NHL lockout?

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This topic has 8 voices, contains 13 replies, and was last updated by  kaloway 2133 days ago.

August 22, 2012 at 8:26 pm Quote #18464


Will there be a season this year?

August 22, 2012 at 9:05 pm Quote #18466


I really don’t think it will start on time. I could see maybe half of a season.

August 23, 2012 at 2:23 am Quote #18473


If we had no fehr, there wouldn’t be a lockout. But we have fehr . . . and his name is Donald. I foresee at least a few weeks – if not a few months of lockout time this year.

August 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm Quote #18491


Does this affect the minor league AHL, or do they still play even if there is an NHL lockout?

Stay Frosty

August 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm Quote #18503


If we had no fehr, there wouldn’t be a lockout.But we have fehr . . . and his name is Donald.I foresee at least a few weeks – if not a few months of lockout time this year.

Huh? How do you figure this is all Fehr’s fault?

Resident dickhead. I will hurt your delicate feelings.

August 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm Quote #18747


It’s looking more and more like this season is not going to happen. Millionaires, what can you do about em.

August 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm Quote #18749


If anyone is interested, here is a piece I wrote about strikes in sport a few years back. The full reference is:

Michael Schiavone, “Strikes in Professional Sports” in Aaron Brenner (ed.) Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History, M. E. Sharpe, NY, 2009.

Strikes in Professional Sports

Greedy millionaires wanting more money. Selfish individuals who have no idea how ordinary people live. Millionaires in dispute with billionaires; each as self-interested as each other. Apart from 1904, the baseball World Series was played every year in times of war and depression. That is of course, apart from 1994 when the self-serving players destroyed the entire season. Multi-million dollar contracts were not good enough for them. Likewise, the 2005 National Hockey League (NHL) season was cancelled and the Stanley Cup not played due to similar gluttonous beasts. After all, one can never have enough sports cars, Armani suits and Rolexes. These are the common perceptions of athletes in the United States (US) when they go out on strike. This is also true when the owners lockout the players.
However, as is often the case, the truth is vastly different. As the doyen of sports broadcasting Howard Cosell argues in What’s Wrong With Sports: “Maybe you don’t see a connection between those men and women who risked everything they had to ask for minimum wage, overtime, and safe working conditions, and football players, basketball players, and baseball players, especially given the rather substantial wages some of them receive. The connection is there, however, and it is as real as the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, and the World Series. And I’m telling you it’s every bit as important, because what is at stake when professional athletes strike is a principle, and a protection for every working man and woman, a protection once fought for in the streets of our nation, with fists and guns, and lynching and mass arrests.” Even when it comes to money, certainly athletes receive substantially more than an average American. However, a person working at a factory may be employed for decades. An athletes’ career may only one, two, or five years, and a career ending injury may happen at any moment. Generally, athletes have very little to fall back on. In the end, a sportsperson only has a limited time in the sun.
Through providing and overview and analysis of strikes/lockouts in the NHL, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and Major League Baseball (MLB), I shall demonstrate that athletes generally did not just go out on strike to fatten their wallets, but for matters of principle. While athletes’ strikes do involve more money and are higher profile, in the end they are no different than a strike at the refinery.

