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Larry Brooks' Buzzword of the Day: Management Rights Clause

Can you find all the partners here at this partners meeting? PARTNERSHIP!
Can you find all the partners here at this partners meeting? PARTNERSHIP!

According to the NY Post's Larry Brooks in his post this morning 'NHL labor talks remain in limbo', a newly-released portion of the league's last offer to the NHLPA for a new CBA, which was rejected by the players, leading to the break in talks last Friday, was for a 'Management Rights Clause'. Brooks explains as such:

The Post has learned the NHL proposals feature a "management rights" clause under which the league would assume unilateral power over issues including realignment, scheduling and playoff format.

It's an interesting gambit by a league whose owners are still probably a bit miffed that their December realignment plan was rejected by the NHLPA this January. The existence of a Management Rights Clause all but ends all of the talk going back and forth about a "partnership" between the league and its players to benefit hockey.

The thing is that it may not be such a bad idea.

One of the most-annoying things coming out of the last CBA talks and going on through the current round has been the absolute river of smarm gushing forth from the both sides of the mouths of both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Nobody believes that the owners are truly interested in giving the players anything regarding equal footing as far as league business decisions go, nor do many believe that the players are interested in having 30 teams around for any reason other than having 30 teams' worth of players jobs to keep them employed.

If there was any doubt remaining, both sides' proposals should have effectively quashed those. The owners have been gutsy enough to brag as late as April about record revenues and incredible league growth before darkening their visages in the face of a work stoppage by audaciously claiming to have lost $240 million in the last two years because of the player costs they fixed to a percentage of their own revenues 8 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Players' only proposal to-date (which has been made public at least) is a bit of a smiley-face drawn on the nail of an upturned middle-finger. Many people (myself included) believe the players' proposal to be the "most-fair" one, but the concept of freezing salaries in their current place while de-linking them from hockey-related revenue is as much an act of partnership as covering your camping buddy in honey and then telling him that if a bear attacks, you promise you won't trip him as you both run away.

So what benefit would there be to the sport of hockey to end the charade of partnership and leave all management decisions to actual management?

For one, it also eliminates the charade about whose problem it is when lower-earning teams don't make money. Whereas currently, players' escrow is used to help fund revenue sharing for smaller teams and this is a supposed bother, a management clause turns it from a "you're a partner and you should care" issue to a "you made more than our contract says you should and we're taking it back." This forces a much more-honest assessment about the overall health of the league.

Second, the idea of players-as-partners-but-who-don't-share-in-expenses becomes a moot point. How many times have you read a shill for the owners talk about the project to improve Madison Square Garden that's costing MSG nearly a billion dollars and that not one penny of that is coming from the players, who will share in what are assumed to be increased revenues from the project? Well I'm sure MSG didn't ask the players' whether they thought that project should go through in the first place; a Management Clause again places focus on the concept that it's none of their damn business anyway.

The biggest fallout of such a clause existing is that it destroys the idea that a 50/50 split of revenues is what should be expected as "fair". The players aren't partners anymore with a Management Clause; they are both the employees and the product. To be such an important part of the business without having the concern associated with being an essential partner in that business warrants a strong argument in favor of demanding more than half the revenues.

What's more is that a Management Clause doesn't take meaningful power away from the players. If travel concerns are that big a deal for the players under realigment, then it's up to them to collectively bargain something which alleviates them. The teams would absolutely make travel less-fun for the players if given the power, but they're not going to needlessly increase it for spite as part of an evil add-on to a realignment plan that's supposed to be for the good of their business; it's just not good business sense to do that.

A Management Clause in the new NHL CBA would better-define the relationship between the league and the players and would cut out a lot of excuses and mud-flinging in regards to who cares about the health of what. The players can go on actually caring about the health of the sport and they can collectively bargain plenty of things to protect themselves against owners who might have a grudge to settle and a willingness to make unlikely business decisions out of spite (because THAT'S how you become a billionaire). This would just mean that any talk about the players having to take less because of "fundamental economics" is a much easier way to identify the requirement that the league admit to screwing up their own business without trying to place blame where it doesn't belong.

The one big, glaring concern about letting the NHL have this clause is that it also prevents the players from pretending to care about the profitability of clubs like the Coyotes, whose existence benefits them. But hey, if there should be any measure of fairness to come out of these negotiations, it's that neither side can expect to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the health of the league and how much the owners should be expected to pay for both the employees and the revenue-creating product.