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The NFL yesterday filed an unfair labor practice charge against the NFLPA at the National Labor Relations Board, alleging with just 16 days to go before the expiration of the CBA that the union has for 20 months not been engaged in good faith negotiations. The NFL said in an e-mail sent to reporters that the complaint stated the union was planning to decertify after March 3 and file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, as it had done in '89. "The NFL is asking for nothing more than the NLRB to order the union to bargain in good faith," the league said. "The NFL stated to the NLRB that the union has engaged in 'surface bargaining' and tactics designed to avoid reaching an agreement before the CBA expires so that it can file antitrust litigation. ... The union's strategy amounts to an unlawful anticipatory refusal to bargain." The NFLPA in a statement said, "The players didn't walkout and the players can't lockout. Players want a fair, new and long-term deal. We have offered proposals and solutions on every issue the owners have raised. This claim has absolutely no merit" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In DC, Mark Maske reports the NFL is "seeking an order for the union to bargain in good faith." If the league is successful, that "potentially would complicate or perhaps eliminate any attempt by the players to decertify the union during this set of labor negotiations and file antitrust litigation against the owners." The players "have voted to authorize the decertification of the union if necessary," and that move, "if taken by the players, in effect would put the union out of business as a bargaining agent for the players." The players then "would have the ability to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/15). ESPN's Adam Schefter said of the NLRB filing, "It goes to show you how far the talks between the sides have disintegrated" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 2/14).
UNION EXPECTED LEAGUE TO MAKE THE CHARGE: In N.Y., Judy Battista notes the filing by the NFL, "which was expected by the union, is a procedural move intended to prevent decertification." Among the tactics the NFL "alleges the union has used: the failure to schedule negotiating sessions, a failure to respond in a timely manner to proposals made by the owners and an insistence on disclosure of financial data that, the NFL says in the complaint, the union has no legal right to" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/15). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote the "longer the league can delay the union and the players from getting to court, the more leverage it gains in negotiations with players, hoping to bleed them dry this offseason by making free agency disappear." If you want to get a player to "break from the union," just "tell him he's going to have to wait five more months to get money." Likewise, "tell all the other players who were expecting to be free agents that they're going to have to wait until who knows when to get paid" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/14).
DRAFT BOYCOTT POSSIBLE: NFL Network's Jason La Canfora cited sources as saying that Monday's conference call among NFLPA officials and player agents was supposed to "continue the internal dialogue on boycotting" the NFL Combine. A combine boycott "remains highly doubtful," but players skipping the NFL Draft is "likely if no collective bargaining agreement is in place by March." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "has met individually with top agents since the Super Bowl to discuss the potential effectiveness of having prospects skip the combine" (NFL.com, 2/14).
The NFL confirmed owners will meet as a group March 3 in Ft. Lauderdale, the day the league’s CBA is set to expire. Committee meetings will precede the full ownership gathering on March 1-2, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said. The early March meetings are a regular on the NFL calendar, but only as committee meetings. The expiration of the CBA necessitated making the last day a full owners meeting. The two sides are far apart on reaching a new deal, and the league is expected to lock out the players soon after the expiration of the deal (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported negotiating sessions were originally scheduled for this week, but sources on both sides indicated that they are "not sure if those meetings will take place" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 2/14). ESPN.com's John Clayton wrote the NFLPA "lived up to the faith I had in both sides by making what I consider the perfect proposal." Their "offer of a 50-50 split of all revenues wasn't going to bring immediate harmony, but it showed what I thought all along -- that the players want to get a deal done." Clayton: "Even though they're not ready to make a deal, the owners need to make a counter that addresses their needs and acknowledges the movement of the players. No counter would show what players have feared for a long time -- that owners want to use a lockout to win the talks" (ESPN.com, 2/14).
Is Richardson's role on negotiating
committee an impediment to talks?
