Rumour has it that there is a push to develop a union for the players of the Canadian Hockey League. The law states if they can round up 60% of employee support a union would be deemed legal and the CHL would have no choice but to accept it. Because the CHL is an amateur league, not a professional league so things get cloudy. There has been no formal announcement of this players’ union being finalized but there is a lot of talk and usually where there is smoke there is fire. The Union has hired former NHL and CHL player and Green Party member Georges Laraque as their leader and Derek Clarke as their spokesperson (through him is where we receive the union’s proposed ideas). With that, it’s time to discuss if this is a positive move for the CHL and its players.
The reason for the players entertaining the idea of starting a union is they want the same thing as the NHL players. They want hockey related revenue (yes that word that makes most hockey fans cringe). Obviously there is a huge difference between the NHL and the CHL in terms of revenue but there are certain things players would like to have their hands in.
One thing the players would like to see is some of the revenue Hockey Canada makes at the ultra-successful World Junior Championships. As of right now the players don’t receive any of the profit that is made when the tournament is played in Canada. In 2012 Hockey Canada’s profit for the World Junior Championship was $22 million. $6 million of that profit is given to the CHL which is re-invested into the league (education, drug testing, etc.). If the union was able to get a 50-50 revenue share it would equal $3 million split among 60 CHL teams and then split to 23 roster players equaling $2173 per player. Far less than the CHLPA’s original number of $12,000 per player as Mr. Clarke stated. They may think they could get more money from Hockey Canada but then you are taking money away from the very grassroots hockey programs that got these players to this level. Not to mention other Hockey Canada programs and tournaments that doesn’t turn a profit.
I’m not sure what the union expects when the World Juniors aren’t played in Canada which is 1 out of every 3 years? Would the CHLPA attempt to receive compensation from the Russian Hockey Federation this year for its players from Russia? What about the years when the tournament is overseas, the players wouldn’t get anything those years? The players would also like to see some money from EA sports for using their names and likeness in the NHL hockey games but the CHL doesn’t get any compensation for using its teams and players, it’s simply a marketing tool.
The CHLPA also revealed their plan to have only a $2 onetime fee for membership and no union dues. With approximately 1,300 players that would mean $2600 to employ a staff if there are no union dues. I’d assume they will take all moneys they plan to receive from Hockey Canada or other revenues first then take a rake of that profit and then distribute to the players after. This essentially is no different than union dues except the players never see it. I asked the CHLPA this question but they have failed to respond at this time. Regardless I doubt you can pay Laraque’s monthly salary with $2,600, let alone an entire staff. The players may not see as much moneys as they believe with the union’s manifesto.
I worry that this Union could potentially kill smaller market clubs like our hometown Prince Albert Raiders. The Raiders aren’t a club that make a lot of money and in the last couple seasons the Raiders suffered a small deficit. The Raiders aren’t alone as Swift Current lost just south of $200,000 in 2011, the Lethbridge Hurricanes reportedly lost close to $600,000 last season. These small market teams definitely don’t turn the profits of clubs like Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. If a union is to form this would mean the players are compensated more than they are today and the Raiders will be forced make more money to stay afloat. This means higher ticket prices or higher advertising prices. This could mean fewer fans and fewer sponsors which could lead to the demise of these small market franchises (only equalization would save these programs).
I feel another problem is the players would be negotiating from a position of weakness right from the start. The players need the CHL as a league to develop them into future NHL players. It’s the most successful development league in the world hands down. Look at the NHL rosters they are flooded with former CHL players. There are other option like the USHL and NCAA but they aren’t nearly as successful. If the owners were to lock out the players if negotiations went south these players would lose development time and it could be detrimental to a player heading into his draft year.
I’m not saying the players are treated perfectly and they probably do deserve more. A raise is probably in order but when you start talking revenue sharing it’s a slippery slope as these small market teams are struggling now. It’s not farfetched to add a couple more years to use the player’s education package (right now the players have 18 months to use their education package or they lose it). I think a player’s ombudsman is probably a better option at this point and wouldn’t be seen as such a league altering premise. There are just too many questions with this union’s financial model that don’t seem to add up. As a fan I’m very fearful of a union that could potentially hurt the best development league in the world.