Decimation: Strikes in the National Hockey League

There have been three lockouts/strikes in NHL history 1992, 1994-5 and 2004-5. The NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) came into existence in 1957 after players were outraged that a television deal between the league and CBS saw all revenue go to owners. The most notable accomplishment of the union was that it achieved a minimum salary. After a decade of inactivity, the election of Alan Eagleson revitalized the association. However, Eagleson followed a path of business unionism where he and the association adopted a friendly attitude to the owners. This changed in 1992 with the election of Bob Goodenow. It was under his tenure that the players went on strike for the first time.
Compared to the following strikes in the NHL, the 1992 was a minor one that lasted only ten days. Players wanted changes in regards to free agency, while owners wanted to limit salaries as well as receive a share in the trading card revenue earned by the players. The NHLPA actions were generally a success. Paul D. Staudohar notes in ‘The hockey lockout of 2004-05’ that “The union won concessions such as the right to choose arbitrators in salary disputes, a reduction in the age for unrestricted free agency from 31 to 30, and an increase in the players’ postseason revenue share.” However, it was only a one year agreement. This set the stage for the eventual lockout in 1994-5.
The 1993-4 season was played without a collective bargaining agreement in place. The players were happy to have a similar arrangement for the 1994-5 season. However, the owners wanted the union to engage in concession bargaining. After no agreement was reached, the owners locked out the players. During the negotiations the union asked for a no lockout/strike clause, which the league rejected. However, the major issue during the negotiations was a salary cap. The league proposed that the wealthier teams redistribute some of their wealth to the less well-off teams. Moreover, there would be a salary cap on the amount teams could pay rookies.
The lockout lasted for 104 days, and the regular season was cut from 84 games to 48. On the surface, it was not a success for the players. As Staudohar notes in hockey lockout, “the owners dropped the payroll tax idea, but achieved a salary cap for rookies under the age of 25, who were limited to an $850,000 salary in 1995, with the cap rising annually to $1,075,000 in 2000. Eligibility for free agency was severely limited. Players who completed their first contract were no longer eligible for free agency. Although players aged 25–31 could still become free agents, their movement to other teams was stifled by stiff draft choice penalties that had to be paid by teams signing such players. Unrestricted free agency could be achieved only at age 32 (up from age 30 under the old contract) for the first two seasons of the agreement and at age 31 after that. It was the most restrictive free agency system in sports.” Moreover, this contract stayed in place for ten years (it was extended twice); almost unheard of in all union-employer agreements.
While the owners wanted to limit salaries, they then went out and paid individual players massive amounts. In the decade following the 1993-4 season players salaries tripled, with the salaries accounting from anywhere between 66 and 76 percent of league revenue. Faced with escalating salaries, the league was preparing for a lockout. In November 1998 the league sent a memo to the teams asking them to set aside $10 million for a lockout fund. Moreover, it asked the NHLPA to reopen the collective bargaining agreement in June 1999; the NHLPA refused. However, the union was aware that the league was losing millions of dollars. In October 2003, it argued it was willing to accept a 5 percent reduction in existing contracts, as well as reductions in rookie salaries and the luxury tax. However, this was not good enough for the League. Commissioner Gary Bettman (who boasted when he became Commissioner that he had never set foot inside a hockey arena) wanted what he called “cost certainty”; i.e. a true salary cap. He proposed six different ways that “cost certainty” could be achieved. These ranged from a hard inflexible salary cap, to the league, not the teams, negotiating contracts with player agents. Moreover, salaries could not exceed 55 percent of league revenue. The NHLPA rejected all the proposals as it claimed they were all forms of a salary cap. One day after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired, the League imposed a lockout on September 15, 2004.
During the first few months of the lock out, Goodenow stated that the players were willing to make enormous sacrifices for the season to happen. The players agreed to, amongst other things, for salaries to be reduced by a massive 24 per cent, a reduction in rookie salaries, and a luxury tax (beginning at $45 million). This was not good enough for the League. As USA Today noted: “The league officially reject[ed] the union offer. It counter[ed] with a rollback that affects top-paid players more, scrubs arbitration, eliminates rookie bonuses and caps player pay at 54% of league revenues.”
Another potential breakthrough nearly occurred in February 2005. The League agreed that salaries could exceed 55 percent of revenue. The union accepted this and agreed on a form of a salary cap. However, the League proposed a cap of $42.5 million per team, while the union wanted a cap of $49 million. The two sides could not come to an agreement and on February 16 the League cancelled the season.
During the “off-season” cracks began forming in the unity of both the players and the owners. This combined with Bettman’s claim that the 2005-6 season would not occur unless an agreement was in place while at the same time committed to starting the season on time eventually led to a settlement on July 13, 2005 after 310 days. It was not a victory for the players. Amongst the major points are a salary cap of $39 million, with players’ salaries being limited to 54 percent of league revenues, with rookie salaries being capped at $850,000 per season. Players under contract had their pay cut by 24 percent. If teams’ salaries were over $39 million, players either have to renegotiate their contracts or be fired with them receiving two-thirds of their existing contract, minus, of course, 24 percent. In one of the few victories for the union, minimum salaries were raised from $175,000 to $450,000 in 2005–6 and eventually to $500,000. It is hard to disagree with Dave Zirin who argues that a union has never suffered such a humiliating high-profile defeat like the one on the NHLPA since the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization debacle of 1981.
In the end, who is to blame? Did the union underestimate the need for financial reform of the league? After all, the league was losing millions of dollars every year, with players’ salaries taking a large slice of league revenue. Then again, without the players the league is nothing. Was Goodenow at fault for telling his members that the union would never accept a salary cap and then agreeing to one just before the lockout, which put the union in a weak bargaining position? Or was it Bettman’s fault? Zirin argues in ‘How Owners Destroyed the NHL’ that “Bettman took one look at this blue-collar league built on the backs of hardscrabble French Canadians, toothless grins, and rabid fans, and recoiled. He examined its base in northern de-industrializing cities and shook his head at the absence of revenue streams to suck dry. He saw the future of ice hockey and, unfathomably, saw Dixie. Bettman expanded the league to thirty teams, putting the sport in places like Nashville, Atlanta, Raleigh, Phoenix and Columbus. The NHL owners sat back and collected hundreds of millions of dollars in expansion fees, giving out fat contracts along the way, with no thought to the long-term consequences. Predictably, these new revenue streams were shockingly shallow. The big national TV contract Bettman promised never came and the NHL was left with unknowable new teams like the Hurricanes, Coyotes, and Predators playing in half-empty arenas.” The end result was that revenue decreased dramatically (due in a large part to a decline in attendance, which accounts for 80 percent of league revenue).
In the end, the only victors were the fans who just wanted to watch hockey and did not care whether there favorite players received an equitable contract (not realizing the irony that many of them were in industries demanding massive concessions from their workers), Bettman who can now rule like a Czar, and thirty billionaires. In other words, a sad state of affairs.

