Contrasting and Comparing Salary Arbitration in Professional Sport: Major League Baseball vs. National Hockey League

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Salary arbitration ensures fair compensation for players and promotes negotiations between teams and players. Before the arbitration hearing, players and teams have the opportunity to negotiate and reach an agreement on a contract, which may help them avoid the arbitration process. In this blog, we’ll explore the distinct salary arbitration systems used in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL), shedding light on their differences and the benefits they offer to players and teams.

MLB’s Salary Arbitration

MLB employs the “final-offer” arbitration system to resolve salary disputes between players and their teams. A three-arbitrator panel, handpicked by the MLB Players Association and the MLB Labor Relations Department, is responsible for the arbitration process. The panel considers proposals put forth by both parties in a hearing. During the hearing, the panel weighs several criteria, including the player’s past contributions, career consistency, compensation history, comparative salaries, and the team’s recent performance and public acceptance. After hearing arguments from both sides, the panel chooses either the player’s or the club’s salary figure for the upcoming season.

The final-offer system stimulates negotiations by encouraging each side to present more realistic figures. The arbitrator’s likelihood of choosing the opposing side’s offer motivates compromise, making the more reasonable demand or offer more likely to prevail.

NHL’s Salary Arbitration

In the NHL, both players and teams may elect salary arbitration. The NHL’s salary arbitration system is referred to as conventional arbitration. In this process, negotiators present their offers and arguments to an arbitrator. The arbitrator then makes a final decision, which could either align with one of the offers presented or fall outside of those proposals.

The hearing is presided over by a neutral arbitrator chosen from a group of eight members, all affiliated with the National Academy of Arbitrators. Each side, represented by the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA)/player and the NHL team, is allotted ninety minutes to present their case, including counter-arguments and comparisons of players from the opposing party. They present their offers by using statistical criteria to identify contracts similar to the player’s and justify where the player stands in relation to those contracts. The arbitrator’s ability to exercise flexibility in salary selection fosters fair and reasonable resolutions, ensuring a well-balanced approach to determining salaries.



In conclusion, salary arbitration is an essential mechanism in MLB and the NHL to settle contract disputes between players and teams. The primary distinction between the systems lies in how arbitrators handle the offers. In MLB, the arbitrators must choose one of the two presented offers, while in the NHL’s system, they have the flexibility to select a salary figure not proposed by either side. These arbitration processes actively encourage negotiations, making them vital tools for ensuring equitable compensation and maintaining the competitiveness of both leagues.