A story came out today written by Dave Feschuk and Rick Westhead on thestar.com that revealed something that totally shocked me: those that participated in the Winter Classic Alumni Game got completely and utterly hosed.

Apparently, some guys got paid zero dollars and no cents for their trouble, or at best, a couple hundred bucks.

I’m not sure how something like that happens.

For starters, it’s not like all the alumni all still live in the city of the team they once played for. Sure, they had their airfare and lodgings paid for, but you still have to eat for the couple days you’re out there. You still have to check your hockey bag. You’re still putting out money.

But that’s not even among either of the larger reasons. That game and all its massive revenue (estimated at over 4 mill in the article) doesn’t exist without those players. It was their names that brought fourty-five thosand fans to that building to drink beer, buy jerseys and food, pay to park, and pay for a ticket.

When NHL alumni play in other legends games, they get paid handsomely.

My Dad (Bob Bourne from the NY Islanders) will occasionally hop on a bus to go play four or five games in a week in front of Canadian fans who get to see their old heroes play another game, and I can tell you: depending on the name of the player, those guys can earn anywhere from $400 – $2000 a game, for the simple fact that the game doesn’t exist without them (every remaining penny from those games goes to charity). You can’t really have a concert without a band.

A lot of the guys who played in that game didn’t exactly get rich in the NHL either. And for many others, finding a career after the game didn’t go particularly smoothly. But the thing they do still have is their name, which they made people learn through their hard work and talents. They deserve to earn on that.

I know what some people will think of my tone – “hey, those guys got to play in the NHL!” – but that’s not how this stuff works. That’s a romantic notion and all, but I’m talking about business.

Maybe it wasn’t an intentional slight by the Flyers organization (the article says it’s the home team’s call on this payment stuff). Maybe some big names got appearance fees. There probably wasn’t intense debates over payment that the alumni lost. But it’s just not right.

I mean….they sold the guys sticks in the dressing room for $50 if guys didn’t want to travel with them? How generous.

The game was quite a spectacle, and a lot of fans had a great night – the players deserve some compensation for being the stars of the show.

But hey, I’m no money-man. Player-agent (Octagon Hockey) Allan Walsh, is however, so I’ll get out of the way here and let him weigh in.

I’m with ya dude. Brutal.

Comments (20)

  1. It’s unfathomable that the NHL would invite these guys to play, put their names on the backs of brand new retro Jerseys and sell thousands of them, yet charge the NHL Alumni for the sticks they are using to play in the game.

    My assumption would’ve been worst case scenario: the Alumni come to town for the weekend, don’t pay a cent, and leave with a few good memories and some pretty nice swag from the game (jersey, sticks, pictures, etc..).

    That some players went there and probably lost money is a joke.

  2. Their expenses should be paid for them (airfair, checked bags, cabs). Maybe giving them $1500 or $2000 or so more would be a good thing. This should cover equipment if they need it, meals, any Winter Classic shirts/hats, etc, and anything else they need. Try to convince them that if they don’t use it all and they don’t need it, they should give it to a local charity. This past year the Rangers could have given it to Garden of Dreams, and the Flyers could have given it to their favorite charity.

    It would be another great thing that the NHL and NHLPA could say they are doing. Even $750 X 50 players/coaches a year would add up. That is $37500 per year. That would be a great public relations act.

  3. The guy selling the sticks- he was getting paid his salary to be there. No reason the players shouldn’t get paid too, in accordance with their position and skill (i.e. a lot more).

  4. You guys disgust me. Guys like Messier got payed millions to play the game are you’re complaining over a few hundred bucks. Its an alumini game, do it for the fans. We’ve all paid top doller to see them play in the past, giving us something in return is a bad thing ?! and Dave K, that guy selling the sticks..its his job. These players are retired.

    • Brad J- exactly, they’re retired. You don’t see a lot of retired folks head back to their old jobs and say, “Hey, I want to work one day for free.”

      PS- Would you go work for your boss (or former boss if self-employed now, or Pizza Hut if you need another example) for one day for absolutely no compensation so that they could make a bunch of money off you?

      • And not just a bunch of money, but a crap ton of money.

        I don’t think the players need to get paid a lot, but covering all their expenses seems like the right move to make.

    • Yeah Messier made millions, but how much money did Bernie Parent make in the NHL? How much money did Dan Blackburn make? You focus on the guy who made the most money, when most of the guys there did not make millions and have regular jobs post-retirement. Makes absolutely no sense to have them PAY money to participate.

      • Seconded.