NBA: Looks Can Be Deceiving

It is often assumed that the relationship between the players and the National Basketball Association was relatively harmonious. However, there has often been a tumultuous relationship between the players and the league. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1998-9 season that the first major lockout/strike occurred in basketball (there was a brief lockout in 1995).
The National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) came into existence in 1954. However, it was not until 1964 when the players threatened to boycott the All-star game that the league recognized the union. While there was never a major lockout/strike until 1998, there were a number of lawsuits filed by the players, as well as the owners against, each other.
The 1998-9 lockout can be traced back to 1995 when a number of players attempted to decertify the union in the hope that it could bring a successful lawsuit against the league on the grounds of anti-trust (the players lost an earlier ruling because there was a collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union). The players wanted an end to the salary cap and college draft, as well as unrestricted free agency. The NBA declared a lockout as well as restructuring the existing collective bargaining agreement to make it more favorable to players and agents (who pushed the dissident players to attempt to decertify the union). This led to the players to vote against decertification as well as agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement. Part of the agreement included a provision that allowed the owners to reopen the contract if salaries were more than 51.8 percent of basketball related income. The consequences of the negotiations/decertification attempts were that the league realized a lockout could work and there was rift in the union which eventually led Simon Gourdine being replaced as NBPA Executive Director by G. William Hunter, and Patrick Ewing (who was one of the players attempting to get the union decertified) becoming President of the NBPA.
In March 1998 with players’ salaries accounting for 57 percent of basketball related income the NBA terminated the 1995 collective bargaining agreement. The league demanded that the players’ salaries account for no more than 48 percent of basketball related income (BRI) as well as a hard salary cap, which would effectively eliminate guaranteed contracts. Not surprisingly, the NBPA rejected these demands and on July 1, 1998 the owners locked out the players. One of the main problems that the union faced is that the superstars received the bulk of the money. For example, in 1997 the top nine players received 15 percent of all player salaries, yet 20 percent of the players received the minimum salary. The union accepted that something had to be done about this.
During the lockout, the league continued to receive income. As Staudhor notes in ‘Labor Relations in basketball’: “The league did much to ensure its cash flow during the lockout by arranging television contracts so that it would be paid even if no games were played. The league, of course, has to repay the networks for lost games, but not for 3 years, and then with no interest. With income security lined up prior to the lockout, once it began, the league moved to limit costs.” Conversely, the players did not receive any income from their contracts during the lockout. This obviously favored the owners. Moreover, the earlier rift in the NBPA weakened the players’ position. Nearing the cutoff point for the season to still go ahead, NBA Commissioner David Stern sent the players a nine page proposal outlining the owners’ position, players began to break ranks from the union and demanded a secret ballot on the proposal. While it was likely the proposal would be rejected, this would have led to the cancellation of the season. It was enough for the NBPA and Stern to agree to further talks and for an agreement to be reached and end the 191 day lockout on January 9, 1999.
Under terms of the agreement, there was an individual cap on players’ salaries. The maximum a player could receive was $14 million per year if he had over ten years experience. Moreover, after three years, the players agreed to an escrow tax of 10 percent of their salaries, to be refunded if total league wide salaries exceed revenues 55 percent. In a victory for the players, minimum salary increased on a sliding scale from $287,500 for rookies up to $1 million dollar for players with over ten years experience. Although it has to be noted that both the union and owners wanted the minimum salary to be increased, thus this is not a great victory as it first appears to be.
Overall, the lockout was not a success for the players, but the long-term consequences were not that bad for them. Salaries were curtailed, with an individual salary cap; the first in professional sports in America. However, during the 1999-2000 season, players received 62 percent of BRI revenues, with it reaching 65 percent in 2000-1 season; a new record. However, the 2001-2002 season witnessed the salary control mechanisms coming into effect. As under the terms of the agreement, 10 percent of players’ salaries were withheld in escrow. Nevertheless, players received approximately 57 percent of BRI revenues. For the next three years, players consistently received about 60 percent of BRI. It is important to remember that at the start of the lockout the owner only wanted the players to receive a maximum of 48 percent of BRI and eventually settled for 55 percent. Thus, while individual salaries were curtailed, there is now a more equitable distribution amongst all players, with them consistently achieving salaries well over the 55 percent of BRI as agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement. Thus, the end result is not as bad as it first appeared.

