By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — North America is staring down the barrel of work stoppages in not one, but two of its biggest sports.
Even worse, the two lockouts could come back-to-back, or even simultaneously. The NHL could be facing a lockout in the 2020-21 season, while 2021 could mark the start of the next football lockout.
In both leagues, the players may view a work stoppage as the only power they have to get what they want.
In the NFL …
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is warning NFL players about what needs to happen in order to get more concessions from owners. He told ESPN that players need to stage a “strike” in order to make progress toward their own goals.
“You’re going to have to miss games, you’re going to have to lose some money if you’re willing to make the point, because that’s how MLB and NBA got it done,” said Sherman. “They missed games, they struck, they flexed every bit of power they had, and it was awesome. It worked out for them.”
As the Seahawks’ primary player rep in the NFLPA, Sherman does have real power in this matter. But perhaps more importantly, he’s an outspoken, insightful voice who isn’t afraid to address controversial or challenging subjects. And he would ostensibly have as much ability as any NFL player to actually get his peers to listen.
George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of its communications department, urged players back in May to start saving money in the event of another lockout. If they don’t, they may be backed into the same corner as the 2011 lockout.
NFL teams reportedly split $7.8 billion ($244 million per team) in revenues in 2016, according to Bloomberg. The league is projected to earn another $14 billion in 2017. A work stoppage is the only way the players can really make the owners hurt. They have to take a chunk out of that revenue. They have to start listening to what people like Sherman and Atallah are saying.
In the NHL …
Of the two leagues, the more ominous warnings of a work stoppage are coming from NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, who acknowledged to Canada’s National Post that players need to be mindful of the possibility that either side could opt out of the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement.
“My judgement is that players would be foolish not to take into consideration the possible outcomes when the contract expires or either side terminates it early,” said Fehr. “They have to take that into account.”
The NHLPA must decide whether to opt out of the CBA by Sept. 19, 2019, but it sounds likely that they will. It could lead to a lockout in 2020-21.
The signs of a lockout have already materialized, mainly through players turning game checks into bonuses. Carey Price’s eight-year, $84 million deal reportedly will be paid in the form of annual player bonuses. The same goes for Patrick Marleau, whose three-year, $18.75 million deal with the Maple Leafs will reportedly pay $14.5 million of which in annual bonuses. Derek Stepan also negotiated for 2020-21, the last year of his deal with the Coyotes, to pay $3 million of his $5 million salary as a bonus.
Escrow payments are perhaps the biggest problem NHL players have with the CBA. League revenues are currently split 50-50 between players and owners, but the players’ actual earnings typically exceed that percentage. Their remaining pay is put into an escrow fund, which is paid to owners after the season enough to complete the 50-50 split. Players reportedly lost 15.5 percent of their paychecks to escrow last season.
NHL players obviously face similar big-picture issues to NFL players, but they are at least able to take measures to protect themselves against it. It’s different with NFL contracts, only a percentage of which are guaranteed. That is why the only real recourse the players have right now is to save money.
Ultimately, both unions have one real way of making it hurt for the owners, and that’s a lockout. The only real losers in the end are the fans, but work stoppages at times are a necessary evil for players (a.k.a. labor) to attain financial goals that are within their reach.
It appears that NHL players are already preparing for the next one. It’s about time NFL players start doing the same. It’s unfortunate that NFL fans could find themselves without football on Sundays for the first time since the 1987 strike, but it’s the only way that the players can reach an agreement that is fair to them.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS, CBS Radio, or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.