PLAYERS WEIGH IN: Cardinals K and player rep Jay Feely yesterday said that Richardson was "behaving poorly in the negotiating meeting the day before the Super Bowl." A Panthers spokesperson yesterday said that those reports "were a 'mischaracterization,' of Richardson's feelings, but said he wouldn't comment further, since Richardson wanted the negotiations to happen in private" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/15). Brees yesterday said of Richardson's comments to him and Manning, "I wouldn't say that things were disrespectful but what I would say is that there are a lot of issues to get through and we're obviously not going to agree on everything and so it's a process and there are a lot of things to consider here" (ESPN.com, 2/14). ESPN's Michael Wilbon, noting Richardson played two seasons in the NFL, said the players "think Jerry Richardson is only an owner. He's not, and there's some gravity to his words that other owners wouldn't even dare." But Wilbon noted it was a "nice move" by Feely to sort of out Richardson and put this out there and put him back on his heels." ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "This is good to put it out here and put him back on his heels" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/14).
TIME FOR A DEAL: NFL player agent Ralph Cindrich said the negotiations are a "test of Goodell's leadership." Cindrich: "He is employed and paid by the league office; owners fund the league office. So his duty is to the owners, but when you hold that type of position, his duty supersedes the game" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 2/15). In Jacksonville, Chet Fussman wrote the NFL "might be the most popular sports league in North America x10, but nothing is impenetrable and it’s issues like labor unrest and months of negative PR that can chip away at the league’s aura of invincibility." Fans will "tire of the posturing, the threats and do-nothing attitudes very quickly and some will find something else to spend their time and money on." Fussman: "Losing customers is bad for any business, and the NFL isn’t exempt from that" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 2/14). In West Palm Beach, Ben Volin wrote a potential lockout "purely and simply" is "about the owners wanting more money." Volin: "It appears they will try to bully the players until they get their way" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 2/14).
ON THE BACKBURNER: In Green Bay, Pete Dougherty notes though the labor dispute "has put plans for a game in London this year on hold," the Packers "could be an attractive draw for overseas fans." The league "has sent a top team before ... and it has had discussions to play a game in Ireland," with the Steelers a "likely participant." Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy: "We would love to go over -- as an away team" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 2/15).
NBA and NBPA officials are "hoping a meeting this week" in L.A. around All-Star weekend "will be the first of many that get talks back on track" before the CBA expires on June 30, according to Brian Mahoney of the AP. The union "rejected the owners' initial proposal" for a new CBA during last year's All-Star break, and "nothing has happened since." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said, "Unfortunately, we haven't made any progress since we last met in Dallas. Having said that, we've shared an enormous amount of financial information with our union, we've maintained I believe very good relations with both the union executives and the members of their negotiating committee, and I further believe both sides recognize we need to ramp up the intensity of the negotiations coming out of Los Angeles and reinforce our mutual commitment to getting a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement." But NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said, "I'm confident that absent some major change in their position that there will be a lockout. I haven't seen anything yet that indicates to me that they're willing to make the kind of change in position that the union deems necessary in order for us to get a deal." Mahoney notes both sides agree that "little will come from the sit-down Friday in Los Angeles, which Silver doesn't even consider a true bargaining session." With several All-Star players expected to "join the players' bargaining committee, and Silver saying any owners in town will be invited to join, there will be plenty of discussion but simply too many voices in the room to have any substantial dialogue." Hunter: "You're always hopeful, I guess the fact is Adam is suggesting that there should be more frequent meetings, maybe they're hopeful that something might materialize in that kind of discourse." But he added, "I have to prepare the players for a lockout, because the owners continue to assert that they have to have the kind of concessions that they've called for, then a lockout is all but inevitable" (AP, 2/15).
FEELING FEISTY: NBA Commissioner David Stern appeared on ESPN's Bill Simmons' podcast "The B.S. Report" and discussed the CBA negotiations. He said when the league and the NBPA “engage fully, we'll be arguing about things like the percentage, shorter contracts, less guaranteed money and the hard cap." Simmons said, "In the players' defense, it's hard for them probably to accept the fiscal balance has just shifted out of control for the owners when last summer there were some really dumb contracts and extensions that were given out." Stern asked, "Why should this summer have been different than any other summer?" Simmons replied, "Because you just spent the last year before last summer telling us that the dollars just weren't working anymore." Stern: "I spent the last year telling you that overall the league was losing money. The pressures on individual teams to go out and compete and keep their teams together and try to win remain the same. So you try to come up with a system than encourages everyone to compete as fast and as hard as they can" ("The B.S. Report," ESPN.com, 2/14).