NFL: Victory Through The Legal System NFL

There have been five lockouts/strikes in the National Football League (NFL). The first strike occurred in 1968, the second in 1970, the third in 1974, the fourth in 1982, and the fifth in 1987.
1956 witnessed the birth of the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA). The NFLPA was successful in its first 2 years of operation through threatening to take the owners to court in regards to anti-trust violations. This led to the players receiving many of their demands, such as a pension plan and health benefits.
The first strike/lockout in NFL history was relatively minor. One of the major problems for the players’ association was that although the American Football League (AFL) and the NFL had merged the two players associations had not. Thus, the League was able to play one group against the other. In 1968 the NFLPA proposed a better pension for the players. They were locked out by the owners for a week, and then staged a brief strike. Eventually an agreement was reached. The most notable thing is this was the first collective bargaining agreement in the NFL. However, the agreement was a disappointment to the players largely due to the separate players’ associations (the NFLPA only represented 16 of 26 teams).
In 1970 following the merger between the NFL and the AFL and the respective player associations, the NFLPA, after filling a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), became a certified union. Like the first, the second strike in the NFL was relatively minor and only lasted 2 days. In 1970 the players were unhappy that the owners would not negotiate with them in good faith. Indeed, the owners locked out the players for a brief period and this was followed by a strike. However, the owners threatened to cancel the season, and this led the players to return to work. Eventually, a new four-year collective bargaining agreement was signed. Among the highlights were that minimum salary increased to $12,500 for rookies and $13,000 for veterans, and the pension and health care were improved. Moreover, players were allowed to have agents.
However, harmony between the players and owners did not last long. In 1974 at the end of the previous collective bargaining agreement another strike occurred. The players wanted, amongst other things, total free agency, impartial arbitration of all disputes, elimination of the draft, and individual contracts. The owners, however, refused to negotiate with the union. This led to the players going out on strike on July 1. The strike was not a success, as the owners still refused to agree to any of the players’ proposals as they believed they could win in the courts. Moreover, 25 percent of veteran players crossed the picket lines. These incidents led the players to abandon the strike on August 10. They did not, however, abandon their fight. Instead the players took the battle to the courts and the NLRB.
It was not until 1976 until a decision was reached. The players were successful in their fight, but an agreement was not finalized until 1977. The union was successful in gaining increased benefits as well as impartial arbitration of non-injury grievances. However, while the free agency rules were modified, the costs associated through compensation to a free agent’s team (giving up a first round draft pick) meant that there was very little player movement.
Once again following the end of the 1977 collective bargaining agreement there was further labor unrest. A new television agreement resulted in a massive increase in revenue to the owners. Television revenue increased to $14.2 million from $5.8 million. Obviously, the players felt they deserved a share of the pie. Indeed, they wanted player salaries to be 55 percent of league revenue. Moreover, as the NFLPA argued: “Those revenues would be divided among players based on years of service, playtime and individual and team performance. The proposal was designed to pay players based on performance, not on how high a player was drafted or how well he was expected to play.” The owners rejected the proposal.
This led to the players agreeing to strike action. However, before they could go on strike, the owners locked out the players. For the first time in NFL history, games were lost during the regular season. The lockout lasted 57 days and was marked, unlike the 1974 lockout, by good player solidarity. Two issues led to a resolution. First, it was likely that the entire season would be canceled unless games resumed in early November. Second, the owners proposed a $1.28 billion package that would cover the 1983-1987 seasons. This amounted to approximately 50 percent of league revenue. The players returned to work while the negotiations continued. An agreement was reached on December 5. As well as the above package, other benefits to the players included severance pay, an increase in the minimum salary, pension, pre-season pay, and injury protection. However, the free agency question remained unresolved.
It could be argued that both the 1977 and 1982 agreements did not live up to player expectations. While in theory there was free agency, in practice there was very little player movement. Likewise, as Staudohar argues in ‘The football strike of 1987’ that while player salaries increased “from $90,000 in 1982 to $230,000 in 1987, most of this increase was due to opportunities for players to jump to [United States Football League] USFL clubs for a higher salary or to be paid more by their NFL clubs to stay.” However, the NFLPA argues that while these agreements were not as good as the players wanted they were never going to achieve great results in the short term due to the power and solidarity of the owners. Thus, it was necessary to modify some of their demands to achieve victory in the long term.
Once again in the lead up to the 1987 collective bargaining negotiations there was labor disharmony. Unrestricted free agency was the NFLPA’s number one priority. During the current contract only one out of a possible 500 “free agents” was offered a deal by another club. Once again, the owners rejected the players’ demands. Moreover, following the players giving the NFLPA strike authorization (although it was a long way from unanimous), the owners led by their spokesperson Jack Donlan (he was also the owners’ spokesperson in 1982) made preparations for scabs to replace the players. In a first, regular season games were played by scabs and 15 percent of veteran players who crossed the picket lines.
Quite surprisingly, the NFLPA, as in 1982, was not really prepared for a strike. There was no strike fund and/or line of credit for the players. However, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations supported the NFLPA by urging its members to boycott games as well as forming picket lines at the grounds. Nevertheless, public opinion was on the side of the owners as fans, referees, and broadcasters generally all supported the owners. Moreover, the owners remained unified while 15 percent of players became scabs.
Faced with these obstacles, after a 24 day strike the players returned to work without achieving any of their demands and the players completed the season without an agreement. It was a sad day for organized labor. However, if one tactic does not succeed try another one.
On the day that the players returned to work, the NFLPA filled an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. The NFLPA was initially successful, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The court argued that as the NFLPA was a union it could not sue the league for anti-trust violations. In response, the NFLPA decertified itself and became a professional association. After a series of court victories by the players, the NFLPA and the owners agreed to a compromise deal to avoid further litigation. Owners agreed to free agency, but in return they wanted a salary cap. The NFLPA accepted this on the condition that it is only implemented if player costs exceed 67 percent of league revenue. Moreover, players’ salaries must be at least 58 percent of league revenue. Following this victory the NFLPA once again became a certified union.
The history of player strikes/lockouts in the NFL is not one of great success. There was often a lack of solidarity and planning that is necessary for any strike to succeed. The NFLPA achieved its greatest successes through the court system. Thus, in the end the players were victorious, just not through strike action.

