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NHL owners and players try to bridge differences

Hockey players participate in a workout at the Ice Den on December 3, 2012 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Today representatives of the National Hockey League and the players association will sit down to try to resolve a labor dispute. The stand-off between them has already resulted in the cancelation of about a third of the hockey season and the All-Star game in January.

At issue is how the owners divide the NHL’s estimated $3 billion in revenue. Hockey players have been getting about 57 percent of the revenues. Owners want to split it 50-50.

“Quite frankly, this is just about money. And it sounds funny to say, because it’s always been about money to some degree, right. But there’s no over-riding philosophical issue here. This is just about dollars,” says Scott Rosner, who follows the business of sports at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

When the two sides meet on Tuesday, they won’t bring their lead negotiators. That distinction could make all the difference according to Paul Swangard, who directs the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

“If these two sides can strip away the negotiators for one day at least and allow the two sides to come together in a less adversarial tone, maybe something out of that will be a catalyst to get a deal done,” says Swangard.

Basketball, football and baseball leagues have all negotiated new deals with players in recent years.

“The trend in the other leagues is for the percentage of revenue that is allocated to the players to decrease,” says Rosner. “And certainly, we’re seeing those prior deals have an impact on the NHL right now, as the owners in the NHL are seeking to emulate the owners of those other leagues.”

Hockey players are mostly millionaires. The hockey team owners are mostly billionaires. But they aren’t the biggest losers when games are canceled.

“It’s the waiter, the waitress, the vendor who relies on game-day money to make ends meet that really are the ones that are most impacted by this,” says Rosner.

Workers dependent on hockey hope they won’t see a repeat of what happened eight years ago. Back in 2004-2005, another labor dispute resulted in the cancellation of the entire hockey season.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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