.e. not hysterical) columns we’ve read on the CBA negotiations, ESPN’s Scott Burnside writes:

You can argue who owns the moral high ground in the now stalled talks between the NHL and the NHLPA until your toenails turn a nice shade of blue, but it is the ultimate moot point, a distinction that has no bearing whatsoever on however or, more importantly, whenever this labor dispute is resolved.

The owners own the teams — hence their title — so why shouldn’t they want to make as much money as possible, even if their financial problems are almost all of their own making? They don’t call it the charity of hockey, they call it the business of hockey, and after getting cost certainty with a salary cap last time around, the owners want something more this time.

After seven years of a system that saw the players receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenues, the owners have decided they need to reset the economic landscape. Reset means, of course, giving the players less, starting with the 2012-13 season.

If you were an owner, wouldn’t you want that?

It remains a mystery why so many people seem surprised by the owners’ tack.

A veteran union negotiator, Fehr sure isn’t surprised.

“Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less,” he said. “That’s not a surprise to anybody — it’s disappointing sometimes — but it’s not a surprise.”

Fortunately, both sides remain motivated to reach an agreement. The players want to play and get paid. (Obviously.) The owners of the profitable teams want to get back to selling tickets and making money. (Obviously.) Even the owners of the non-profitable teams don’t want to sit around watching their investments rot.

So, what will ultimately bring the owners and players together? According to the National Post’s Bruce Arthur, it’s the “knowledge of what is almost certainly coming. Antipathy, rancour, missed games, missed paycheques, lost revenues, a shortened season, a storm of condemnation, and, in the worst-case scenario, lasting damage to the game.”

Noticeably absent from that list?

Fairness.

Related: History suggests fans will come back if there’s a lockout