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NFL team owners "locked out the league’s players Saturday, shutting down professional football for the first time in 24 years," according to a front-page piece by Maske & Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. The owners "acted after labor talks with the players’ union collapsed Friday afternoon" and players decertified the NFLPA, moving the "bitter dispute into the courts and ending an era of NFL labor peace that had lasted since players went on strike in 1987." Decertifying the NFLPA "enabled the players to file antitrust litigation against the owners, which they did late Friday," with QBs Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the 10 named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the union also "announced that they are seeking an injunction to lift the lockout," a case that is "likely to end up" before Federal Judge David Doty. It is "not clear when a judge will act on the injunction request, but a union official said it probably would not be for three or four weeks." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday said the NFLPA "walked away" from mediated CBA negotiations, adding, "They’ve chosen to pursue another strategy, and that is their choice." Goodell did predict that the issues "eventually would be resolved at the bargaining table." Giants President & CEO John Mara was "harsher in tone, criticizing the NFLPA for refusing to alter its position on key issues." Mara: "Their position has quite literally been ‘take it or leave it.'" But DeMaurice Smith, head of the players' group, said the league’s contention that the union was more interested in litigation than negotiation all along “flies in the face of reason, flies in the face of facts and is simply untrue" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/12). In N.Y., Judy Battista noted the two sides "will wait for judges' rulings." If a judge "grants the injunction to lift the lockout, the off-season will look much like it usually does -- there will be free agency and trades and perhaps even off-season workouts" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/12).
WHAT THE PLAYERS TURNED DOWN: NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash on Friday "outlined a number of offers the NFL made that were rejected, including playing a 16-game regular season in 2011 and 2012 and not expanding to an 18-game season without an agreement from the players; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; a guarantee of up to $1 million of a player's salary for the contract year after an injury occurs; and an offer to have all players remain in the league's medical plan for life." Pash also said that the league "offered retired players a major increase in benefits." But in response, NFLPA outside counsel Jim Quinn said, "I hate to say this, but he has not told the truth to our players or our fans" (NEWSDAY, 3/12). The NFL said that its proposal to the players also included an "entry level compensation system based on the union's 'rookie cap' proposal, rather than the wage scale proposed by the clubs." Under the plan, "players drafted in rounds 2-7 would be paid the same or more than they are paid today," and "savings from the first round would be reallocated to veteran players and benefits" (L.A. TIMES, 3/12).
A LOOK AT THE FINAL MINUTES: YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver reported the players "showed up Friday fully steeled for decertification and the strife that would follow, and when the owners made an offer that was significantly better than the ones they’d made previously, the union was already skeptical." After receiving the offer at 1:00pm ET, the NFLPA "prepared a counter proposal as the deadline approached." In receiving "permission to decertify during votes with individual teams over the past eight months, the union had stated it would do so no later than eight hours before the CBA’s expiration -- meaning it had to initiate the action" by 4:00pm. George Atallah, spokesperson for the players' group, claims that the league "was aware of this, but commissioner Roger Goodell and his fellow negotiators showed up 20 minutes late to a scheduled 3:30 meeting." By then, the players had "secured a one-hour extension via the 32 teams’ player representatives, and Smith didn’t bother presenting the counter-offer." Instead, he said that the union "would forestall its decertification plans and agree to another short-term extension only if the owners agreed to provide 10 years’ worth of audited financial statements -- something they had forcefully resisted throughout the week." Silver noted it was "under that backdrop that Smith went outside and enunciated that stance to reporters, then walked back to the NFLPA’s offices to see if the owners would respond within the next 15 minutes." They did not, and the "union decertified at 5:02 p.m." (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12).
Cohen feels NFL, NFLPA are too far apart
for his services to be needed at this point
WE CAN WORK IT OUT: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones on Friday said, "We'll get it done. The answer is we won't miss any football. Certainly, that is our goal. Their move into litigation will ultimately result in going right back into negotiation, in our view" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/12). Goodell in a letter to NFL fans wrote, "While we are disappointed with the union's actions, we remain steadfastly committed to reaching an agreement that serves the best interest of NFL players, clubs and fans, and thank you for your continued support of our League." Goodell also addressed the owners' final offer to players, writing, "It was a deal that offered compromise, and would have ensured the well-being of our players and guaranteed the long-term future for the fans of the great game we all love so much. It was a deal where everyone would prosper" (THE DAILY). Meanwhile, the players shortly after decertifying on Friday altered the NFLPA.org and nflplayers.com websites to read, "Error 404: Football Not Found. Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience. www.nfllockout.com" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/12).
