SBD/March 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: Judge Doty's Ruling Considered A Big Win For NFLPA

Judge David Doty's ruling yesterday in the closely watched NFL media fees case is "considered a major victory of the union because, at least for now, the owners can't count on having the money to use as lockout insurance," according to Jim Trotter of SI.com. Doty will hold a hearing with both sides, "at an undetermined date, to consider the award of monetary damages and equitable relief to the players -- which could include an injunction that would prevent the owners from being able to use the television revenues." The NFLPA would have been at a "decided disadvantage if the owners had access" to the $4B in NFL media rights fees during a lockout. It is "unclear at this point whether the ruling will spur the sides to come to terms" on a new CBA before the current one expires at the end of the day tomorrow, but it "clearly means the owners could have a harder time addressing their debt services if there is a prolonged work stoppage." Colts C Jeff Saturday, a member of the NFLPA Exec Committee, said last night, "I'm not sure what all that means, as of yet. We haven't been debriefed. We just got the news when we were in the meeting, so I'm sure we'll hear more tonight. But it sounds very favorable" (SI.com, 3/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole noted the NFL "downplayed Doty's ruling" yesterday, but there is "little question that the owners are in a much more precarious position." The owners "feeling the most heat are the ones who recently built new stadiums with large portions of their own money or through private financing." A union source said, "The rules just changed. ... The negotiations just got to a more level playing field right now. Paying the debt on those stadiums just got a lot harder for those guys." An NFL source said, "This is a dose of reality for some of the hard-line owners who wanted a lockout. We can still do it, but it’s going to hurt a lot. I think the guys who want peace are going to be speaking up a lot more come Wednesday afternoon" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/1). CBS' Pete Prisco wrote, "Without that money, you can bet the owners will want a quicker resolution to these talks. The lockout insurance -- the TV money -- was a bullet in their gun. Now they have more empty chambers than they thought" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/1).

LOCKOUT LESS LIKELY? NFL player agent Drew Rosenhaus in a text message about Doty's ruling said, "I think it increases the incentive for the teams/owners to get a deal done and not place the future of the NFL in the hands of the court system." Another agent said the decision is a potential game changer in the NFL labor battle. Another NFL agent, who did not want to be identified, said: "Because the owners have such overhead and they were banking on having this money, if not shifting the leverage to the players, it is certainly an equalizer." NFLPA Outside Counsel Jeffrey Kessler told SportsBusiness Journal in January that if the union won the case, it could affect whether or not the NFL locks players out. "The football fans, cities and others should hope that the players win this case," said Kessler said in January, "because if we win this case it makes the looming prospect of a lockout by the NFL less likely." Former National Labor Relations Board Chair Bill Gould agreed with that assessment. "I think that is right," Gould said of the impact on the NFL deciding to lock out. "I think it is less likely, how much more less likely, is anybody's guess," Gould said. "At a minimum, unless it is overturned on appeal, it has made the lockout more costly to owners. At a maximum, it may throw the right of owners to lock out into question." Tulane Univ. Sports Law Program Dir Gabe Feldman said, "Doty might give the players a large amount of damages, and more importantly, block the owners from getting the $4 billion, in the event there is a lockout. It gives the players more leverage clearly in that it makes it move difficult to sustain a lengthy lockout. The owners were going to be able to fall back on that $4 billion as a cushion or a war chest” (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

TIME TO GET IT DONE: YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver writes if the NFL owners "react to this judicial setback in a rational manner, they’ll lose their hardline bluster and come back to the bargaining table with a renewed sense of compromise." Conversely, once the "buzz wears off" from last night's ruling, NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "and his fellow negotiators should resist the temptation to gloat and instead push for a CBA that bridges the philosophical gap between the two parties." If those "reasonable and logical reactions occur when the two sides meet" this morning, "we’ll soon have an announcement from the camps that they’ve agreed to a short-term extension of the current CBA beyond March 3 -- in the expectation of finalizing a deal over the next week or two" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/2). ESPN's Andrew Brandt said Doty's decision “could focus the negotiation and push toward, at best, a resolution and perhaps even stopping the clock.” Brandt: “Roger Goodell has to look at his ownership and see if they truly want to lock out the players. DeMaurice Smith has to look at his union leadership and see if they want to pursue this path of decertification” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/1). Sports attorney David Cornwell, formerly a finalist for NFLPA Exec Dir, said that the ruling has "tactical significance." But he added, "It's highly unlikely that all of the 32 NFL owners put all of their financial eggs in a single basket of getting TV money" (USA TODAY, 3/2).

LONG WAY TO GO: ESPN’s Adam Schefter said of the ruling, “View this as a victory of a big regular-season game that could help determine a divisional outcome. But there’s still the playoffs, and there’s still the Super Bowl. It’s a big win for the players, but it doesn’t end discussions, it doesn’t ensure that the players are going to get their way, it doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a deal this week.” Schefter added some NFL insiders believe the ruling could “even enrage and empower the owners.” Schefter: “We’re headed on the course we’ve been headed on all along, even with this ruling” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 3/2). NFL Network's Albert Breer said, "This will be a major leverage point lost for the owners, and a loss of a nest egg for a potential lockout. But remember, owners were expecting this decision, based on their prior history with Judge Doty. They’ve lost a leverage point, to be sure, but this is just one in a series of rulings, and it’s one that you can expect to be appealed" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/1).
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