For the Pittsburgh Penguins, revenue sharing has to be one of the more interesting aspects of the current NHL labor talks.
As reported today by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi, there will be expanded revenue sharing in the new collective bargaining agreement, whenever it gets ratified. Led by experience sports labor negotiator Donald Fehr, the NHL Players’ Association proposed an extensive form of welfare that would ostensibly support the financially-struggling franchises at the expense of the teams raking in cash.
For their part, the NHL owners are pushing for a bigger slice of “hockey-related revenue” than the 43 percent they collectively receive under the CBA that expires Sept. 15. With the NHLPA’s focus on inter-franchise sharing, it looked as if it attempted to create a rift between the money-printing clubs and the ones bleeding red ink.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Penguins would’ve been one of the main beneficiaries of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. Of course, that isn’t remotely the case now, as the Penguins are one of the NHL’s premier franchises, boasting a roster peppered with stars, a new building and impressive local TV ratings and home-game attendance.
But the team’s quick turnaround has me wondering what Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, along with the rest of the higher-ups, think about the situation. Is there any empathy for the clubs at the bottom of the barrel since they were there not too long ago?
Anyone associated with an NHL team is prohibited from speaking about the labor negotiations and the potential for a lockout, but I’ve got to figure there’s some emotion involved in the Penguins’ internal discussions. How could there not be when you’ve risen from the lower class so quickly?
Another factor is the Penguins’ level of indebtedness to Gary Bettman. The NHL’s longtime commissioner stood by the team’s ownership group time and again as it attempted to secure funding for the construction of CONSOL Energy Center. Even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin helping hockey make a huge leap in local popularity, the Penguins would’ve left Pittsburgh without finding a replacement for Mellon Arena.
As you would imagine, Bettman has maintained a strong public presence regarding the owners’ supposed solidarity. As the mouthpiece of the NHL Board of Governors, his goal is to keep the owners consolidated behind the league’s “need” to claim more revenue before it’s made available to the players.
Bettman has gone as far as labeling the NHLPA’s focus on revenue sharing among the 30 teams as a “distraction.” If the Penguins’ advocate from recent years is hammering home that line of reasoning, how can the front office disagree?
How the Penguins feel about the negotiations may never come to light, especially if the players lose their current fortitude and the owners stay together. However, if the league’s less successful teams start to see merit behind the players’ plan, class warfare could become a reality in the NHL society.
As detailed above, the Penguins could fall on either side of that debate, even if they are part of the NHL’s elite for the foreseeable future.