Goodell dropping his salary to
$1 during work stoppage
LOSE-LOSE SITUATION: The BOSTON GLOBE's Bedard wrote the owners and players "share in the blame equally, no matter what each side says." This is the first time Goodell and Smith have "been at the forefront of these labor negotiations." Bedard: "We won’t know who set the right course for his side until a judge rules on the players’ injunction to stop the lockout, a process that will start this week, but the fact that we’re in a work stoppage shows that both failed on the big stage." Goodell is the "steward of this game," and so he "must tell the public why and in detail" there is a work stoppage for the first time in 24 years. Bedard: "We did not see a leader Friday. We saw a politician ... who tried to stay out of the fray, as if he were trying to win re-election." On the other side, Smith and the players "knew they had Judge David S. Doty waiting as their guardian angel to block a lockout." They had "better be right, or else ownership will have the upper hand and Smith's play will have failed." If that happens, he "might not have a job when the union reconstitutes" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/13). In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tamari wrote of Smith and Goodell, "Lost games would permanently stain each of their legacies, but at the same time, neither can afford to be seen as caving in on his first big deal" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/13).
AN UGLY SITUATION: In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote, "The owners can't act surprised that we are where we are, since they went into training for this fight almost since the ink was dry on the last CBA five years ago" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote, "It's never good when two sides aren't talking, and it can be worse when courts become involved. Decisions are appealed, and appeals are appealed and I think you can see where this could be headed -- which is a long, hot summer without a CBA and a regular season that could be threatened" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/11). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote, "This labor dispute is looking more and more like the disastrous Major League Baseball labor war of 1994-1995. Hopefully, both sides will come to their senses before they cook the golden goose and feed it to the lawyers" (Baltimore SUN, 3/12).
Nine NFL players, led by Patriots QB Tom Brady but seeking to represent all current and future NFL players, filed a class action lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota seeking to enjoin the NFL from locking players out, among other things. The lawsuit, filed by the players just hours after the NFLPA decertified and became a trade organization, alleges that the league and NFL clubs violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by planning to lock out non-unionized members, by planning to hold an NFL Draft, and by imposing a salary cap and free agent restrictions. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the NFL and its clubs "from agreeing to deprive the players of the ability to work as professional football players." It also seeks declarations that the lockout, the draft and the salary cap, among other things, are violations of the Sherman Act. It further seeks an injunction to prevent NFL clubs from "agreeing to withhold contractually owed amounts to players under contract for the 2011 NFL season and beyond." In addition, the lawsuit seeks a declaration that the NFL clubs shall pay contractually owed amounts to players "whether or not the lockout continues." The other named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Ben Leber, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning, Brian Robison, Osi Umenyiora and Mike Vrabel. "The NFL Defendants’ anticompetitive agreements include a so-called 'lockout' aimed at shutting down the entire free agent marketplace for players no longer under contract, as well as a boycott of rookie players seeking an NFL contract for the first time, and even players currently under NFL contracts, who will not be permitted to enjoy the benefits of those contracts," the lawsuit states. "The stated anticompetitive purpose of this group boycott is to coerce plaintiffs and other players to agree to a new anticompetitive system of player restraints which will, among other things, drastically reduce player compensation levels below those that existed in the past and that would exist in a competitive market" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). NFL Draft prospect Von Miller, formerly a LB for Texas A&M, also is "included in the suit because it lists the draft among the anti-trust violations" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/12).