DON'T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT: In Boston, Gary Washburn noted with the CBA set to expire in June and a "high degree of uncertainty about what to expect next season -- if there is a next season -- there has been little talk about potential deals as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches." Teams are "reluctant to take on pricy long-term deals when the salary cap may decrease or even become a hard cap." But Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban believes that the market "will heat up as the All-Star break nears." Cuban: "Relative to other years in terms of trade talk, I don’t think it’s really any different. It always goes through the same process" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/13).
The PGA Tour is announcing a new policy today that will allow fans to use cell phones and other mobile devices at select areas of the golf course during competition beginning at the Honda Classic on March 3-6. Fans will be asked to keep their phones on silent mode while at the golf course. The tour permitted fans to bring their phones onto the course for five test tournaments -- three last year and two this year -- and found that they generally did not create a distraction for the players. “We learned that the fans were very conscientious about keeping their phone on silent,” said PGA Tour Exec VP & COO Andy Pazder. “That really was the easiest piece of the puzzle to solve. People today understand that being in movie theaters, church or somewhere rings are frowned upon, they get that. We had a ring or two, but that was very minimal.” Phone calls can be made or received in designated areas of the course, including concession stands, which are typically placed away from play. Fans sending text messages, posting on social media sites or checking data are asked to do so away from the ropes or playing areas. The tour will not permit video recording at any time and still photographs cannot be taken during competitive rounds. “We anticipated some issues with the camera feature on the phones and that was what the test events proved,” Pazder said. “At the Farmers tournament, there was a focus on enforcement and education, but when we went to the AT&T National, we really worked on education up front and more preventative measures and that greatly minimized the need for enforcement.” Pazder said Clint Eastwood filmed an educational video that described to fans where and when to use their phones and it ran on a loop on the shuttle buses that took them to and from the golf courses. Marshals also were proactive about reminding fans that players were approaching and that it was time to put the phones away while they were hitting shots.
FIRST TOURNAMENT APP: The AT&T National Pro-Am last weekend was the first tournament to create their own iPhone app, offering information to hospitality and ticket buyers, maps, tee times and other local content. The tour already has an app that features live scoring, video and news updates. The tour’s new media division will continue to work with tournaments to enhance the fan experience through these apps, Pazder said, while not taking away from the experience on the tour’s app. “PGATour.com and the folks in new media are taking the lead and working with tournaments to develop these apps,” Pazder said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to deliver more information and enhance the fan experience. Tournaments working on their own app can’t currently deliver the live scoring and other features, but we’re working on ways to get that integrated. Ideally, you’d prefer fans go to the tour app for scoring and the host tournament would deliver additional value for the title sponsor and communicate stories of interest that are unique to that marketplace.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation has provisionally sanctioned the North American Soccer League (NASL) to run a Division 2 pro men’s league. The USSF BOG approved the one-year provisional sanction at a meeting in Las Vegas on Feb. 12. The league will compete this year with eight teams -- the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Miami Strikers, Montreal Impact, NSC Minnesota Stars, Puerto Rico Islanders and FC Tampa Bay. The news comes one year after the NASL and rival United Soccer League played together in the provisional USSF Division 2 Professional League, which was temporarily established by USSF after neither league received individual Division 2 sanctioning. “This is a more natural situation,” said USSF President Sunil Gulati. “Last year was a temporary intervention. It wasn’t something we wanted to do in the long term and we’re glad we’ve been able to step back.” NASL CEO Aaron Davidson said the provisional sanctioning has given the league “a stable platform.” Davidson: “To really get this league going in the right direction we need some more time to get sponsors and television. This year is about focusing on the nuts and bolts of running a league.”