Big dilemma for Bettman

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

As National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman frantically tries to find a way to end his lockout, he is discovering that the island on which he stands is steadily eroding.

He doesn't have the support of the NHL Players' Association and he's losing support among the owners.

The players continue to say, as they have said for years, that the burden for supporting the less wealthy teams should not fall totally upon their backs.

The PA's stance is that if the league wants a partnership with the players, it must have a partnership among the owners. In other words, it needs increased revenue sharing.

These days, Bettman is trying to get some of the rich teams to agree to this concept. That's why he rolled into Toronto last Friday to meet with the entire board of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., not just a couple of members as had been initially suggested.

But the rich teams, who supported Bettman's grand strategy of shutting down for a year to try to get the players to pay the bills, are not as supportive of a concept that would see them having to assume part of the burden themselves.

LOOPHOLES

The National Football League shares 63% of its total revenues, even though there have been some suggestions that the next collective bargaining agreement will have to close some loopholes, thereby putting even more money into the pot.

Stadium naming rights, for example, go to the individual teams at the moment.

In both the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, 35% of revenues are shared.

And the NHL?

Well, as usual, it's a distant last. It shares a little more than 11%.

According to the league's figures, some of which were published in the New York Post in February, gross revenues for the Maple Leafs were $117.3 million (all figures US). Of that amount, only $7.8 million was shared with the rest of the league.

For the arithmetically challenged, that works out to about 6.65%.

But that's downright charitable compared with some teams.

The Montreal Canadiens contributed $3.1 million on revenues of $84.3 million, a mere 3.7% of the income.

The problem facing the NHL is deeply rooted in the league's history. It never has been able to count on significant U.S. network television revenues, and the local rights traditionally have been the property of the team.

So when a small-market team, with negligible TV revenues, contributes its merchandising rights to the pool, it is giving up a much larger segment of its income than a team such as the Leafs or Canadiens which have every game on TV.

And although 11% revenue-sharing is extremely low by sports-industry standards, Bettman is going to have a hard time getting his wealthy teams to go even that high.

"I can tell you, 11% is still a lot from a Leafs' point of view," Richard Peddie, CEO of MLSEL, said.

As far as he and the Leafs are concerned, what happens in the other sports is irrelevant.

"What basketball and football share is national revenue," he said. "They don't share much local revenue. As you know, we don't have much national revenue in our game. That would be our concern.

"I think revenue sharing is a good model if there's a lot of national revenues to share."

Therein lies Bettman's dilemma.

Because he sat in New York and fiddled with economic matters, legal matters and peripheral matters while the game itself became unwatchable, the league's national revenues are minimal.

The only big TV contract left is Hockey Night in Canada, and even that is likely to take a significant dip when the next deal comes up.

So although both the players and owners feel that revenue sharing is part of the answer, getting the teams that matter -- the ones with the big revenue -- to agree to it is a different proposal altogether.


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