I'LL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT: Susan Nelson today became the third judge to be assigned the NFLPA’s antitrust lawsuit, though it is possible by the end of today a fourth, and the one coveted by the former union, David Doty, could get the case. Two judges recused themselves because of possible conflicts of interest, and Nelson was assigned this morning. Nelson had until December overseen the case brought by former NFLer Fred Dryer against NFL Films, alleging misuse of his and other former players identities. She stepped aside from that case after a promotion. According to legal experts in Minnesota who follow the federal court system, the decision on whether Doty will be linked to this case will be made between Doty and Nelson. The NFLPA, in seeking an injunction, did list Doty's Reggie White case as "related." That identification was a signal that the union wants Doty on the new case. But that designation typically triggers a discussion between the two judges on the two related matters. In this instance, Doty and Nelson could be expected to discuss who should get the new Brady case. Those who know Doty suspect he would like to stay on the case. But there is another issue: Barbara Berens, who is the lead local counsel for the union, was Doty's clerk during the White case. Her appearance before Doty could be viewed as a red flag by NFL lawyers, who could be expected to seek Doty's removal. A preliminary injunction hearing was scheduled for April 6 before Nelson. The NFL’s response is due March 21 and the NFLPA’s reply March 28. It is unclear if the scheduling of the hearing means that the case will stay with Nelson (Kaplan & Weiner, SportsBusiness Journal). Meanwhile, the AP noted the players will "meet in Marco Island, Fla., beginning Wednesday, an annual convention that has taken place in Maui most years." They will "plot strategy for the next few months, hopeful the request for a preliminary injunction ... will stop the lockout" (AP, 3/13).
A WELL THOUGHT-OUT SUIT: In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano reported Umenyiora's inclusion in the suit was a "well-kept secret." A source said that even Umenyiora "didn't know for sure he'd be part of the suit until just days before." The source said, "The union picked the guys. And every one of them was picked for a reason." A source familiar with Umenyiora's inclusion in the suit said that he was added as "one of the four plaintiffs with current NFL contracts because of the bonus-heavy structure of his six-year, $41 million deal, which at the time was the largest ever given to a player in his third NFL season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/13). In K.C., Sam Mellinger wrote, "Putting well-liked stars like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees on a lawsuit that will officially be called 'Brady vs. the NFL' is a brilliant PR move" (KANSASCITY.com, 3/12).
BEEFING UP THEIR ROSTERS: In Boston, Greg Bedard reports the NFL has "retained legal heavyweights David Boies and Paul Clement to join longtime outside counsel Gregg Levy in defending the league against the antitrust case filed Friday by the NFLPA." Boies is "most well known for representing Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election." The players are "represented locally in Minnesota by the firms of Berens & Miller and Briggs and Morgan." The players also will continue to be represented by Jim Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler, among others (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/13). The N.Y. POST's Hubbuch noted the "willingness to spend huge money on a heavyweight such as Boies indicates just how desperate the NFL is to end its string of antitrust losses (at least five since 1957) unless the owners decide to negotiate an out-of-court settlement that would result in a new CBA." The players "countered with their own impressive legal move" in hiring Berens (N.Y. POST, 3/13).
A LOOK DOWN THE FIELD: In DC, Maske & Shipley cited legal experts as saying that the NFL players' decision to dissolve their union "leaves both labor and management vulnerable to a game-changing ruling on the labor stalemate from an outside arbiter -- either a federal court or the National Labor Relations Board." Barry Univ. law school professor Marc Edelman: "What happens in the next few weeks will determine whether the ball is on the NFL players’ side of the field, or whether they are backed in their own end zone." Maske & Shipley noted if the NLRB "agrees with the owners that the decertification is a sham, conducted simply to gain bargaining advantage, the players could be forced to return to the table with their suit jeopardized and legal strategy in shambles." The owners "already have filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging just that, and several experts said they seem to have a compelling case." But if decertification is "upheld by the NLRB, the players may gain a sudden edge." Maske & Shipley noted "history shows the owners likely will face an uphill battle as the players press forward with their attempt to win a preliminary injunction to lift the owners’ lockout" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/13).
