Thursday, September 15, 2011

Offside Obtains The NHL's Social Media Policy; Potential Fines Are Low

Today, the NHL announced the implementation of its Social Media Policy, which governs the use by players and club personnel of social media.

Offside has obtained the NHL's Social Media Policy as well as information about the NHLPA's initial concerns. Here are some of the key points:

1) Several months ago, the NHL approached the NHLPA to discuss implementing a policy dealing with the appropriate use of social media. While the original draft the NHL provided to the NHLPA recognized that social media was a valuable tool in connecting players with fans, it also contained significant restrictions on the manner in which players could engage the public on game days.

As well, the NHLPA wanted to ensure that a league-wide policy would preclude individual teams from implementing their own policies. The concern was that competing polices could be conflicting in nature.

The NHLPA's concerns were addressed by the NHL. The Policy is league wide, and teams can't adopt their own policies. As per the Policy, "with the adoption of this League-wide policy, Clubs will be precluded from adopting their own individual policies relating to the use of social media by Players."

2) The Policy defines social media as follows: "public communications via internet websites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc.". The "etc." means that the list is not exhaustive.

3) The Policy provides 6 useful tips for players when using social media:

(a) Recognize the permanency of social media

(b) Be mindful that you are responsible for your online postings.

(c) Online submissions should indicate that the comments are those of the player and are not the views of the club or the league.

(It may be difficult to create this separation. Players are so closely associated with their teams, that the tweets (for example) would be associated back to the club. Indeed, when used properly, Twitter, and other social media platforms, can be effective promotional tools for teams and their players.)

(d) Be respectful.

(e) Don't reveal confidential or proprietary information, such as game strategies or injuries. As well, the Policy provides that players should be "mindful of publicizing too much personal information about yourself or others with whom you play or work; this includes disclosing your physical location".

(f) Pause before making an online posting and exercise good judgement (please see Mendenhall, Moral Clauses & His Talent Agreement).

The Policy also provides that "use of social media by players is prohibited beginning two (2) hours prior to the opening face-off and ending upon cessation of post-game media obligations".

Players that fail to comply with the rule may be disciplined. At law, this is not mandatory language (unlike the word "shall"). So that means that if a player runs afoul of the Policy, the fine is discretionary.

Fines are assessed pursuant to Exhibit 14 of the CBA. This Exhibit is entitled "Form Of Standard Club Rules" and sets out the conduct expected of players, from having to "wear jackets, ties and pants" when travelling to not gambling on games.

This part of the CBA does not expressly address social media. However, Note 2 provides that amendments may be made by the NHL to the club rules with the approval of the NHLPA:
Subject to the joint consent of the NHL and the NHLPA, which shall not be unreasonably withheld, each Club may make up to three (3) modifications and/or amendments to the Standard Club Rules.
For the first offence, the fine can't exceed $250, while the second fine can't be more than $500. These fines would not deter non-compliance by themselves. The idea, I suspect, is that the Policy will deter it.

If disciplined, fines "shall be collected and held for use at an appropriate team function involving the Players and donated to a charity of the Players' choice".

Finally, the Policy warns players that they cannot criticize the league or its officials.

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