On Maybe Missing the Point on Decertification

Decertification has become yet another fun word those of us who just want to watch hockey are supposed to learn. For more on what it is, see Elliotte Friedman’s introduction.

For one take on why the players should decertify, here’s Tyler Dellow, after quoting himself about the owners’ ability to keep cutting the players’ share down via CBA negotiations:

The thing I wonder is this: how is any of that not true in five or seven years? 50% – 45% – 40%…why would the owners stop, until there’s some reason to stop? Everyone gets a nice boost in the capital value of their team, the number of cities that could plausibly support a team increases (which makes possible some expansion and a nice lockout dividend) and everyone makes more money for five to seven years. Remember that Bettman quote from earlier in the lockout? “There seems to be this notion that the 54% escalating to 57% we agreed to seven years ago is a perpetual entitlement.” You can just file that away for any future negotiation. “There seems to be this notion that the (FILL IN BLANK) we agreed to seven years ago is a perpetual entitlement.” Sure, they won’t have guys like Mark Spector arguing that 50/50 is fair because that’s how mom used to split the candy, but he’ll just seize on something equally stupid and support the owners?

In other words, it seems to me that a decertification threat, followed by a CBA within the next couple weeks is great in terms of getting hockey back on the ice but doesn’t do anything to solve the players’ larger problems: when next time comes, they’ll be asked to take less, regardless of how the league does between now and then. Making a deal now does not solve the basic problem: hockey’s done really well for the last seven years and the owners want to pay them less and limit their rights. I think they’ll end up making a deal, because they’re reasonably close, and I can’t tell guys with short windows to make millions of dollars that they’re wrong to pass on uncertainty and grasp the golden ring, but they should be clear what they’re doing: the only way to ensure that the NHL doesn’t just do this again in five years or so is by pursuing the decertification angle and being successful in doing so. Otherwise, this will just happen again.

Maybe the players don’t care about that. I’m not sure I would if I was Shawn Horcoff, for example. Hopefully enough of them either don’t care, misjudge things or have a taste for wild uncertainty that, for once, the best interests of people who like to watch hockey get served, even if only by accident, and the North American sports labour movement starts to move beyond collective bargaining.

So… the reason to give up the protection of a union is the owners can just do this every few years in an effort to grab more money from the players? The way to stop the owners from taking a larger share is… to make it far, far easier to take a larger share? That doesn’t make sense.

It seems like it’d be a pretty sweet deal for the owners. Maybe it’s a little more of a hassle to have to negotiate with individual players rather than a union, but disbanded players could work out very, very well for them. I guess the biggest threat is they’d have major financial incentive to get the players back to work fast and start, you know, making money again. Scary stuff. A short term win for the players, but a long term win for the owners, it seems to me.

For the fans, it would mean less labor strife and near-immediate hockey again, which is a win from our perspective. But I guess I’d rather see the union find a way to break the owners of this habit somehow than break itself up. Or, to use Dellow’s language, give them a reason to stop. I don’t know if that’s possible without nuking a season or more and winning that particular game of chicken. But I’d be willing to suffer the consequences of that if it dealt the owners a big enough loss that we get an MLB-like peace.

If the players think the best way to steward what they were given by early unionists like Ted Lindsay is to throw it away, that’s their decision. All of them will still make a ton more money than their earlier brothers. But even factoring in labor strife every few years, I’m not sure it’d be the right decision. Collective bargaining provides some kind of counterweight to the billionaire masters of the world who run the league and I can’t say I’m interested in seeing those people gain any more power. I’d rather the players take a long-term view than take up the short-term goal of getting back on the ice now.

What huge benefit to decertification am I missing?

One last thing: Dellow says “free markets produce better outcomes for sports fans” but I’d like examples of how exactly. The collective bargaining model in top-tier pro sports in North America has brought fans pretty solid products, albeit with some periodic labor strike-induced pain. Are soccer fans in Europe (presumably one area he has in mind) really that much happier with the product?

Filed under: NHL, NHLPA

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Comments

  1. Guilherme says:

    “Are soccer fans in Europe (presumably one area he has in mind) really that much happier with the product?”

    Mostly, yeah.

  2. Joe says:

    “Dellow says “free markets produce better outcomes for sports fans” but I’d like examples of how exactly. ”

    Yeah… except the NHL doesn’t really exist in a free market. Sure, you have the AHL and other leagues, but they play more of a support role as I see it. Let’s see how the NHL fares in a real free market when top tier players start choosing to play in the KHL where they can make more money without greedy owners doing labor stoppages, and they can play closer to their families…

  1. [...] ON THE WINGS: Matt Saler with a rebuttal to Tyler Dellow’s recent take on decertification. [...]

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