HE'S ON YOUR SIDE? In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes for NFL players, "federal court in Minneapolis is a legal nirvana." Over "nearly 40 years, cases filed there by players and their union have found favor in legal rulings by United States district court judges." And on Friday, when the NFLPA decertified, "the Minneapolis court once again became the legal theater for football, this time in a particularly tense impasse" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/13). The N.Y. POST's Hubbuch wrote under the header, "NFL Should Fear Tackling Doty In Court." Doty invokes "both fear and disgust from the owners because of his repeated decisions in favor of the players dating to the granting of free agency in 1993 after the union decertified the first time." The owners "obviously can appeal any decisions by Doty's court, but it is little surprise that they have made removing him from hearing any future league-related cases a prime provision of the next labor agreement (N.Y. POST, 3/12). SI.com's Don Banks wrote during CBA negotiations the past few weeks, "it's clear the players didn't have to bend over backward." Banks: "Or even a little. Because they knew with Doty in their corner, they could play hardball with the league -- and have a good chance of winning" (SI.com, 3/12).
Should Federal Judge David Doty grant the players an injunction to block a lockout, the NFL offseason "will suddenly look routine," according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. Owners will be "required to impose rules for the league year, and games will be played." The owners are "expected to use rules from 2010, when no maximum or minimum salary levels existed for teams." They could "tweak the rule on free agency, which last year went to six years for eligibility, from four." The idea is "to not be too restrictive, lest it provoke another antitrust charge from players." Free agency would open, "trades would be allowed and players could go back to working out at team facilities." However, the owners "would appeal the decision" from Doty (N.Y. TIMES, 3/13). In DC, Mark Maske notes the '11 NFL season "almost certainly would be played without a salary cap if NFL players succeed in their attempt to lift the lockout put in place by team owners." If Doty grants the injunction, the NFL "would reopen for business and the league would have to put work rules in place." Sources indicated that the "system the league would enact at that point would be very likely to be the same system that was in effect last season, when there was no salary cap in the final year of the just-expired labor agreement" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/14).
CALLING AN AUDIBLE: In N.Y., Adam Himmelsbach notes with no CBA, the league has "lost its authority to enforce its drug and personal-conduct policies," and when the NFLPA decertified, it "ceded its ability to regulate agents." So begins a "kind of test of morals, as players and agents who once played by the carefully scripted rules of the image-conscious NFL and its union now exist in a world where anything goes." NFL radio analyst Gil Brandt, a former Cowboys exec, said, "There are a lot of loopholes now." Himmelsbach notes the league "could not punish players retroactively for off-the-field issues during this stoppage," but an offseason incident by a player still "could affect a team’s desire to have him on its roster." CBS NFL analyst Charley Casserly said, "Any player that is doing something that would cause a violation of the collective bargaining agreement or league policy is going to have to remember there eventually is going to be a season. There are going to be games, so I can’t see players just flaunting it because we’re three days into a decertification." Meanwhile, Himmelsbach notes without a "system of regulation, there are concerns that agents will poach clients from other agents." Brandt said that he "would not be surprised to see a bit of a feeding frenzy among agents" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/14). After the players decertified on Friday, the group "informed certified player agents that it is now a professional association and agents are no longer regulated by what was the players' union" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/12). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "All the NFL can do right now is hope that players act as well as possible. ... Also, agents can do what they want right now" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/14).
LOGGING PHONE CALLS WITH AGENTS: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez cited sources as saying that the NFL is "requiring general managers to keep a log of every conversation held with an agent." GMs and agents are "allowed to discuss college prospects in this year's draft," and they can also talk about "personal business if a player agent also represents a general manager or head coach." However, the NFL has "warned coaches and team officials that discussions of current players or pending free agents during a lockout is prohibited." The mandate "probably won't discourage all prohibited conduct," but it "may make some GMs think twice before being willing to risk NFL punishment" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/13).
In the wake of the NFLPA's decertification and the NFL subsequently locking the players out, several team owners and high-ranking execs spoke out on the developments. Chargers President & CEO Dean Spanos, a member of the league's 10-member labor negotiating committee, "believes the union's plan was always to end up in court." Spanos: "They elected to stop the process, not us. ... The last thing any of us want is to shut our businesses down. It does no one any good." He added, "It was very clear to me in the last 17 days, and now in retrospect going back two years, their ultimate goal was to litigate. There was never an intention to get a deal done." In San Diego, Kevin Acee noted the union in a statement Friday before it filed for decertification said the NFL "refused to provide any legitimate financial information to justify" the concessions it was looking for. Spanos: "I know we gave them what they asked for. ... I believe we've got a disconnected union leadership. The lawyers are running the show" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/13). Spanos in a release said, "I'm most disappointed in the actions of the Union's leadership that is supposed to be representing all of our players. They clearly were not negotiating in good faith right from the beginning. I believe their intention all along was to decertify and bring us to litigation" (Chargers).
