NHL, NHLPA to resume talks today

October 16, 2012

(Chris Young/AP)

The NHL and NHLPA will resume negotiations today, with the big four – Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Donald Fehr and Steve Fehr – set to meet in Toronto.

According to multiple reports, the two sides will try to find a way to move talks forward on the main economic issues.

It’s a slight change of pace, considering that since the lockout began a month ago talks have centered on secondary issues (drug testing, contract lengths, grievance procedures, etc.) rather than economic details that are at the heart of the stalemate. Whether it leads to actual traction between the owners and players, though, remains to be seen.

A few notable links:

According to Deadspin, the NHL hired market research firm Luntz Global – founded by prominent Republican party strategist Frank Luntz – to run focus groups and determine how the league should recast its message in order to win over public opinion. Luntz has since confirmed he organized focus groups for the NHL via Twitter.

The full article, which includes questions the focus group was asked and more, is definitely worth your time. An excerpt follows:

One participant gleaned from the content of these speeches the phrases and concepts the NHL might use going forward. The league is eager to portray individual players as not in step with the union, claiming that the majority of them don’t believe or don’t buy into the rhetoric used by Donald Fehr and NHLPA leaders, and that they just want to play hockey. “The players are not the enemy,” the NHL may very well tell you. “The union is the problem.”

As for the owners’ slogan, one laughable phrase kept coming up: “Shared sacrifice.”

“Maybe we asked for too much at first,” Luntz’s mock-NHL-exec speech went, “but we’re willing to give. The NHLPA has to be willing to give as well, if we’re going to give the fans back their hockey. There’s no way we’re going to do this without both sides bringing something to the table.”

The NHL is losing the publicity war. While most fans categorize the negotiations as the rich vs. the richer, there’s almost no sympathy for Bettman and the owners for promulgating their third lockout in 18 years. That’s a perception they’re desperate to change. While concessions will come at the bargaining table, the court of public opinion will dictate which side feels the most pressure to compromise. And, of course, when hockey does come back, the league doesn’t want fans to feel so bitter that they stay away from the game. That’s where Luntz’s research fits in. Most fans, ignorant to the ins and outs of revenue sharing and the like, just want hockey back. It’s within the league’s power to win the PR war, and portray the NHLPA as the villains behind the work stoppage.

Elliotte Friedman’s latest column doesn’t provide an optimistic view of these negotiations or how long the lockout might last and offers a comparison to MLB.

NHL player agent Pat Brisson, who represents Sidney Crosby, told the SportsBusiness Journal he may organize a players’ tour if the lockout stretches into late November.  

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Lindsay Applebaum · October 11, 2012

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