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SBD/March 10, 2011/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith last night said that the "financial details the NFL has offered" to the union "are insufficient," according to Saraceno & Mihoces of USA TODAY. Speaking after the two sides finished their 14th day of mediation, Smith said, "The information that was offered wasn't what we asked for." The owners are seeking an $800M annual giveback, and Smith said, "According to our investment bankers and advisers, that information would be utterly meaningless in making a determination about whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League in the first year (of a new agreement), $800 million in the second year, $800 million in the third year, $800 million in the fourth year and $800 million in the fifth year" (USA TODAY, 3/10). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator, responded to Smith's comments "by saying the owners have been more than reasonable when it comes to disclosing their money figures." He added, "It is a fact that the players association has received more detailed financial information in this negotiation than it ever has before" (N.Y. POST, 3/10). More Pash: "The union knows what we’re proposing to do. Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely. Is it a subject we’re prepared to discuss? Absolutely. We’re prepared to continue discussing all the issues we have to discuss." He added, "The differences are significant. No one should be mislead on that. But we’re here" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/10).
NOT ON THE SAME PAGE: NFL.com's Albert Breer cited league and union sources as saying that the NFL "recently offered the NFLPA top-line info -- an aggregate of profitability over a five-year period at the league level." The union "pushed for more information at the individual team level, and union officials believe possessing the numbers for each of the 32 franchises is vital to justifying the additional cost credit the NFL is seeking, because that data contains very specific financial information, such as stadium and overhead costs" (NFL.com, 3/9). The AP's Howard Fendrich reported Smith sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in May '09, asking the commissioner to "provide audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league." Smith "attached a list of 10 categories of information he sought," including total operating income; net income; cash and investment assets; profit from operations; and total operating expenses. A source said that the NFL's proposal to the union this week included "audited league-wide profitability data with dollar figures from 2005-09 that wouldn’t show information on a club-by-club basis," the number of teams that have "seen a shift in profitability in that span" and an independent auditor to examine the data (AP, 3/9).
OWNERS REPORTEDLY SPLIT ON OPENING BOOKS: CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman cites a source as saying that some owners “want to completely open the league's financial books to the union,” but others “are refusing.” The source indicated that the “stalling in the talks has happened because one set of owners desires to open their books and others do not.” Freeman notes ownership is “stuck trying to find a way to mend these differences,” and it is “virtually impossible for ownership to reach a consensus on this issue by the Friday evening deadline” (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/10). In Dallas, Gerry Fraley reported a majority of the 10 members of the NFL owners' negotiating committee were scheduled to be present today in CBA negotiations, marking the "first full appearance for the committee since last Wednesday” (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/9). But ESPN's Chris Mortensen said while the feeling was “bleak” a week ago before the two extensions, it currently “feels bleaker, and I would say if there's an extension on Friday, that's really, really a good sign.” Mortensen: “If I were forecasting … I'd be forecasting that this thing is not getting done in time by the 5:00pm deadline Friday, which, of course, would mean a decertification process." Mortensen said the NFL players are “very active in this negotiation ... and they're running out of patience." Mortensen: "They believe this is a delay of game tactic by owners with what's going on, so I would say that the players are ready to decertify, ready to go to court, and let Judge David Doty handle the proceedings. Certainly that would be where the battle would start" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 3/10).
SHOW & TELL: SI.com's Jim Trotter reports the NFLPA has asked Doty, who "ruled in its favor in a case involving TV contracts, to release information that the NFL wants kept confidential." The move appears to be a "reminder to the league of two important points -- the possibility of legal action if no new CBA is reached, and the union's insistence on transparency." The NFLPA in its filing said that the NFL "hasn't explained why material should be sealed and that the league hasn't cooperated with the union's attempt to propose limited redactions to protect third-party information only" (SI.com, 3/10). In St. Paul, Brian Murphy notes "at issue are thousands of pages of arbitration transcripts and legal motions plus notes and e-mails among NFL and network executives, including correspondence by Commissioner Roger Goodell and his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue." NFLPA attorney Timothy Thornton in the filing wrote, "The players should no longer be forced to have the fate of their careers decided in the dark" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/10). In yesterday's motion, NFLPA leaders wrote that the NFL "must respond to the motion within seven days per a directive from Doty's chambers" (AP, 3/9).
BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote the NFLPA's insistence that the league open its books is a "great negotiating stare down, a real test of the NFL’s mettle because there is almost zero chance that the league will give the union what it really wants." Yet the league will "have to weigh the risk of this information coming out in a lawsuit versus the cost of giving in further on what it has asked for in these negotiations" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/9). Former Eagles GM Susan Tose Spencer said, "The players are still asking for the owners’ financial information. They want them to prove they need the extra billion. That’s never going to happen, not in a million years. It just unnecessarily opens up Pandora’s box" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/10). In Boston, Ron Borges writes, "The union is not claiming anyone is cooking the books. They just don’t want to be forced to take ownerships’ word that they aren’t -- especially after seeing how the owners failed to negotiate in the players’ best interest during the last round of television contracts" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/10). In L.A., Sam Farmer: "Both sides have a reasonable argument, and neither is likely to budge before the negotiating deadline when Friday turns to Saturday on the East Coast" (L.A. TIMES, 3/10).
THE TALK OF THE SPORTS WORLD: The NFL labor talks are being watched throughout the sports industry and especially by people in the business of representing players. NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter on Wednesday issued a statement of support for the NFL players and the NFLPA. "The success of the NFL is built on the backs and shoulders of NFL players," Hunter said. "NFL players deserve nothing less than an agreement that recognizes the players’ contributions and sacrifices, despite the owners’ threats and tactics to impose a lockout. The NBPA offers unconditional and uncompromising support for the NFLPA’s continued efforts to secure a fair deal." Earlier this week, MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner said, ""The MLBPA stands with the NFLPA in its steadfast pursuit of a fair contract." But while a number of prominent NFL agents were hopeful earlier in the week about a deal, the mood was noticeably darker yesterday. "The rhetoric has increased & whenever the rhetoric increases, the negotiations go south," one NFL agent said (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
The "ongoing differences" between NFL owners and the players' union have made a settlement by Friday's 11:59pm ET bargaining deadline "appear increasingly out of reach," according to sources cited by Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. Sources said that it will take "movement in the bargaining or another unexpected late-week twist ... to avoid the players decertifying the union Friday and seeking a court injunction to block a lockout Saturday of the players by the sport's franchise owners." The sources added that "only a major change in the coming days could make a settlement this week a significant possibility," though a "third postponement of the deadline remains possible." One source said that NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith's comments yesterday that the union "won't agree" to an 18-game regular season are a "bad sign for the negotiations." The source: "When one side says everything is negotiable and the other starts taking things off the table and drawing lines in the sand, that side is getting ready to walk." Maske notes last week's postponements of the bargaining deadline "buoyed hopes around the sport that a settlement this week was possible or perhaps even likely." But sources "cautioned at the time that the league and union still were between" $750-800M per year apart on the "central issue of how much of the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues would go to the players." It appears that "little or no progress has been made this week on that issue, and the talks have stalled over the terms by which the league would attempt to satisfy the union's long-standing demand for more financial information about the teams" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/10). On Long Island, Bob Glauber cites a source as saying that the NFLPA's "intransigence might be a sign it's ready to decertify and go through the courts to force a better deal" (NEWSDAY, 3/10).
COUNTER ATTACK: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes the threat of the NFLPA "disbanding as a union and pursuing antitrust action against the NFL is an undeniable counterstrategy matched against the possibility that NFL owners will institute a lockout if the sides are unable to negotiate" a new CBA. The timing for the union to "disclaim its interest is crucial." Unlike the "lengthy decertification process through the National Labor Relations Board," the NFLPA "would renounce bargaining rights with letters to the NFL, its 32 teams and U.S. District Court Judge David Doty several hours before the CBA expires." Legal experts said that a lockout after decertification "would likely be added to the list of alleged antitrust allegations, as players then would seek an injunction to prevent a lockout" (USA TODAY, 3/10).