ULTIMATE GOAL APPEARED TO BE LITIGATION: Bengals Owner Mike Brown, a member of the owners' negotiating committee, said, "We have a union that, unlike unions elsewhere, seems not to want to collectively bargain; rather it wants to go to court." Brown added, "In our opinion they have the intention of reconstituting at some point and that the decertification is a gambit to gain entry to the federal courts system with a lawsuit and leverage us with that threat" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/13). Steelers President Art Rooney II, who is also a member of the committee, said, "When we got the extension last week, I thought maybe we'd get something done. Unfortunately I think the players chose to throw everything into the lawyers' hands at this point, and unfortunately that's where we're going to be for some time period" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/12). Broncos President Joe Ellis said team Owner and committee member Pat Bowlen "certainly believes they had no real good intention of negotiating and their goal all along was to go down the path of litigation." Ellis: "It's extremely disappointing and it frustrates Pat. It makes him angry" (DENVER POST, 3/13). Chiefs Owner and committee member Clark Hunt: "It seemed to us the union was very eager to get to its litigation strategy" (K.C. STAR, 3/12). Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, who did not take part in the labor negotiations due to prior commitments in Israel, said, "The actions of the union to end the mediation process and walk away from Friday's offer clearly showed their true intentions to take this process to litigation all along" (Patriots). Giants President & CEO John Mara and Chair & Exec VP Steve Tisch in a letter to fans wrote, "Where we are today serves no positive purpose for you, for our players and for the National Football League" (Giants).
Rooney says owners surprised that union
did not even consider their last proposal
Giants C and player rep Shaun O'Hara believes that the NFLPA "had no choice but to decertify because NFL owners weren't playing fair," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. O'Hara said, "After agreeing to a week-long extension in an attempt to come to a fair agreement with the NFL, we realized that the owners do not have an interest in agreeing to a fair deal with the players. It was evident to us that the owners had no intentions of sharing vital information when entering into a 'partnership' that a 'collectively bargained agreement' represents" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/13). Saints QB Drew Brees, a member of the decertified union's Exec Committee, wrote on his Twitter account: "Not once have the players asked for more money during this negotiation. That is a FACT. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for us" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/12). Cardinals K and player rep Jay Feely said, "I was hopeful I could be the voice of reason and look for logical, reasonable answers. But we didn't make any progress throughout the week" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/12). Titans G and player rep Jake Scott said, "Somebody had to draw a line in the sand and say, 'This is going to stop'" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/13).
STEP THAT NEEDED TO HAPPEN: Bills S and player rep George Wilson said, "We can't continue to play this back-and-forth match. This is the situation the NFL owners have created and now we as players have to do everything in our power to protect all the trailblazers that came before us had fought for." Wilson was "disappointed that the union had to decertify, but said the wheels had been set in motion a long time ago." Wilson: "This day is something we have been talking about for about two years now since the owners opted out of the 2006 CBA" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/12). Jets G and player rep Damien Woody: "I'm sad that it had to come to this. As players, we didn't want this, but we felt like it was the only option we had" (AP, 3/12). Texans OT and alternate player rep Eric Winston: "If they want to move off their stance of not opening their books, and they don't remain committed to less than a 50-50 split, I'm sure we'd listen to that. I'm a little surprised we didn't do another extension, but at the same time, there was no reason to delay anything" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/12).
WORRIED ABOUT PUBLIC'S RESPONSE: Ravens LB Jarret Johnson is concerned about the "court of public opinion" regarding the lockout. Johnson: "The general bias against the players is going to work against us. People don't know what the owners make, because they are behind the scenes. But they see us all the time. They know what we drive in, where we live. There's already a bias against us for the amount of money we make" (Baltimore SUN, 3/12). Vikings DE Brian Robison: "I know this sort of gives us a bad name -- as well as the owners -- in some fans' eyes" (USA TODAY, 3/14). Patriots C Dan Koppen: "There really is nothing left to talk about, so now it's just going to be people blaming each other and trying to get the public on their side. That's the people we're feeling sorry for right now" (Sirius NFL Radio, 3/12).