        Most NHLers aren’t huge stars. Even those who were then, weren’t always paid as such. The older alumni played in a time with no free agency, no megabucks television contracts, no revenue from luxury suites or ads on the dashers… they were what we’d call middle-class, and may well have needed offseason jobs in some cases.

        As recently as 1990 (at least, according to Wikipedia) only 2 players had million-dollar annual salaries in the NHL, Lemieux and Gretzky… and what they earned would not have been top five even in the shortened ’94-’95 season.

    • People like Brad thinks of it differently. They think that because these players have been paid millions during their contracts that they should already be grateful for what they’ve gotten. I agree to playing a game for millions of dollars is very nice indeed. However I don’t think he understands what has been sacrificed to make it to the NHL and later play in the NHL. I haven’t been through it but we all have an idea.
      Your whole childhood is spend playing hockey – great, but your family makes sacrifices for them to make it to 5AM practices, paying thousands for the equipment, and being away from the family during Away games to name a few.
      Your career as a NHLer makes you travel from October to at least May, June if you’re in playoffs. Your wife, girlfriend, children, social life, family and whatever else does get affected.

      And like the article said, it’s not about the money, it’s the principle. Would you complain about getting paid 40hrs when you’ve worked 41hrs in the week? I think most people would. And now if you needed to pay for your own computer to be able to work at work. Would you be even more outraged? Once again, I’d think so. What about if your work was credited to someone else and they made 4 million out of it and your team made nothing and had to spend your own money to make it succeed? I hope you understand what the point is.

      And lastly, just because people are retired doesn’t mean they have loads of money left.

      Your comments and immaturity disgusts me.

  5. I feel the same way about NCAA football players. Multibillion dollar industry with $1 million coaches and most of those guys will end up with squat.

  6. This article is missing the entire point of the Winter Classic, especially the alumni game. These players (some legends) came back for one reason: to be in that atmosphere again. Anyone who has played hockey can understand this. It has nothing to do with the money. They’re given the opportunity to play the sport one more time in front of their beloved fans and old teammates. They weren’t required to show up, they knew what was included. These guys made a career on that ice, starting as a kid, and if you watched the game you understand by they’re commentary that they loved every second of it. Would it have been nice to include some money? Yes, but odds are those guys didn’t pay for much that week and they were given something they probably never though they’d have again: a chance to skate in they’re colors in front of 45,000 fans.

  7. The solution is to offer each player a flat of $10k for their appearance and then give the players the option to donate the whole thing or part of it. I’m sorry but I have a hard time believing players from the 60′s made enough money to retire on.

    Anyone saying these guys should be happy to generate revenue for the flyers and not get any form of compensation or even take a hit in the wallet is a jerk.

  8. Ugh, the entitlement.

    Unless these players were kidnapped, or lied to about the terms of their participation, they volunteered to participate without compensation. Why whine after the fact?

    If they do want to get paid for such games, they’re free to organize their own. Of course, that would be without the exposure related to the Winter Classic, and the all the costs associated with that event…..hey, wait, those who bear the costs, and the risks of putting on the event are the ones who reap the reward. Interesting concept.

    • Fordp makes a good point. I do find it shocking that these guys weren’t paid, even a thousand or two. OTOH, I also find it shocking that they didn’t know the terms going in. Regardless of which organization (Flyers, Rangers, or NHL itself) put the event together, I find it hard to believe that the terms of participation and compensation weren’t made clear on the offer.

      If those terms weren’t disclosed, that’s far worse than not paying them.

    • You’ve missed the point.

      This is yet another black mark on the NHL in the Bettman era.

      The NHLPA dates to the late 60s. It took many years to get up to speed, and even then it was led by Alan Eagleson, who was convicted on many counts of fraud related to his work “on behalf of” the players and his personal clients as well (a clear conflict of interest).

      So, while they played these “legends” were either represented by no players union at all, a weak union, or a corrupted union. As they’re retired, the legends have very little negotiating power with regard to the legends game, yet it was their legendary status which filled the seats.

      I think it’s a fair assumption from your free market rant (“Ugh, the entitlement… Blah blah blah pro-owner bias… blah blah blah pro-organizer bias.”) that you probably think unions are leeches. I could be wrong, but I doubt I’m far off.

      In any case, that’s the story here. The legends had low salaries, low pensions, little in the bank at present, and no leverage in this instance. And aren’t their enough former Rangers and Flyers players to put on 4 teams? Yes, so each is replaceable, though with a slightly less remarkable former star.

      The NHLPA is going to look at this and, rightly, see it for the slap in the face that it is. The NHL and the Flyers have cut off their nose to spite their face on this one. The story won’t get too much coverage, but it will get enough coverage to make the NHL BOG and their lapdog Gary Bettman look like the schmucks they are.

