An interview with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

21

September

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, in a conference call with two Tampa Bay area reporters, said the league is concerned about a backlash from fans who must be suffering lockout fatigue, considering the NHL is in its second lockout in eight years and third under the leadership of commissioner Gary Bettman. "Of course we care what our fans think," Daly said. "That's why they need to hear our message as well as the Players' Association's.

So Daly made the league's case as part of a public relations contest the players so far seem to be winning:

On what it will take to break the stalemate: I think it’ll take some sense of compromise on the players’ association side to get things going.

On if the league must compromise, too: I’m sure it will. But I guess what I’m trying to say is we have made compromise already. We continuously try to signal to them that we are in a negotiation and so far they haven’t negotiated with us.

On if public opinion matters: Yeah, we care what our fans think. Ultimately we have to do an agreement that makes sense for the league and from which the league can grow and from which our franchises can be healthy and stable, and ultimately that will benefit the fans and will benefit the players. But of course we care what our fans think and we are cognizant of that and that’s why they need to hear our message as well as the Players’ Association’s.

On possible fan backlash: Of course there’s a concern about that. There has to be a concern about that.

On what seems a lack of negotiating urgency: Well, I agree it’s a difficult issue to deal with and it’s a difficult perception to have to deal with. I guess what I’d come back to is I think in a healthy labor relationship, generally you don’t have to wait until kind of the 24th hour or the 11th hour -- or whatever analogy you want to use is -- to negotiate. I think we had several things working against us over the last several years principally with respect to the instability in the Players’ Association and their changed leadership … but the bottom line is the current executive director really didn’t take over until a year and a half ago maybe two years ago, almost two years ago, and it took a while for them to be prepared to negotiate over the terms of the new CBA. I’m not saying that that is the reason we are where we are but unfortunately we weren’t negotiating over a CBA until almost July of this year. That makes it tougher. I would have hoped that there was a little more urgency and would have hoped that there was a little more negotiating in terms of movement and compromise than there was.

On what seems a lack of negotiating urgency: I understand, again, the perception. It’s not a realistic view of the way bargaining transpires to a certain extent. I think there was no lack of bargaining over the summer. I think we had 28 or 29 sessions. What we’ve had a lack of is any degree of compromise or movement from the Players Association. They’ve really made one proposal and they haven’t moved off the one proposal, and in any negotiation it’s not really a negotiation if one side is making all the proposals and the other side is just waiting until they get what they want.

On having an earlier expiration date to the CBA: Yes, that’s something we proposed in the last negotiation. It’s something the Players Association resisted and at the end of the day we weren’t going to continue a lockout over the expiration date of our next agreement, so it is something we’d like to see changed, it is something we already proposed to change in this negotiation.

On cordial the talks themselves: Look, I think it’s important to say … while we haven’t made as much progress as probably either side would like, the negotiations themselves have been conducted in a very professional manner -- no animosity, very business like. The problem I suppose is we don’t have an agreement and we haven’t made as much progress as we would have liked.

More on the negotiations: It’s clearly different than where we were in 2004, where after the lockout started I don’t think there was any, there was no formal contact between the two sides and there was probably only one informal contact until early December.

On why the lockout is necessary: I guess I have three answers to that. One is, yes, we’ve done – collectively and thanks to our players -- we’ve been able to grow the business tremendously and revenues have grown on a league-wide basis tremendously. But I don’t think people should lose sight of the fact that those revenue numbers are gross revenue numbers, they’re not net revenue numbers and there are a lot of costs associated with running a professional hockey league and professional hockey teams, including 57 percent of those revenues being paid directly to players and another large percentage being paid in costs that are very much player related whether it be health care, whether it be equipment, whether it be first-class travel and the like, they’re all kind of very costly. It’s a costly product to produce and as it’s turned out two things I think have happened. Obviously 57 percent, which is what this agreement ultimately got us to – we started at 54 percent – but we’re at 57 percent now is too much to have a sustainable model going forward and that’s why we need an adjustment in that. … But two, the world is a lot different in terms of the worlds we’re doing business in today than it was in 2005. The Canadian currency is above par when it was 75 cents in 2005. That’s a big issue. It costs more to generate revenues these days than it did in the past and quite frankly the economy is not nearly as vibrant as it was in 2005; those all make it much, much more difficult to prosper in 2012 than where we were in 2005. The world doesn’t stand still. Things change over time and responsible parties should change with it.

On creating animosity among players with first offer to lower player share of revenues from 57 to 43-46 percent: Certainly there was no intention to create animosity with the first offer. The first offer was just that, a first offer, and was made in early July, the early part of the summer, I think our fifth meeting, so it was made very, very early on, and quite frankly as with any first offer it’s an invitation to negotiate. But to the extent it had a contrary effect on how this negotiation has played out -- and I’m not sure it has, I think people may say it has but I’m not sure I necessarily buy into that -- but to the extent it has, then that’s unfortunate. But we are where we are, we’ve obviously moved a long way from there in terms of our position currently and we’d just like to have a party on the other side of the table who’s wiling to negotiate finances with us.

On how quickly the league will be up and running with a CBA in place: That’s a tough question. As was the case with our last agreement, it’s not going to be a situation where we have a handshake on what the applicable percentage is and open camps. We’re going to need a lot more than that. We’re going to need a fully fleshed out agreement that we can sign. We obviously both have lots of resources to kind of get there early and one of the positive things that happened this summer is I think we teed up all the issues that need resolution and we actually have some agreements in some areas. So, I don’t think all the other stuff takes all that much time but they are going to have to be agreed to before we open camp, so that builds in some lead time. In terms of having a full regular season, yes, we have some modeling done on that. I’m not prepared to share that publicly but obviously we’re not basketball and, you know, I think basketball played 66 regular-season games from Christmas on. We’re not nearly in a position that luxurious in terms of being able to create a schedule. I think once we start missing weeks to the regular season you should assume games are going with it. It’s not that we can compress it the way the National Basketball Association was able to compress.

[Last modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 4:28pm]

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