THE UNKNOWN AWAITS: Lions DT and player rep Kyle Vanden Bosch said the future is "a little bit scary" for everyone involved. Vanden Bosch: "There's a lot of players who are potential free agents, and they're still kind of trying to figure out what's next for them. There's guys coming out of college that are draft picks -- they know the draft is coming up but they're not sure what's next in the process after that. And guys like me who are geared up for what would normally be the start of an off-season program, which is kind of limbo right now, waiting for somebody to tell us what we can, what we can't do and what's expected of us" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/12).
Several newspaper columnists from across the country this weekend weighed in on the NFLPA's decertification and the NFL's decision to lock out the players. In Nashville, David Climer wrote the NFL owners "are a bunch of greedy billionaires who are willing to shut down the nation's most popular sports enterprise to prove a point and further fatten their wallets" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/13). FOXSPORTS.com's Adam Schein wrote the "one group that deserves all the blame" is the "greedy NFL owners, who have absolutely no business locking out the players." Schein: "It's disgusting, disgraceful, irresponsible and not fan friendly" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/12). In St. Petersburg, John Romano wrote he "can't help but feel that NFL owners might have gotten what was coming to them this time." Romano: "This has to do with bullies getting their comeuppance" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Les Carpenter wrote under the header, "Arrogance Unnecessarily Jeopardizes '11 Season." The "arrogance of the NFL's owners rose with their refusal to completely open their books," and the union, "which has always operated more like a big business than a benevolent representative of the players' interests, walked away in a snit" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/11). In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote under the header, "Owners Are Villains In NFL Labor Fight." Plaschke: "In terms of perception, the current NFL labor dispute is the most one-sided fight since good first climbed into the ring with evil" (L.A. TIMES, 3/13).
LACK OF TRUST: SI.com's Jim Trotter wrote the NFL is "in this situation because of a lack of trust on both sides, particularly among the men leading their parties," DeMaurice Smith, head of the players' group, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. But if one thinks there is a "lack of trust on the part of Smith and Goodell, it pales next to" NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash and players outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler. Trotter: "And that's bad news for football fans everywhere" (SI.com, 3/12). In Philadelphia, Ashley Fox wrote under the header, "Greed And Lack Of Trust Grinds NFL To A Halt" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/12). In N.Y., Steve Serby wrote fans were "betrayed by two sides held hostage by their own greed, two sides who could not trust one another, two sides who now take their petty, insane war to the courtroom" (N.Y. POST, 3/12). In Toronto, Dave Perkins wrote under the header, "Potential NFL Lockout About Nothing But Greed" (TORONTO STAR, 3/12).
IMPOSSIBLE TO PICK A SIDE: In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote under the header, "There Aren't Any Good Guys In NFL Dispute." Miklasz: "This isn't a matter of bad guys vs. good guys. They're all villains. It's the epitome of arrogance and ignorance to close the doors and the vault to the richest sport in the history of Western civilization when there are 13 million unemployed citizens in our great nation" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Prisco wrote under the header, "Don't Believe The Owners -- Or The Players." Prisco: "Why did it get this bad? There are a variety of reasons, but the main one is this: Greed. ... The owners want more money. The players want more. I don't blame either. I blame them both" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/11). In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote there is "nobody to root for in this battle of billionaires and millionaires." Myers: "Lawyers have now replaced quarterbacks as the most important players in football. ... Decertification and lockout are now more important than the West Coast offense and Cover 2" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/12). In Detroit, Drew Sharp wrote it is "impossible for either side to argue it has been egregiously wronged," as they are "both getting richer." Sharp added, "When litigation replaces negotiation, the only winners are the lawyers" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/13). SI.com's Don Banks: "There's plenty of blame to go around in this high-stakes money grab, but whenever it ends, I predict both the owners and the players will still be winners in the grand scheme of things" (SI.com, 3/11).