MLB: Victory at a Price

There certainly has not been harmony between players and owners in baseball. There have been six strikes and three lockouts in Major League history. However, apart from a one day strike in 1912 by the Detroit Tigers, there was labor peace until 1972.
It is fair to say that for a long time baseball players were exploited by owners. Even though the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) had been in existence since the 1930s it was weak and ineffectual, and its only useful function was to collect and distribute a pension for the players. The MLBPA gained strength in the 1960s with the appointment of Marvin Miller; a long-time labor organizer.
The first strike in 1972 was over player pensions and binding arbitration. After a ten day strike that delayed the start of the season the players were successful. The owners agreed to increase the pension fund by $500,000, and the players gained the right to salary arbitration. Likewise, after no agreement could be reached on a collective bargaining agreement before the start of the 1973 season the owners locked out the players. After a 14 day stoppage that resulted in 86 games being abandoned, once again the players were victorious. The pension plan was strengthened and the minimum salaries increased. Moreover, players not eligible for free agency were allowed to have their salaries decided by an arbitrator. This allows players to have an independent arbitrator determine his salary if he cannot agree to a deal with his club. This issue would occur frequently in future collective bargaining negotiations.
There were similar victories for players in 1976 and 1980. In the 1976 negotiations, the MLBPA wanted free agency for players. After a 17 day lockout, a new agreement was signed that granted players free agency after six years. There was a similar strike in 1980 once again over free agency. After an 8 day strike at the end of spring training a four year agreement was signed, but it included a clause that allowed the contract to be reopened in 1981 in relation to free agency.
The 1981 stoppage was due to free agency compensation. The owners wanted compensation for losing a free agent player to another team. MLBPA argued that any form of compensation would diminish the point of free agency. The players authorized a strike to begin on May 29 if no agreement could be reached. Once again the players displayed a remarkable sense of solidarity; this was not true for the owners. Moreover, fans and the media supported the players. Most famously Sports Illustrated had a cover article during the strike entitled: ‘Strike! The Walkout the Owners Provoked’. However, despite these aspects, the strike was the longest in Major League history (a record that would soon be surpassed). The strike lasted for 50 days from June 12 until July 31, with 712 games being abandoned. Once again the players were victorious. Clubs could no longer be directly compensated for the loss of free agents. However, they could retain players for 6 years and to be compensated with other players from the draft. One legacy of the 1981 strike was the bitter relationship between Miller and the owners’ representative Ray Grebey. It is alleged the strike was prolonged due to the dislike the two had for each other. Indeed, they refused to be photographed together upon completion of negotiations.
There were two further minor work stoppages in 1985 and 1990. In 1985 there was 2 day strike in the middle of the season that led to the loss of 25 games (although they were eventually replayed). The players wanted a greater slice of league revenue. They were successful. Owners increased their contribution to the players’ pension by $33 million for the period 1985-8 and $39 million in 1989. Minimum salary also increased from $40,000 to $60,000. Another issue was in regards to salary arbitration. The owners had hoped that salary arbitration would reduce salaries, but it was an utter failure. However, under the new agreement, a player must have had three years’ experience before he could go for arbitration; previously a player needed only two years’ experience.
Nearing the end of the previous five year agreement, the owners locked out the players during spring training for 32 days in 1990. Amongst other demands, the owners wanted players to only receive 48 percent of revenue and for there to be a salary cap. The players were once again victorious. Owners agreed to contribute $55 million every year to the pension fund (a $16 million increase) and for the minimum salary to be increased by $40,000 to $100,000. Moreover, the agreement allowed the best 17 percent of players with between two and three years experience to have salary arbitration. In other words, it was another success by the MLBPA. As is often the case, however, success comes at a price. The price that the players paid was that the owners were sick of losing. They wanted to win at any cost. This set the stage for the 1994-5 strike, which eventually led the World Series not being played for only the second time in its history.
