Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Hiring a Union Executive Director 101

In my post last Friday, I discussed the latest developments in the ongoing battle between the NHLPA and its executive director Ted Saskin. On Sunday evening, the 30 player representatives voted to put Saskin and senior director Ken Kim on paid leave, and to hire an outside lawyer to investigate whether they were reading private player emails. All indications lead to the conclusion that the union will be searching for new leadership. As stated in a comment to my post, maybe the players will now have an ample opportunity to deliberate about who they really want to lead them going forward.

But how do the players go about making such an important decision? What may seem like a common dilemma often faced by any organization or company at any given time is, conversely, atypical in professional sports unions. With the exception of closely-held and family-owned businesses, turnover in top executive office positions occurs on a relatively frequent basis (about every three or four years). Contrast the situation with the tenure of the executive directors in the NFLPA, MLBPA and NBPA: Gene Upshaw - 24 years; Don Fehr - 21 years; Billy Hunter - 11 years. And Bob Goodenow was the executive director of the NHLPA for 14 years before Saskin took his place.

So the first question would be, what qualities and background should an executive director of a professional sports union possess? Should an executive director have experience as a former player, like Gene Upshaw? Should it be a prerequisite that the person have experience as a lawyer, like Don Fehr and Billy Hunter? Or maybe it should be a prerequisite that the person have prior experience as a president of a labor union. Maybe an accomplished person in business with an established track record running a successful company would be a good quality to have. Or maybe a person who has a well-rounded knowledge of sports law :)

The next question is how do the players go about finding the right person? Players could seek the advice of their agents, but there is a conflict there when the agent represents the individual interest of each player, not the interest of the players collectively. Agent Matt Keator said he would offer his opinion if asked by his clients, but he doesn't believe agents should be involved in the decision: "We work for the players. It's not our association. It's their association. In my mind, it needs to be the players setting the tempo." (See Kevin Allen, Players making sure Saskin case handled properly).

Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe provides an answer to both questions: "[H]ire a small panel of corporate job hunters who can identify two or three worthy candidates to take over the union. Someone the players can trust. Someone with no ties to hockey." (Leadership on thin ice again) When I first read this, I thought, WHAT? A CORPORATE JOB HUNTER? AND NO TIES TO HOCKEY? But on second thought, his suggestion isn't a bad idea. It's time to bring in some new blood, and with the aide of an outside firm that has no skin in the game whatsoever. Search firms are often utilized by companies to fill vacancies in top executive positions. It makes even more sense for the players to hire a search firm because they, similar to all members of labor unions, are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. What makes it even more complicated is the fact that there exists no "pool" of potential candidates that have prior experience running sports unions, as is typically the case when a company is searching for candidates. The players also have conflicting interests among themselves (i.e. rookies vs. veterans) that can cloud their judgment in making a decision about who the best person would be to represent their collective interests.


Post a Comment