Negotiators review teams' finances

Updated: May 21, 2005, 12:47 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NHL and players' association made some progress Friday and promised further negotiations after 22 hours of talks over two days.

Indecent proposal?
An investment firm and a sports advisory company that reportedly made a joint proposal to buy all 30 NHL teams in March for $3.5 billion have increased their bid, according to a report.

Bloomberg News Service reported Friday that Boston-based Bain Capital LLC and Game Plan LLC are now offering more than $4 billion, according to people familiar with the proposal.

"We haven't given up, that's for sure," Game Plan chairman Bob Caporale told Bloomberg in a telephone interview. However, he declined to confirm that a revised offer had been submitted to the NHL.

League spokesman Frank Brown also would not confirm the offer.

Negotiators for the players and the owners held discussions for eight hours Friday and plan to get together again sometime next week, although that hasn't been worked out yet between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Bob Goodenow.

"We had two long days of meetings in which the parties discussed and made progress on some of the key issues pertaining to a new economic system," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said in a statement. "While we have not yet been able to reach agreement on those issues, we remain committed to continuing the process in earnest until a new collective bargaining agreement can be achieved."

These latest discussions, which came on the heels of a 14-hour bargaining session that ended at midnight on Thursday, started with just Bettman and Goodenow. Later Friday, representatives from both sides joined them at the table.

Negotiators met in smaller groups Tuesday and Wednesday, reviewing the finances of the 30 teams and how each club reports its figures.

"While we made progress in some areas, there remain many issues to be addressed," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. "Since so many of the systemic and economic issues are inter-related, it is clear that much work remains to be done."

Working off the April 4 concept offered by the players' association, the league and union were trying to agree on a way that the team-by-team upper salary cap could move each year depending on revenues.

That union proposal contained an upper cap of $50 million and a floor of $30 million. The NHL made a new offer to the players earlier this month, but that didn't lead to any immediate progress, either.

NHL officials have repeatedly said this is a critical time to reach a deal. The league wants to line up its sponsors and advertisers and settle its TV deals during the summer so play can begin on time in October.

By reaching an agreement now, teams could also begin selling season tickets after a full hockey year was lost to the lockout.

The sides have gotten together several consecutive weeks and would like to keep on that schedule until a collective bargaining agreement is reached.

By meeting in smaller groups for two days earlier this week, the hope was that headway could be made before Thursday's full bargaining session.

Last week, during three straight days of meetings, the NHL presented the findings of Arthur Levitt, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who was hired by the NHL to conduct an independent study into the league's finances.

Levitt's report, released in February 2004, revealed losses of $273 million during the 2002-03 season on revenues of $1.996 billion, which he said threatened the NHL's viability.

That was the first time the report was discussed at the bargaining table. Last week's meetings were only supposed to last one day, but the sides instead got together for three in New York, putting off trips to Austria for the conclusion of the world hockey championships.

The union challenged Levitt's findings when the report was released, and Goodenow has called the report "simply another league public relations initiative."

Levitt found that only 11 of 30 teams were profitable in 2002-03, but the union doesn't trust the financial figures teams report.

Even years before negotiations began on a collective bargaining agreement, the sides were not able to agree on what qualifies as revenue.

The meetings on Thursday and Friday marked the 10th and 11th full bargaining sessions since Bettman called off the entire 2004-05 season on Feb. 16.

Goodenow and Bettman spent Wednesday testifying on Capitol Hill before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee pursuing legislation on drug testing in sports.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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