The 1994 season started without a collective bargaining agreement in place. Players’ salaries were the main issue. From 1990-3 the average player salary had increased 86 percent from $597,000 to $1.109 million. However, while the owners voted to reopen negotiations in December 1992, they did not table a proposal to the union until June 14, 1994 (well after the season was underway). The owners wanted a seven year contract, with the players receiving a maximum 50 percent of revenue, and the elimination of salary arbitration. In return, players with four to six years experience could become free agents. Moreover, they wanted a salary cap. On July 18 the MLBPA rejected the proposal. During the negotiations, the owners withheld $7.8 million that they were required to pay into the players’ pension and benefit plans. This inflamed the situation. On July 28, the MLBPA authorized a strike beginning on August 12 if a settlement could not be reached; it could not. As Staudohar argues in ‘The baseball strike of 1994-95’, the timing of the strike was significant as it was late in the season. Thus, the players would have already received the majority of their salaries, while the owners receive 75 percent of their revenue during the postseason.
Hampering any potential agreement was that 75 percent of owners had to agree to the agreement. However, the owners were split into three groups. Staudohar notes in ‘The baseball strike of 1994-95’ that “groups were largely based on market size, with the hawkish advocates of radical change from small market teams … On the other end of the spectrum were owners with teams in large markets and some owners from smaller market teams that had recently built news stadiums and were doing well financially …. The remaining teams were somewhere in between, looking for moderate change, but susceptible to arm-twisting from either the hawks or doves.”
After failing to come to an agreement, MLB acting Commissioner Bud Selig cancelled the season on September 14 to the general dismay of the public. The strike continued into the New Year. The league was willing to play the 1995 season with scabs. However, the Baltimore Orioles refused to use replacement players. Likewise, coaches in some other teams refused to work with the scabs. Moreover, the Ontario Labor Board stated that replacement umpires would not be allowed to work Toronto Blue Jays home games as it would be a violation of Ontario law. The MLBPA argued that it would not call off the strike if scabs were used during the regular season. However, a resolution was near.
On March 27, 1995 the MLBPA filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the owners to the NLRB. Two days later, the NLRB agreed with the players in a 3-2 decision. The strike ended on March 31 when federal judge Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners. She noted that at the end of a contract “the parties must not alter mandatory subjects until a new agreement is reached or a good-faith impasse is reached.” The owners lost the court case because while they reopened negotiations in December 1992, they did not table a proposal until June 1994 and it contained radical changes. Finally, as Staudohar argues in baseball strike, “after the owners made little substantive changes in their position, an impasse was declared.” The judges ruling ended the strike because the players called off the strike, while the owners did not impose a lockout.
The aftermath of the strike witnessed a 20 percent decline in attendance in 1995. Moreover, there was still no agreement in place. Eventually, an agreement was signed in November 1996, 2 years and 3 months after the strike began. Minimum salary increased by $41,000 to $150,000, but there were no changes to salary arbitration and free agency. Thus, a two year battle resulted in very little changes.
The 1994-5 strike demonstrates that no matter the resolve of the players, if the owners want to play hardball (as they obviously did in 1994) it is very difficult for a union to gain victory. The victory for the players was in that they did not capitulate to the owners’ demands with the result being that salaries in MLB have continued to climb every year, there is almost unrestricted free agency, and baseball has witnessed strong growth after a period of turmoil.

