CHL lawsuit could be bad for junior hockey

Junior teams like the Vancouver Giants could suffer if junior players are paid more.

Over the last few weeks, there have been numerous lawsuits against the CHL — the umbrella company that overlooks the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL, and comprises a total of 60 teams — for its compensation practices.

Most notable, perhaps, is the class action lawsuit filed by former player Sam Berg on October 17 for $180 million. The suit asks for “back wages, overtime and vacation pay, as well as any punitive damages,” according to a report by The Globe and Mail. Currently, players are paid a flat rate between anywhere from $35 to $125 a week.

It’s important to note that this case will not be brought to court unless a judge first certifies it.

At the heart of the case is whether players in the CHL are considered employees or amateur student athletes. If a judge rules that they are the teams’ employees, they will have to be paid according to the minimum wage laws in the region where their team is located.

The suit puts forward the example that the average OHL player works 35 to 40 hours a week and gets paid, on average, $50 per week, which is clearly under the student minimum wage of $10.30 an hour in Ontario. The CHL argues that the players are amateur student athletes and said, in a press release, that they will fight “because this could not only [. . .] have a negative effect on hockey in Canada, but through all sports in which amateur student-athletes are involved.”

This situation can be compared to the ongoing NCAA-player debate in the States, whose big football and basketball programs are fighting to maintain the status quo.

One of the biggest draws of junior hockey, especially in Vancouver, is its affordability. I’ve got tickets to see the Giants play the Seattle Thunderbirds in February, and I was able to get tickets right behind the penalty box for under $30. If the players were to be paid more, I don’t think I could get those tickets for even $60.

Merchandise prices would also increase. Right now, you can get a Vancouver Giants home jersey for $105, which is still a bit pricey. That number could increase to match its NHL counterpart, whose jerseys sell online for anywhere from $175 to $249.

Associated prices would have to increase to match the new expenses incurred due to a successful lawsuit. We could see a lot of the small town teams fold, as they rely heavily on ticket sales to keep the lights on.

Even in bigger market cities like Vancouver, the team draws in fans because of the cheap ticket prices — it’s cheap entertainment. But if you add in higher wages, we can kiss that goodbye. Higher prices meansfewer people will watch and, as a result, we could be talking about the death of junior hockey.

I’m not saying that the junior hockey players who are filing the suit aren’t right, but the bottom line is that if the CHL were forced to compensate players more than they already do, it could be very harmful to the league; the extra cost will go right to the consumer, and who’s to say that the consumer will pay that extra coin.