UFC parent company Zuffa LLC "has purchased rival mixed martial arts promoter Strikeforce, though they will continue to operate as separate entities," according to Josh Gross of ESPN.com. An official announcement is expected today in Las Vegas. Strikeforce Dir of Communications Mike Afromowitz said, "Right now the plan is to operate on our own. Business as usual." Sources said that an agreement to "sell Strikeforce's licensing rights, fighter contracts and video library closed with the UFC on Thursday or Friday." UFC President Dana White said that Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker "would remain in charge of Strikeforce and retain his staff of around 10 employees." The company "would run separately from UFC and exhaust its contracts with Showtime television." Gross wrote it is "expected UFC will fold Strikeforce under its banner at the conclusion of the partnership with Showtime ... as it did with WEC at the start of 2011." Sources said that "current contracts between fighters and Strikeforce are transferrable to Zuffa" (ESPN.com, 3/13). In Ohio, Dann Stupp writes the deal, which sources estimated in the $30-60M range, "sent ripples through the industry" (DAYTON DAILY NEWS, 3/14). White first announced the news on MMAFighting.com, and he said, “We need more fights, and let's face facts: Strikeforce is a brand that fans have come to like. They do have a following." White said, "Strikeforce is going to continue to run business as usual. There's contracts in place, these guys are on Showtime. Strikeforce pulls good ratings for Showtime. I think Showtime's happy with them and all those contracts will be honored." White added Coker will "continue to run that business" (MMAFighting.com, 3/12).
CREATING A SUPER COMPANY: YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole wrote, "In time, the deal will create a super company in which all, or virtually all, of the world's elite fighters will compete in the same league." With the contracts it owns between the UFC and Strikeforce, Zuffa "probably now has 90 percent of the top 100 fighters in the world." But fighters currently with Strikeforce "won't be able to move to the UFC, no matter how good they are, until their Strikeforce deals expire." The purchase also "creates some fascinating subplots," as White "has repeatedly hammered Showtime Sports general manager Ken Hershman and has railed on Showtime announcers." White said that the "changes that would be made would be mostly behind the scenes." He "wouldn't say if he would change Showtime's announcing teams." But he said, "Showtime controls the production (for Strikeforce). We'll make some back-of-house improvements so the fighters will notice that things may run more smoothly, and the media may see a difference in how we do things, but this is still going to be Strikeforce" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12). White added, “I'm sure the last thing Showtime wants to see is me show up at the doorstop and come over there and start having conversations, and that's no big deal. [UFC Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta] can deal with Showtime" (MMAFighting.com, 3/12). In Las Vegas, Case Keefer wrote the move "creates an interesting dynamic considering Strikeforce has served as the landing spot for a handful of personalities who had a falling out with White and/or UFC" (LASVEGASSUN.com, 3/12). USA TODAY's Sergio Non reported Coker "expects Strikeforce to generate as much as $30 million revenue in its current fiscal year." White said that while the UFC "can help Strikeforce grow and tweak the operation, for now there will be no crossover between the brands as far as sharing fighters." White: "We won't be doing any superfights. Even when we own it, we don't co-promote, period" (USATODAY.com, 3/12).
GAME CHANGER: YAHOO SPORTS' Dave Meltzer wrote the deal "changes the entire face" of MMA. The "elimination of Strikeforce as a rival promotion will also keep fighter salaries from spiraling out of control, as fighters would not be able to play one company against the other" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12). MMAFIGHTING.com's Michael David Smith wrote the deal "won't result in business as usual," rather it "will result in the UFC's business growing far beyond the usual." Smith: "With one company now controlling the sport of MMA to an unprecedented extent, we're going to see business get better in a lot of ways." For the mainstream media, this move "will simplify things, and make the sport easier to follow, and therefore easier to cover." Also, "taking over Strikeforce means taking over the TV contracts, and it's a step toward a world where the UFC is able to gain more exposure on TV without cannibalizing its bread-and-butter pay-per-view business" (MMAFIGHTING.com, 3/12). In L.A., Loretta Hunt wrote the acquisition is MMA's "most monumental since Zuffa purchased the Japan-based Pride Fighting Championships in March 2007" (LATIMES.com, 3/13). In London, Gareth Davies wrote the "main implications are that Zuffa have eliminated a rival organisation which was looking at expansion outside the U.S." Also, the deal "strengthens Zuffa's position in the global TV market" (TELEGRAPH.co.uk, 3/13). In Toronto, Chris Doucette wrote UFC "has taken another giant step toward global domination in the mixed martial arts world by purchasing its main U.S. competitor" (TORONTOSUN.com, 3/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Maggie Hendricks wrote the deal is a "game changer" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12). SI.com's Jeff Wagenheim wrote, "A sports consolidation of this magnitude naturally makes fans wonder about the impact on MMA of the UFC having essentially no competition. The thing is, though, the UFC didn't have much competition even before this deal was struck" (SI.com, 3/12).