Strength in Numbers, Hardball and Alternative Tactics

The strikes/lockouts in the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB do come down to matters of principle. Like all employees they want a larger share of the economic pie. Moreover, in almost all other industries if you change jobs and go to a rival company, your old employer is not entitled to compensation. Thus, why should it be the case in professional sports? The Player Associations/Unions continually fought for their members’ rights to move to another team (i.e. company), as all employees have the right to. Sometimes the union has been successful, but more often than not they have not been victorious. Two issues generally have decided whether strikes will be successful.
The first issue is whether there is solidarity between the players. If players remain committed to the cause and do not cross the picket lines more they generally have been successful. Likewise, the stronger the union, the more likelihood a strike will succeed. This is clearly demonstrated by the MLBPA. It constantly emerged victorious because it is a strong union and the players were committed. Likewise, if the owners remain a unified front it is much more difficult for the players to succeed. This was exemplified in the 1994-5 MLB lockout.
This leads to the second issue; whether the owners want to play hardball. In both the 2004-5 NHL lockout and the 1994-5 MLB lockout the owners were willing to win at any cost. Under such situations it is almost impossible for the players to succeed. This is because the owners are by far a much wealthier group than the players and can generally absorb greater costs. However, as clearly demonstrated by the baseball strikes/lockouts in baseball, a lack of owner unity almost always means victory for the players.
While the majority of strikes/lockouts by professional athletes have not been successful, they have generally still emerged victorious by taking the owners to court. In the NBA, NFL, and MLB the players have successfully fought the owners in court and generally have won. While strikes have generally been an effective weapon for the players in American sports, a greater weapon is the legal system. In the courts the players have ensured they earn a fair share of their respective league revenues and are generally able to move freely between clubs. Thus, apart from in the NHL where the players are still reeling from the 2004-5 lockout, the players are the champions.


Associated Press. 2005. ‘Lockout over salary cap shuts down NHL’, http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=1992793

Brehm, Mike. 2005. ‘Lockout chronology: 1995-2005’, USA Today, February 16.

Coates, Dennis and Humphreys, Brad R. 2001. ‘The Economic Consequences of Professional Sports Strikes and Lockouts’, Southern Economic Journal, 67:3: 737-47.

Cosell, Howard. 1991. What’s Wrong With Sports (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Kovach, Kenneth A. Ricci, Patrizia and Robles, Aladino. 1998. ‘Is nothing sacred? Labor strife in professional sports’, Business Horizons, 41:1 Jan-Feb: 34-42.

