The NHL’s push for the players to shoulder the burden for revenue sharing suggests influential big market owners are setting the agenda for the league’s negotiators.
Over the course of the current NHL CBA negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman claimed the league and the NHLPA aren’t that far apart regarding revenue-sharing dollars, to the point where he’s called it a distracting “non-issue.”
The problem, however, is the league would rather have those revenue-share dollars come from the players, in the form of increased escrow payments, while the PA would prefer that money come from the league’s wealthier teams.
According to Forbes.com, in 2010-11 the total losses of the NHL’s eighteen money-losing franchises was $126.1 million.
Meanwhile, the twelve franchises which finished on the happy side of par made a combined $252.6 million, of which half – Toronto Maple Leafs (81.8), Montreal Canadiens (47.7), New York Rangers ($41.4), Vancouver Canucks ($23.5), Edmonton Oilers (17.3) and Detroit Red Wings (16.3) – accounted for $228 million.
Granted, these numbers are before taxes and other deductions, so the final figures would be lower.
Still, given how much the top half-dozen earned, and had there been a better system of revenue sharing in place, it’s possible they could have assisted some of the perennially money-losing clubs – like the Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, and NY Islanders – and still had enough remaining for themselves.
Little wonder, then, the PA believes the big market teams should do more to assist their struggling brethren.
The league’s insistence revenue-sharing must come from the dollars clawed back from the players via increased escrow payments suggests it’s the big market owners setting the league’s agenda in these CBA negotiations.
It’s difficult to believe the owners of those perennially money-losing franchises would be against their big market peers pitching in to assist them.
Those owners know that simply slashing the players share of revenue and capping their salaries failed to help them under this CBA. They have to know redefining HRR and trying to fund revenue-sharing on the backs of the players is unlikely to improve their lot.
How can an owner of one of those money-losing teams look at how much Toronto, Montreal, NY Rangers, Vancouver, Edmonton and Detroit made in 2010-11 and not feel those teams could do more to help his club?
Sadly, we won’t find out, because the league has imposed a gag order upon team owners and their respective managements. Anyone who speaks out risk expensive fines.
Opponents of revenue-sharing will argue the money-makers shouldn’t have to bail out teams in lesser markets, especially if those teams are poorly run, or in markets where hockey is a tough sell.
No one should begrudge the big market owners their riches, but for a league involved in a sport which espouses teamwork, it doesn’t help if the disparity between they and their poorer cousins only widens.
Another argument against improved revenue-sharing is it won’t make poorly-managed teams better, but that’s unfair to better-managed clubs like the Predators, Coyotes and Panthers.
Sure, it’s easy to suggest relocating those teams to better markets, but the fact is, there aren’t that many available. Quebec City doesn’t have a new arena yet, the Maple Leafs would fight any attempt to put an NHL franchise into southern Ontario, there’s lots of talk but little action about a new arena in Seattle, Kansas City has had an NHL venue for years but no one has stepped forward willing to put a franchise there, and Las Vegas remains a dream.
If the NHL is truly concerned about the stability of all its franchises as its commissioner frequently claims, and truly serious about expanding its brand in the all-important American sports market, it cannot insist revenue-sharing come on the backs of the players while the wealthier team owners skate away without making significant contributions.
Their unwillingness to step up and assist the struggling markets merely punts this issue down the road until the next round of CBA negotiations.
Nothing will truly change. The wealthy will get wealthier, pillaging the rosters of struggling peers, which either won’t be able to afford to retain their best players, or by doing so, won’t afford sufficient roster depth to build and maintain competitive teams.
The NHL promised an even playing surface under this CBA, but that failed to materialize. It won’t happen under the league’s latest proposals unless the wealthy owners agree to share. Without it, the result could be those struggling teams becoming little more than feeder systems for the big market teams.
Unless the owners of those struggling franchises break ranks and demand a better system of revenue sharing involving their big market peers, their lot won’t substantially improve over the next several years, and might in fact become more serious when the new CBA is due to expire.