MLS is "publicly standing by" Mets Owners the Wilpons "as they deal with the specter of a potential" $1B lawsuit, according to Jim Baumbach of NEWSDAY. MLS Commissioner Don Garber Friday said that the league "still is interested in welcoming the Wilpons as owners of a team despite their current financial issues." MLS has expressed interest in adding a second franchise in the N.Y. market, and Garber said, "They've shown great interest in continuing some level of discussions with us, and we'll continue to do that. They have some short-term challenges, and hopefully they'll get through them." He added, "We've been in discussions on and off for the better part of a couple of years, including over the past couple of months. The discussions haven't been in great detail, but I continue to reach out to them to wish them well" (NEWSDAY, 3/12). In N.Y., Jack Bell noted an uncertain financial situation "could preclude the Wilpons' involvement in MLS." But Garber said, "They fit very well with our owners and I really hope they get through their issues quickly. I don’t believe the full story has been told. I’m supportive personally and professionally." Also in N.Y., investors have "recently relaunched the Cosmos in the hope of becoming" MLS' 20th team. Garber said, "Today the Cosmos are a very exciting relaunch of a retro brand that they can extract value for merchandise sales, event programming. ... We still need to get more from them about how they would be capitalized, what the structure would look like, how they would plan to fund a private stadium in the most expensive construction market in the country and their commitment to the view of the MLS as a single-entity concept. The best way to describe discussion is that they are preliminary, but positive" (NYTIMES.com, 3/11). More Garber: "There are others much less public than the Cosmos who continue to express interest. Sometime by the end of the year we'll have a better sense as to where we're going with the 20th team. But I'm committed to trying to finalize a deal so it can be here in New York" (SI.com, 3/11).
SWEET 16? In L.A., Grahame Jones noted MLS kicks off its 16th season tomorrow night, and Garber on Friday was "happily talking about expansion and the planned construction of new stadiums." MLS is adding two teams this season -- the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps -- and a new soccer-specific stadium in K.C. These are "positive moves, but they should not be allowed to overshadow that the product on the field will ultimately determine the league's success." Can MLS "overcome the notion that it is now and forever will be a second-tier operation, a feeder-league whose brightest young shooting stars sooner or later arc across the Atlantic night sky to make their fortunes in Europe?" For now, Garber's "focus is on the business side." He talks about the Kraft family "actively seeking a site for a stadium in downtown Boston" for the Revolution, and the "crying need for a stadium" in the DC area. Garber also "talks about possible expansion teams in all sorts of places where the MLS flag does not fly." He said, "I believe we will be larger than 20 teams. I can't say when that will be. But I can't imagine that when this league is fully expanded we won't have teams in the Southeast, that we don't have another team in the Midwest, that we're not even expanding to the southern part of California." Jones wrote, "Sooner or later the limit will have been reached, the stadiums all will have been built and attention will necessarily shift from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. In the meantime, a little more attention to the way MLS teams play rather than where they play would be welcome" (L.A. TIMES, 3/13). Ahead of tomorrow night's Galaxy-Sounders season opener, Garber said, "I’d say this is the most anticipated season in our history. We’ve had a period of pretty good growth, especially in the Pacific Northwest. It certainly wasn’t our intent (to shift from East to West), but there was a dearth of professional soccer in that area for many years, and the minor-league clubs were very popular, and it just worked out that way" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/12).