Lahman, Sean. 1996. ‘A Brief History of Baseball: Part III: Labor Battles in the Modern Era’, The Baseball Archive, 1996, http://baseball1.com/bb-data/e-hist-3.html

Matheson, Victor A. 2006. ‘The effects of labour strikes on consumer demand in professional sports: revisited’, Applied Economics, June 10: 1173-9.

National Basketball Association Players’ Association Website, http://www.nbpa.com

National Football League Players Association Website. NFLPA History,

Staudohar, Paul D. 1988. ‘The football strike of 1987: the question of free agency’, Monthly Labor Review, August: 26-31.

Staudohar, Paul D. 1997. ‘The baseball strike of 1994-95’, Monthly Labor Review, March: 21-7.

Staudohar, Paul D. 1999. ‘Labor relations in basketball: the lockout of 1998-99’, Monthly Labor Review, April: 3-9.

Staudohar, Paul D. 2005. ‘The hockey lockout of 2004-05’, Monthly Labor Review, December: 23-9.

Zirin, Dave. 2005. ‘How Owners Destroyed the NHL’, Anderson Valley Advertiser February 23.

Zirin, Dave. 2005. ‘Shellacked! The Crushing of the NHL Players Association’, Edge of Sports, http://www.edgeofsports.com/2005-07-19-141/index.html

August 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm Quote #18751


That’s A LOT to read (lol).

August 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm Quote #18755


What happens when the fans have had enough and say F*CK YOU and no longer pay the increased ticket prices to see them play?
Hockey took a HUGE hit the last time and barely had time to recover and now this.

Maybe if they made proper investments while being paid huge salaries and didnt spend all their money on huge houses, huse parties, many cars etc they would have something left over when it is done. Live a decent lifestyle, but dont over extend yourself. Finance 101.

How many recent players are bankrupt after the show is over? But thats ok, I still have my 5 karat diamond in my ears.

August 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm Quote #18756


I know personally and have been around a whole lot of pro hockey players. They do not make anywhere near what athletes make in the other 3 major sports. They also don’t spend like many in the other three. They are far more freindly and out going in public than most athletes in the other three sports. They don’t need private v i p ropes when they are out in public. Many baseball owners dont have to sell one ticket to turn a profit because of t v revenues. Many improved their product for a year or two to get a new stadium like The Twins,Marlins,Padres and a few others. When they got the stadium they went back to the smallest payrolls again. In baseball many teams don’t need any fans to turn a profit.
About a half dozen NHL owners will turn a larger profit if there is a lockout. Hey owners in all sports don’t like the market sell the team or frickin move it!
For me the small market whining is a crock of shit in all sports. Win and you will draw fans. Milwaukee always bitched about being a small market team when the commishes daughter had it. The new owner built a winning team and out drew The Chicago Cubs and a few other larger market teams. No one watching any pro sport will pay these ticket prices to watch a crap product! Except Cubs fans, and that I think will be coming to an end. Rebuilding? LMAO, How can you call it rebuilding when you have sucked for over 100 years!

September 11, 2012 at 7:59 pm Quote #18987


Looks more and more like there will be some if not all the season not happening.

September 12, 2012 at 8:54 am Quote #18991


suebndave: Does this affect the minor league AHL, or do they still play even if there is an NHL lockout?

Minor league AHL will not be affected. They played their entire season back in 04-05 when the NHL lost their entire season. Went to a few AHL games that year and the product was much better because some of the top rookies who had prevously been in the NHL played with their AHL affiliates. I would expct that again.

Stinks that it has come to this so quickly. Owners got the deal they wanted last time, sacrificing a whole season for it, and now they are unhappy again. Too bad.

September 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm Quote #19021


thereadog: Minor league AHL will not be affected. They played their entire season back in 04-05 when the NHL lost their entire season. Went to a few AHL games that year and the product was much better because some of the top rookies who had prevously been in the NHL played with their AHL affiliates. I would expct that again.Stinks that it has come to this so quickly. Owners got the deal they wanted last time, sacrificing a whole season for it, and now they are unhappy again. Too bad.

How yea doing. Shot a pm some time.

September 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm Quote #19078


Just when the NHL began to get the true fanbase back…crash.
it will take serious time to recover, at least here in Buffalo…
My biggest gripe is all the non-player people affected by this..people that work the games, vendors, parking etc


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