SBD/March 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 11: League Proposed Allowing Players To Invest In Ventures

Pash says possibility of going back to mediation has been discussed by owners
The NFL proposed allowing players to invest alongside owners in various ventures as part of the league’s final labor proposal that the NFLPA rejected on March 11, NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash told reporters yesterday at the NFL annual meeting in New Orleans. The proposal was seen by the NFL as a way to address the many failed investments that so frequently afflict players, Pash said. He said the idea, which was akin to a fund, was not countered by the NFLPA. Pash again made a plea for the players, who decertified, to return to the negotiating table. He confirmed a report that the owners had long ago given up talking about an expense credit and instead had moved to a pegged cap system. He seemed to suggest there was an inconsistency in the players’ demands for the league to open up its past audited financial statements, when the issues surrounding the pegged cap dealt with future growth. "We made a proposal to address their concerns about transparency," he said, referring to the offer to make each team’s audited financial statements available to a third party auditor. "It would have been one thing if they had said, 'Fine, let’s take a look at what you have' ... and then come back and said, 'We have this problem, that problem.' But without looking at a single line on a single piece of paper, it raises a question of why they were asking for it in the first place" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). More Pash: "We don't accept that the union has 'decertified' or something like that. We don't accept that; we don't believe that it has taken place. We believe that is a tactical move by the NFLPA. We believe they are continuing to function as a labor organization. We believe they intend to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with us" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/22).

FINDING MIDDLE GROUND: Pash said the possibility of "going back to the mediation process" has been discussed, but the "critical thing is that our commitment is to negotiate." Pash: "We are not going to solve this in litigation." In Boston, Greg Bedard notes the NFL "wants third-party arbiters." A league official said, "Like every other sports league has." Bedard: "For the NFL or NFLPA to get to that point, it's either going to be through negotiations or through the courts. ... All that's needed is for one side to get serious about it, likely the NFLPA because it filed the antitrust complaint. But it doesn't seem like it will happen." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "sent a letter yesterday to NFL attorney Gregg Levy telling him that the league can negotiate through settlement talks with NFLPA counsel Jeff Kessler," but the league "will not do that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22). In N.Y., Gary Myers notes Smith's letter to Levy offered to "get talks started again before an April 6 court date to rule on the lockout." But because the NFLPA has decertified, Smith said that it "would have to be with the class counsel, the attorneys representing the players in their antitrust suit against the league." Any negotiations "would technically have to be in the form of settlement talks of the lawsuit." But the league "wants no part of lawsuit settlement talks," rather it "wants collective bargaining talks with the union leaders" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/22). In N.Y., Judy Battista notes as long as the NFLPA "maintains that it has decertified, its lawyers cannot engage in collective bargaining as agents of the players." One NFL official said, "The problem is if they come back and negotiate with us, that makes them look more like a union and undermines their lawsuit. They have to choose: do they want to act like union and get a deal, or act like plaintiffs and have a lawsuit?" One league official called the NFLPA's decertification a "fake suicide" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/22).

MAJOR ISSUES: Pash yesterday said that NFL owners "offered salary-cap plus benefits of $141 million for the 2011 season rising to $161 million in the fourth year." Smith "maintained that the 18-game season wasn't a deal breaker but that owners would first need to make significant improvements on current and retired player health care." USA TODAY's Jim Corbett writes there is "no disputing their impasse is a trust issue" (USA TODAY, 3/22). Meanwhile, in Boston, Ron Borges notes league officials "repeatedly indicated they have no intention of using scab players to replace the real ones this fall if the labor impasse continued," but NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman said that there is "no legal bar to preventing the use of replacement players, thus adding into the mix a new threat from management at a time when the league keeps insisting it just wants to negotiate a fair deal" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/22).

McNair not sure NFLPA would believe
numbers if owners opened up their books
OWNERS SPEAK OUT
: Texans Owner Bob McNair yesterday said NFL owners are "not going to just open up the books and let people go on a fishing expedition." McNair: "The NBA did it, and all they've done after a year is the union's come back and said, 'We don't believe the numbers.'" Falcons Owner Arthur Blank: "We offered a great deal more than was ever offered in the past, beyond what federal law requires and actually more than we have shared among clubs. I thought it was a substantial 'give' by the league" (USA TODAY, 3/22). Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said of losing fans: "I don't think anybody is going to win the war of public opinion. And I don't think it's going to matter in the long run. I think fighting turns off the fans regardless of who is in the right or wrong. ... I'm embarrassed that we're fighting over money, just like you would be embarrassed if you and your wife were fighting over money in public. It's an embarrassing topic to have to get into. Unfortunately, it is a public forum running a professional football team. I'm very concerned." Bisciotti added, "A public fight over money turns off everybody. ... Our fans have loved football for 20, 30 and 40 years. If the fight screws up the season, shame on both sides. We've got to get this done. If we turn off our fans, then shame on us" (Baltimore SUN, 3/22).
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