NEW YORK - A lively a cappella group set up right in front of the NHL office on Saturday, clapping and swaying in unison for a street festival crowd.
But unless they knew any good sing-a-longs about hockey-related revenue, neither the league nor its locked-out players meeting on the 15th floor could join in.
It was obvious a few sour notes were heard in the second of a three-day conclave, when the contentious topic of hockey related revenues came up again. Keep in mind this wasn’t the main event of the battle to divide HRR, merely another joint attempt to define what the potential $3 billion US pie contains.
The lockout is now entering its third week with the league expected to cancel games in a few days as the Oct. 11 regular season opener draws near.
When and if the union agrees to a reduction in the 57% share it had in the last deal, it wants to know how much the owners have tallied in their account. It becomes tricky because some revenue streams may have changed in the lifespan of the last CBA and others might be altered in the next agreement.
“Definitions, clarifications ... the whole process is a bit complicated, what should be in or out,” said Steve Fehr, the union’s outside counsel. “Their most recent offer says they’ll go back to the current definitions, but yet they are seeking some changes or clarifications in what the definitions are.
“We had a frank exchange of views today, expressed our positions in terms of some potential changes and how we thought the current agreement was working. There are a lot of issues they have raised, a few that we’ve raised. The language is a bit complex and we have to think about how it would alter things if we agreed to some things and disagreed with others.”
The league has sought to exclude items such as temporary arena signage, some concessions and is seeking a credit on capital expenditures. They also want the cost of one-way contracts that end up in the minors to be subtracted. The players are wondering about such new ventures as team-themed restaurants, such as the popular Real Sports Bar in Toronto, and real estate ventures that feature the team as the selling point.
Without mentioning what streams the players brought up on Saturday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, “It was the first we had heard of some of the issues they raised.”
He added that changing the CBA parameters in this negotiation is not “a fair characterization” of what the NHL is trying to do.
“Although our last offer (a maximum 49% share to the players in the first of a six-year deal) is not technically on the table anymore, we’re not making changes or material re-definitions of how we account for HRR. What we went over today on both sides was to try to adhere to that principle.
“I’m not sure we’ve identified discrepancies. We’ve worked with this system for seven years and we know how it operates. We’ve had to come to year-end resolutions every year and we’ve compromised on issues. So I don’t think any of the things we’re covering are things we haven’t covered a lot of times. This is just an effort to get as much certainty as we can, going into the next CBA.”
While two small delegations met, there was a second straight one-on-one between commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr. The purpose is to keep the bigger picture in focus and their chat might have been the most important element of this weekend, after 12 days of non-contact.
“I am not going to talk about the specifics, but in general we’re trying to discuss how do we find a way to make an agreement,” Donald Fehr said. “How do we bridge the gap on the major issues that are between us.”
HRR might be back on the table Sunday, the last day of scheduled discussions. But the day’s agenda called for more “underbrush” issues as Daly called them, such as health and safety, the grievance process and miscellaneous matters such as game-night tickets for players.
“Certainly they aren’t the main issues that need to be tackled,” Daly admitted.
Thorny areas, such as player contracts are still to come and it’s almost certain a new CBA won’t be settled before regular season games are lost.
“The positive thing is that we’re talking when we weren’t talking for some time,” Steve Fehr said. “It’s very much an up and down process. We’ll talk again tomorrow, hopefully for quite a while.”
Autumn leaves will soon be rustling in empty parking lots around the NHL.
Though the league will likely wait as long as it can before cancelling its bread and butter regular season matches, the call could come by this Thursday, within a week of four season openers in Vancouver, Montreal, Colorado and Philly.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly did not want to talk about firm plans to pull the plug on any games during the weekend CBA talks with the players.
The 30 teams will have to deal with matters such as ticket refunds, but expect building management to try to recoup losses if the lockout goes long term. Prime Saturday night or mid-week dates in a venue such as the Air Canada Centre in Toronto will attract music groups or other forms of entertainment. In some non-traditional hockey markets, October games don’t draw well because of competition from the NFL and baseball playoffs.
The dark pre-season dates are the only ones available now. And buildings such as the ACC can only release a date after the league officially declares games are cancelled and even that would likely be in short two-week blocks. In both cases, that doesn’t give the venue or the potential new tenant much time to make arrangements.