MANIC MONDAY: In N.Y., Gary Myers cites an NFL player agent as saying that if the union decertifies and the league locks players out, he "will send all his clients to work Monday at the team facilities and predicts others will do the same." The agent said that "once the union decertifies and if the league can't stop it by proving it's a sham, as it maintains, then he said the players can't be denied the right to work." The agent: "Every guy shows up for work and says, 'I honor my contract. If you don't want to honor my contract, then I'm free.' If they turn them away, I'm going to state court to let you know my contract is null and void and I'm a free agent and you owe me damages, treble damages because you are locking me out and it's a restraint of trade because there is no union" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/10).
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith last night "for the first time publicly" said that an 18-game regular-season schedule is "off the negotiating table in collective bargaining talks with the owners," according to Jim Trotter of SI.com. Smith, "speaking before approximately 100 fans during a joint event" with WJFK-FM at the NFLPA's DC office, was "categorical that the players won't expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games." Smith after a Q&A session with fans "reiterated that 18 games is a no-go with the players." Smith: "First of all, the league has never presented a formal proposal for 18 games. But more importantly, it's something that our players don't want. Eighteen games is not in the best interest of our players' safety, so we're not doing it." Trotter notes an 18-game schedule was "thought to be one of the key talking points in the sides' negotiations for a new agreement" (SI.com, 3/10). Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald wrote on his Twitter account, “My body is cheering after hearing the 18 game season talk is off the table!” (TWITTER.com, 3/9). ESPN's Adam Schefter said Smith's comment was his "strongest language to date." Schefter: "This is part of the tricky part of these negotiations. The NFL wants more revenue and yet the NFLPA is unwilling to budge on the 18-game schedule that could yield more revenue" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/10). However, in N.Y., Judy Battista cites two sources as saying that the NFLPA "had not pulled the 18-game proposal off the table and that it had rarely come up before" federal mediator George Cohen. The "question remains whether Smith will tell owners that he is rejecting 18 games before Friday's deadline" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/10).
DRAFT AGREEMENT: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole cited two sources as saying that the league and the union have "reached a basic compromise on a rookie wage scale that will replace the current rookie salary cap." The owners "backed off the idea of requiring first-round picks to sign five-year deals, instead limiting the contracts to four years before a player could become a free agent." The agreement "is also expected to include a stipulation limiting the amount of money and signing bonus offered to draft picks." The league also "agreed that all players drafted after the first round would be limited to three-year deals, but teams would be allowed to put restricted free agent tags after the three years." The "key change is for the players in the first round." Currently, the first 16 players drafted "can sign for up to six years," while the next 16 "can sign up to five years." Cole noted the reason the union "wanted shorter deals is that it allows good players to get to free agency faster." The NFLPA, "in addition to the rookie wage scale," is "expected to agree on stronger language to allow teams to recoup money from players who get in trouble with the law" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/9). However, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske on Twitter yesterday reported, “Sources on both sides of dispute say there's no agreement yet on a rookie wage scale” (TWITTER.com, 3/9).
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France yesterday "passed on the chance to trumpet the fast start to the season, stressing the task is sustaining the positives over the entire year," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. TV ratings are "up for the first three races of the season" of the Sprint Cup Series, and both the Subway Fresh Fit 500 and Kobalt Tools 400 sold out following the season-opening Daytona 500. But France said, "No one around here is celebrating. We're obviously pleased we're up dramatically in our ratings, but we know that is an ebb and flow thing. We're focused on a lot of things that will give us growth down the road. We're going to work on those, not get too excited or too down." France discussed the "successful first three races," which saw 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne win at Daytona and Jeff Gordon break a 66-race losing streak. France: "Having a young winner, and Jeff Gordon runs up our young fan base, and then Junior, arguably he's competitive more than he was a year ago." Driver Kasey Kahne said that there has been a "noticeable increase in energy surrounding the events." Kahne: "The crowds have looked good." Meanwhile, Quaker State has signed as the title sponsor of the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, and SMI President & COO Marcus Smith yesterday added, "The sponsorship will come back more quickly than attendance. We've got a lot of other announcements about people coming back, a lot of renewals with our sponsors, and a lot of new companies interested in our sport" (AP, 3/9).
NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET: In Charlotte, Jim Utter reports France "isn't leading any celebrations just yet but he's obviously pleased with the start of the 2011 season." France: "I've always said TV ratings are [a] function of many things, including competition and how you're viewed at that moment by your fan base for whatever reason." France "remains concerned the recent increase in gas prices may affect the sport's fans, many of which travel hundreds of miles to attend NASCAR events." France said higher fuel prices are "never helpful to our fans or anyone who needs to drive to an event or anywhere" (THATSRACIN.com, 3/9). ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote under the header, "Gas Prices Might Put Squeeze On Fans" (ESPN.com, 3/9). Meanwhile, France acknowledged that NASCAR is "not out of the woods yet, given the myriad economic issues the sport and its teams are facing." France: "We're not, as we've said all along, we're not economists, we're not building around a doom-and-gloom or a robust economy. We're doing what we think we need to do in general terms" (SPEEDTV.com, 3/9).
TOO EARLY FOR A BREAK? In Georgia, Joe VanHoose wrote it is a "shame that the NASCAR Sprint Cup series is taking a break this weekend because some of the mojo the sport has working for it may wear off." VanHoose: "Everything is roses again for NASCAR, which has spent the last few years in the gutter. ... Granted, we're only three races into a schedule that is 36 races long. It will be interesting to see if the good times are still rolling three months from now" (ATHENS BANNER-HERALD, 3/9).
NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said the league plans to hire the next WNBA president "by early June," according to Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com. Donna Orender stepped down as head of the women's basketball league in December, and the NBA's "goal is to have the new head" in place by the start of the '11 season. Silver: "We're still deep into the process. We've talked to several candidates. I'd say we're not close to making an announcement." Voepel reported it is a "near certainty that someone with a proven business background will be the next WNBA president." That person could "come from the management staff of an NBA team," but fans should not "look for anyone who is more goodwill ambassador than serious deal negotiator." Silver: "At this stage in the league, we need someone to lead us to a place where teams on a stand-alone basis can be profitable." Discussing the PR part of the WNBA president's job, he said, "It remains important, but it's not as strong an emphasis in this search -- in part because we're at a different stage in the league." Silver stressed that the "structure of the WNBA with the NBA has helped the transition period." Voepel noted NBA Exec VP/Team Marketing & Business Operations Chris Granger has "been the main overseer of the WNBA since Orender's departure." Both he and Silver have "been in regular contact with the WNBA owners as they navigate the offseason without a president." Silver, who declined to name specific candidates, said, "It's probably a little different circumstance than a typical organization that would be going through a period without its president. In this case, while the position is critically important, I think everyone else is able to step up to a certain extent" (ESPN.com, 3/8).
LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan today appeared in-studio on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive," where he explained the decision to cancel the April 21-24 Tres Marias Championship over concerns about drug violence in Mexico. Whan: "We get the monthly safety reviews on all of our projects and a lot overseas where we're not as comfortable. So we get a monthly report from Mexico and it was kind of heightening throughout the end of last year. But late last year we saw there was a police shootout on the actual highway we take from the airport to the golf course. Having been there a year ago ... I'd said to our team at the time, 'There's no way we can send players to places as a father I wouldn't send my own kids.'" He noted he feels "pressure to play more, I want to play more." Whan: "I don't like sitting at home and watching somebody else on the Golf Channel ... but the right thing to do is to say, 'Let's see if this settles down.'" Meanwhile, Whan explained the LPGA's decision to play in Taiwan for the first time in October with the Sherwood LPGA Taiwan Championship. Whan said the move is based "largely on the excitement of what's happened in that country" around No. 1-ranked golfer Yani Tseng, who is Taiwanese. Whan: "There's a great example of a player, a personality and a country that embraced and now we're going to play for a $2 million purse with 80 LPGA players every year for the next three years." Whan added Asian fans "really embrace the LPGA and that's quite frankly why we go."
GROUP EFFORT: CME Group earlier this week announced it was going to title sponsor the LPGA's season-ending event, the CME Group Titleholders. Whan said CME Group "has actually been doing things with the LPGA for a few years," as the company has a "big conference at the end of the year each year in Naples, Florida, and they've invited a lot of players down to participate." Whan added, "Our players really close the deal. As commissioner, I've learned long ago that if it's about me we're going to be in a lot of trouble. But if I let it be about the players and what goes on in-between the ropes, I just have to stay out of the way of that." ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 3/10).