This week, NHL owners and members of the Players’ Association continue their negotiations in hopes of hammering out a new labour deal.
But, this is for sure: The next time the Edmonton Oilers hit the ice, it will be under the framework of a yet-to-be-decided Collective Bargaining Agreement. And, as it stands, there is a nuclear option of another labour stoppage. A lockout forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season, and who knows how fans would react to the second major work stoppage in less than a decade.
Yet, in this culture of uncertainty, Edmonton City Council and Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz continue to push ahead with their downtown arena plan. The budget is currently capped at $450 million, and there is still the grand question of who is going to fill a $100 million hole in the budget.
But, as the NHL and the NHLPA continue to talk, Avenue asked these questions of our city councilors: Would a lockout force you to reevaluate your stance on the downtown arena? And, would any major changes in the new CBA concern you?
Because the deal currently has a no-relocation clause for the Oilers, Coun. Ben Henderson said that a new CBA is an internal issues for the NHL, and it won’t affect the deal.
“How they structure their own business is their business.”
But, Henderson said that if another labour stoppage came to pass, the deal could be jeopardized if fans are turned off by yet another lost or abbreviated season — and they may show their displeasure by deciding not to spend their disposable income on the hockey team.
“The only thing that might affect our situation is if people stopped going to the Oilers, as $125 million comes from a ticket tax. No tickets sold, no tax. But it is hard to imagine that anything that dire would change in a new deal with the players.”
Interestingly enough, Coun. Don Iveson, who's been on the record, saying he supports the concept of the downtown arena, but not the current funding model, thinks that if the NHLPA can get some major concessions from owners, it would be good for Edmonton. Iveson isn’t a big fan of NHL teams taking subsidies from governments and also taking revenue from non-hockey events at arenas, such as concerts. He believes that if the players can get the owners to open their books on the hidden economy of TV deals and merchandise, then those funds can get pumped into revenue sharing, which would help the Oilers pay for more of a share of the arena.
“I would be happy if the players put pressure on the owners to introduce more of the business — swag, TV revenues — into the revenue sharing agreement, that would more accurately reflect the economic diversity of the situations the 30 teams find themselves in,” said Iveson. “Reconciling this might, in turn, improve the sustainability of hockey in smaller markets. And that might reduce some of the types of subsidy — reduced rent, monopoly control, etc. — that the Oilers have demanded in order to provide 'financial sustainability' in a market like Edmonton. So in the macro, the NHLPA and the taxpayers interests may align. While I don't think a strike will do anyone any favours, the points of dispute might be relevant to the distorted economics that contribute to the arena deal.”
In Iveson’s mind, simply basing NHL economics on ticket sales is not fair to players, fans or taxpayers who are asked to subsidize arenas. So, if a new CBA sees more openness when it comes to how the NHL reports revenue, it’s a win for taxpayers.
For Coun. Linda Sloan, who won’t support a deal which has holes where its funding should be — the labour issues in the NHL are simply in the background.
“The current arena funding model is not complete for two reasons: the province and the franchise owner have not fully committed the funds attributed to them. Proceeding to approve the project is irresponsible and I have continued to oppose the deal because the primary funding model is incomplete. Whether costs rise or an NHL labour dispute occurs is secondary.”