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The MLBPA returned to the table with a written proposal yesterday, "hoping to develop a foundation on which union and management negotiators can begin serious bargaining" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/20). Small contingents from both sides met for more than seven hours. The only member of the owners' negotiating committee present was Phillies Exec VP Dave Montgomery. Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris is expected to join the talks today, while Red Sox CEO John Harrington is not due until tonight or tomorrow. In New York, Jon Heyman calls the addition of McMorris "potentially positive": "He at least has received deal-making authority" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/20). McMorris is the committee member MLBPA negotiators "seem to trust most. So it's possible that keeping the group small actually could enhance the chances of making a deal." Montgomery's presence is meaningful "because he understands the nuances of the various tax plans better than anyone else on the committee" (Jayson Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/20). Paul Molitor was disappointed that more owners did not show: "You wonder if all they're doing is posturing, preparing themselves for legal battles" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/20). THE PROPOSAL: Yesterday's discussion focused on the revenue-sharing proposal from the players. "Basically, the ideas are the same ones the players presented to the owners 10 days ago, including a way of sharing ticket revenue between the home and visiting clubs." But the "crux of the problem continues to be the payroll tax" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/20). Sources on both sides suggest that while they did not "exactly narrow the gap at that session, they did narrow their focus. And that focus seemed to be on a new, double-edged tax plan that each side might be able to live with." The plan features two taxes -- a minimal tax on payrolls that all 28 teams would pay, and a second tax that would penalize teams for execceding a certain payroll limit. It is the "nature" and size of the second tax that "apparently holds the key to settlement." (Jayson Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/20). ARBITRATION: There also was some discussion on free agency and arbitration. The players are willing to give up arbitration if free agency is moved from six to three years. The owners want restricted 4-year free agency. Fehr: "If you want to get rid of salary arbitration, you have to make everybody unrestricted free agents all the way down" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/20). RAVITCH SPEAKS OUT: Richard Ravitch, outgoing chief labor negotiator for the owners, was interviewed for Monday's N.Y. NEWSDAY. On media coverage of the talks: "I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of sportswriters who have ever attempted to contact me to ask about what's going on. ... This crisis has usually been covered in newspapers and on radio and television as a sports story instead of a business story. ... It would be a lot more appropriate for understanding if the issues were analyzed in the business context they require." On other sports' labor problems now: "The issues are the same: Competition for the entertainment dollar within the pressing need to split incremental revenues in the future more equitably" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/19).
Sources in the NHL and the NHLPA "expect a last flurry of negotiations this week in an effort to avoid cancelling the entire season. But as of yesterday, no date had been set for resuming talks." The union holds a meeting of its 26 player reps tonight in Toronto and will stage an open meeting of its membership tomorrow. Meanwhile, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a conference call with five of the GMs on the negotiating committee -- the Bruins' Harry Sinden, the Oilers' Glen Sather, the Devils' Lou Lamoriello, the Flyers' Bob Clarke and Maple Leafs' Cliff Fletcher. The call was an update on "concessions the union made on salary arbitration in recent small-group sessions in an effort to convince the league to remove its proposed payroll tax plan from the table. Sources said Bettman is canvassing governors from the 26 teams on that possibility" (Jim Smith, N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/20). Sinden on the reported concessions: "They didn't do enough to make us do anything at the moment" (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/20). TAX TALK: Union represenatives in the lower-level negotiating sessions have reportedly told Fletcher and NHL General Counsel Jeff Pash that the union "would not agree to any deal that included a tax, no matter how benign" (Larry Brooks, N.Y. POST, 12/20). But in Tampa, Roy Cummings reports of some talk among union leaders of accepting a tax with a lower rate "in exchange for maintaining status quo on arbitration." One source: "The feeling is, the changes in arbitration would be worse for the players as individuals. It would take away some of the rights they have won previously. And if the league just wants a tax just to say it has a tax, then they'd have it" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/20). In New York, Joe Lapointe writes, "Bettman has used [the tax] as a bogey man to get what he wants through other means. Best guess here is that they will eventually accept, at most, a token tax, without sharp teeth, so that Bettman can save face and set precedent" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/20). ARBITRATION: The league is said to be pushing for a system that prohibits players from filing for arbitration until after six full seasons. The players are said to back five years or an age restriction of 25 for players who enter the NHL after age 20 (Roy Cummings, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/20). SOLIDARITY: The union's membership meeting comes on the heels of statements by Stephane Richer, who called for a vote on the owners' proposal, and Brian Leetch, who said the union would accept a low tax. In addition, NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow faced complaints from several Sabres and spoke with some veterans who told him they want to "determine their own fate in a vote" (Dave Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 12/20). But CP's Alan Adams writes, "The players are solidly behind the NHLPA's negotiating committee and, although there are cracks in the ranks, they are not as divisive as the NHL would hope" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/20). WHAT'S NEXT? Fletcher: "From the confident and positive standpoint, it would be nice to say that we'll have hockey in a couple of weeks, but on the negative standpoint there are people out there who want to terminate the season" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 12/19). Surprisingly, Sinden "said he didn't think there would be any more full-scale sessions attended by the bargaining teams from both sides" (Joe Gordon, BOSTON HERALD, 12/20). Reports on Bettman's deadline for cutting off talks and canceling the season range from three days after Christmas to New Year's Day.
Eight months after "punting away an opportunity to move out" of New York City, the NFL is again considering relocating its offices in Westchester County, NY. NFL Dir of Communications Greg Aiello confirmed that the league is considering moving its offices when the NFL's current lease expires. In April, the league opted to renew its Park Avenue office lease, originally set to expire this year, but agreed to extend it only through February 1997. At the time, league officials said they wanted to remain close to New York's media and advertising communities. Aiello said the NFL had no time-frame for deciding on the new location for its offices and he declined to "disclose which sites were under consideration" (Alex Philippidis, WESTCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL, 12/19 issue).