By: Jordan Garnick*

Last week, the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team (Team USA) spilled into national headlines when they declared they would boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Hockey Championship in pursuit of fair wages and equitable support from their governing body, USA Hockey.[1] After 14 months of unfruitful negotiations, Team USA players felt the time was right for a boycott because the United States is set to host this year’s IIHF World Hockey Championship on March 31st in Michigan.[2]

Team USA’s claim against USA Hockey is based on the “Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act,” which would require USA Hockey “to provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women.”[3] Thus, Team USA players claim that their right to equitable support has been impaired because they are only provided with financial support from USA Hockey during the 6-month period every four years leading up to and including the Olympic games.[4] Specifically, Team USA stated that they only receive approximately $1,000 per month from USA Hockey, during that six-month span.[5] Further, they contend that virtually no other compensation is obtained throughout the remainder of the four years between Olympic games, during which tournaments, like the IIHF Championship, are played.[6] Thus, Team USA has publicly asserted that they are seeking a four-year contract from USA Hockey in which they would be paid an annual salary of $68,000 with child care, maternity leave, and other benefits.[7] However, USA Hockey has vigorously denied that these were the terms of the contract that Team USA was demanding.

In a March 17th update, USA Hockey claimed Team USA’s actual demands exceeded $8 million aggregately during Olympic years and $5.7 million in non-Olympic years.[8] This proposal would put the per-player average for the 23-member team at a rate of $237,000 for winning the gold-medal at the Olympics and $149,000 in non-Olympic years, which are dramatically different figures than those Team USA has stated they proposed in negotiations.[9] Furthermore, USA Hockey specified their negotiation offer to the women includes a $24,000 base salary and an extra $7,500 for winning the gold medal during the IIHF World Championship games. Additionally, USA Hockey further expressed that during Olympic years their proposal enables the women to make between $74,000 and $90,000 if they take home silver or gold.[10]

In response to USA Hockey’s calculation of the Women’s asking price, Dee Spagnuolo, a partner at Ballard-Spahr, which is the law-firm representing Team USA in the negotiations, stated that the numbers are both “baffling and inflated.”[11] Spagnuolo believes that USA Hockey is presenting numbers that factor in costs like coaching and equipment and not the specific cash compensation that would go to each player for essentials such as food and rent.[12]

Furthermore, USA Hockey had originally set a March 16th deadline for the women players to commit to playing in the IIHF World Championship games.[13] However, after the players let that deadline pass, USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said that while the deadline was not meant to be an “ultimatum,” USA Hockey does not “employ” athletes.[14] Therefore, as Fischer further conveyed, if no agreement can be made before the start of the IIHF World Championships, USA Hockey is willing to utilize replacement players for the Championship tournament.[15]

USA Hockey continues to claim that they are committed to hashing out an agreement and that they are hoping to avoid bringing in replacement players.[16] However, with the IIHF World Championship games on the horizon, both sides still seem to be far apart in their negotiations and a long-term boycott by Team USA is seemingly a realistic possibility.


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2018, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[1] Chris Kuc, U.S. Women’s Hockey Players Boycott World Championships Over Wage Dispute, Chicago Tribune (Mar. 16, 2017)  http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/hockey/ct-womens-hockey-world-championships-boycott-20170315-story.html.

[2] See id.

[3] Seth Berkman, U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Plans to Boycott World Championship Over Pay Dispute, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/sports/hockey/team-usa-women-boycott-world-championships.html?_r=0.

[4] See Kuc, supra note 1.

[5] See Berkman, supra note 3.

[6] See id.

[7] Jackie Wattles and Ahiza Garcia, Pay Fight Between USA Hockey and Women’s Players Intensifies, CNN Money (Mar. 18, 2017) http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/18/news/usa-womens-hockey-equal-pay/.

[8] Johnette Howard, USA Hockey, Women’s National Team Continue Compensation Dispute, ESPN W (Mar. 18, 2017) http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/18937799/usa-hockey-disputes-us-women-national-team-wage-claims.

[9] See id.

[10] See Wattles and Garcia, supra note 6.

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See Howard, supra note 8.

[14] See id.

[15] See Wattles and Garcia, supra note 6.

[16] Frank Pingue, Ice Hockey: USA Hockey, Women’s Team to Meet Over Wage Dispute, Reuters (Mar. 19, 2017) https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2017-03-19/ice-hockey-usa-hockey-womens-team-to-meet-over-wage-dispute.

 

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