Now that three of the four major sports in America have locked out in the past 15 months, it’s obvious that the lockout is the negotiating tactic of choice for ultra rich owners to use against the incredibly rich players. There are a lot of reasons no deals get done before the CBAs expire, but the obvious reason is that unless players strike, there is little leverage for either side to negotiate during the existing CBA, but during a lockout the owners have all of the leverage. Players have a short career to make their money, and while they make more in that time than the vast majority of us will in our entire lives, it is still a very small window of very high earnings which means a lost season can be 15% of your career hockey earnings. In order to avoid lockouts in the future, this CBA needs to include clauses that penalize the owners in the event of another lockout.
How do you penalize someone worth multi-millions or billions of dollars? It’s a question that’s hard to grasp because really, how do you punish a league of owners? The first thing to consider is that you don’t need a punishment that every owner will care about, just enough to avoid a lockout. If 10 owners are hellbent on a lockout, 10 owners want to play but will go along with a lockout, and 10 want to have a season, you only need to swing 6 votes.
As much as we all like to hate on Gary Bruce Bettman (like a serial killer, he gets three names), he’s just a mouthpiece for the owners and gets paid to be the bad guy…kind of like middle management in any large corporation. He’s not the president of the NHL, he’s the commissioner. We don’t need to change the opinion of GBB because his opinion really doesn’t matter. If 17 owners say “Do this or you’re fired” he’ll follow his bosses’ instructions.
A second assumption necessary to prevent future lockouts is that Sergei Kostitsyn is in the minority, and that most members of the NHLPA do not like when the NHL locks them out and would prefer if it did not happen. If the majority of the NHLPA doesn’t care whether they play in the European Leagues or if they play in the NHL, then it’s gonna be hard to get them to demand a clause that prevents future lockouts. I hope we are all in agreement on these assumptions, but if you disagree feel free to let me know. As Rick Tocchet can attest, we are happy to update our posts if you have a valid disagreement with our ideas/facts.
So, given that we only need to put in repercussions that will change the stance of the owners in the middle from going along with a lockout to negotiating to avoid a lockout or extending the existing CBA, what types of clauses should the NHLPA put into the CBA?
My first idea would be to give players back 100% of any escrow payments in the event of a lockout. Right now escrow payments operate as such (simplified): Player X signs a contract for 1M per year, but has to pay $100,000 per year into escrow. If certain conditions are met (league revenues, etc) the player gets that 100,000 back, if those conditioners are not met the money goes to the owners. As it seems that the owners plan to enforce the rollback on salaries through escrow payments with conditioners that are highly unlikely to be met, perhaps the players could put into the CBA “If you lock us out, we get ALL of the escrow money back.” While some owners, like Ed Snider, could weather this loss of money in the event of a lockout, some of the less wealthy owners would be motivated to begin negotiations on a new CBA much earlier in order to avoid this payment. Also, the players would have some leverage in negotiations, because if they like the current CBA, or if they don’t like the owners deal, they can do absolutely nothing and the owners will be incentivized to make further concessions or to extend the current CBA lest they make payments to the players for all back escrow, plus interest.
Another way to potentially harm owners is to have them agree to certain concessions in the event of another lockout. This sort of “pre-bargaining” clause would give the players more leverage the next time around. Some examples of these concessions might be a guaranteed minimum split in revenues (highly unlikely), players reaching free agency at the earlier of 5 years in the league or age 26, the elimination of the 35+ rule for contracts, an open bar in Vegas for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter at the owner’s expense, an all-Byfuglien can eat buffet after each practice in the team dining room, a longer term limit on contracts, or (wait for it) the elimination of the salary cap in exchange for a luxury tax. Any of these concessions would help to incentivize the owners to avoid another lockout while simultaneously giving the union some much needed leverage early in the negotiating process.
Conversely, we don’t want it to be too much in the interest of the players to let the CBA expire either. If they have too much to gain, such as a guaranteed minimum revenue split, etc, they will do exactly what the owners did this time around. How can we ensure that the players won’t simply wait for the CBA to expire? It’s pretty simple really, unlike (most) of the owners, the average player can’t afford to lose such a large amount of his career earnings. Given the reality of the situation, the players shouldn’t need much more motivation to renew a CBA, but for the sake of the owners having some leverage against Fehr nuking another season….If the players let the CBA expire, then the owners should also get some concessions from the players. Ideally these concessions would be on issues equally as important to the owners as the concessions made to the players in the event of a lockout.
In short, both sides need to have more to lose in the event that they don’t agree on a new CBA by the expiration of the next CBA.