      The free-market happens just as you described. Well hopefully next year the legends and tw fans give the finger to the NHL for showing such little class for a bunch of tired old men who gave their bodies to hockey.

      • You can dismiss my “rant” with “blah blah blah”, and speculate about my feelings on unions, but that doesn’t change the fact: the players agreed to play for free, and now that word is out about $4 million in revenue – revenue, mind you, no mention of profit – there’s this outrage that they were “hosed”.

        It’s nothing but whiny to complain about the results of an agreement entered into voluntarily. Are these “tired old men who gave their bodies to hockey” really so helpless and stupid that they didn’t realize the organizers were going to *gasp* sell tickets and generate revenue from the event?

        How do they, today, have very little negotiating power because 30+ years ago their union was weak, and often corrupt? Don’t want to play for free, don’t go.

        Having said that, I wholeheartedly agree – the players names are what made the game marketable. They absolutely should be compensated, and next year, I too hope the players demand, and get, their piece of the pie.

        • True, they were not helpless. But neither were they feeling entitled or acting whiny.

          They had much less (indeed, they had inherently less) negotiating power because there are more legends, who have less means to live on, there is only one Alumni game at this level, and they may not be dues-paying members of the NHLPA. For future alumni games, I think it’s a safe assumption that the NHLPA will pull out the stops to negotiate on their behalf. Mathieu Schneider intimated as much in the linked story here:

          As to “entitlement” and “whining,” it seems you’ve made that up. Three former NHL players were quoted in the article. One, anonymously:

          ““It’s not about need. It’s about principle. The alumni should be getting a share of this money,” said one NHL alumnus who requested anonymity because of his close ties to the league. “Some of the guys are well off. But there are plenty of guys who could use a cheque for a couple of thousand bucks.” It’s not clear if he played in the game or not, or whether he’s well-off.

          Steve Larmer expressed a desire to help out retired NHL players, but he didn’t play in the Alumni game and implied that for guys like him, “Life is fine for guys who played a long time and had the potential to earn lots of dollars.” Larmer’s probably doing fine, because he played for a long time.

          Quoted just as extensively was Chris Chelios, who didn’t play at the Alumni game but expressed the “just-happy-to-play mentality” of the older generation. Let’s see if he’ll actually “play for free” next year if Detroit hosts Toronto.

          In all those quotes, do you see any whining or entitlement? I don’t. I see reservations about an imbalance in power (“There’s a lineup of guys around the block who want to play in this game”) and pretty disgracefully low levels of compensation.

          I also see one anonymous player concerned about the imbalance, one who didn’t play who’s concerned about his former teammates, and one very recent former player (much better career salary numbers) who says he’d play for free.

          Whining? No. Entitlement? Hardly.

          • P.S. My mistake: Chris Chelios works for the Red Wings as Executive Advisor to Ken Holland, the GM. He used to be a player representative for the Red Wings and was on the executive search committee for the NHLPA Executive Director.

            Now he’s in management on the Red Wings. How quickly his tune has changed, as he echoes the concerns of management.

            I blame myself for not picking up on that, and I blame The Star for not putting his statement into its proper context. He doesn’t just work for the Red Wings. He’s not a special assignment coach, like Scott Stevens. He’s in management.

          • As you point out, the whining and entitlement isn’t coming from the players, which I find telling. It’s from agents (no vested interest there, right?), fans, and maybe the NHLPA. And if the NHLPA is so concerned, set up an assistance fund for those poor, tired, hockey players.

            You’re correct – they had little negotiating power. But you originally attributed that at least in part to their weak and corrupt union from the 70′s and 80′s, and that’s what I was challenging: it has no bearing today, except to prop up the players’ “victim” status. I’d rather they be seen and treated as adults responsible for their own decisions.

            You’re dead on as to the reasons they didn’t have much power today, and in light of that, they still CHOSE to participate. So, again, either we think they’re stupid and/or helpless, or we should respect their decision. No?

  9. it’s obvious that these guys should at the very least be covered for *all* expenses, i.e. per diems for themselves and family, etc etc.

    …and personally, i tend to fall in the “pay em something” camp too. they gave their lives for this game and the value customers get is not from watching hockey, its from watching their heros play hockey. obviously, the flyers are taking the financial risk if it flops so its not like they aren’t entitled to the lion’s share.

    But JB, your story about your dad’s involvement in charity stuff didn’t sit well with me. For-profit games are one thing, charity is something else. Playing alumni games for charity is community service, not a job.

    to me, that’s got a bit of an odour to it.

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