Several former Canadian Hockey League (CHL) players are suing the league looking for the 60 team association to pay its players minimum wage. Lawyers for those players filed a huge document this past week detailing how much the CHL really brings in.
Around five months ago, Sam Berg and Lukas Walters from the Niagara Ice Dogs and Saint John Sea Dogs, respectively, filed individual lawsuits against the CHL. They are trying to create a class action lawsuit where other former CHL players could join in without releasing their names. This would be important if any current players joined in on the suit.
The CHL is the umbrella league for all junior hockey in Canada and it includes the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Currently, they are asking the league to pay $187 million to cover back pay, overtime, and various other things. From a story on Sportsnet in Canada:
"Berg and Walter charge that the CHL’s allegedly illegal actions are “callous,” “disgraceful,” and “high-handed.” The league has forced players to sign contracts that call for them to receive stipends below minimum wage, even though CHL teams were told by a Canadian court in 2000 that players are, in fact, employees."
David Branch, the commissioner of the CHL, said he would fight the lawsuit and claimed back in October that all the CHL players are considered amateur student athletes. Most players in the league are under the age of 20.
The league also claims players qualify for educational scholarships, but those would go away if a player signed in Europe or a pro league like the AHL or ECHL.
However, most teams make boat loads of money and the Canadian junior championships, the Memorial Cup, is a prime attraction on national television in Canada. The Hockey News reported that teams sell for more than $8 million when sold, and the Quebec Ramparts recently sold for $25 million.
According to Berg, a team like the Niagara Ice Dogs would make $2 million in ticket revenue alone and paid the players a collective $416 per game. That’s not per player, that’s the team as a whole.
"“In addition to playing hockey, it was also expected that players attend promotional events,” Berg wrote in his affidavit. “I recall attending a few, including caddying a round of golf for some of the corporate sponsors of the IceDogs. On that occasion, myself and several other players were at a golf course for an entire day with various corporate sponsors of the team, carrying their golf clubs while they played 18 holes of golf. That day, we were also asked to sign approximately 100 hockey sticks which I understood the IceDogs would be giving out to sponsors and selling at various auctions and other events for a profit.”"
In 2000 it was ruled by a Canadian court that the relationship between a team and player was an employer/employee relationship, after an employment insurance issue with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
We’ll see if that has anything to do with a ruling on this case as it continues.