SBD/March 3, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: No Agreement Between NFL, Union Expected By Midnight

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Jerry Jones among owners who left DC area last night after meeting

No new CBA appears on the horizon for the NFL, with the current deal set to expire at the end of the day today. NFL owners cut short their gathering in Chantilly, Va., yesterday, meeting for about two-and-a-half hours before many of them left, including several key owners on the labor negotiating team like the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones. Both men said they were leaving the DC area. The meeting was originally called to stretch into today, but an NFL source said that was only for if there was a deal to talk about and vote on. No votes were taken. Kraft and Jones were part of the 10-owner labor negotiating team that met with the NFLPA yesterday in federally mediated talks. Those talks were scheduled to begin again at 9:00am ET this morning, and were occurring last night as well with Giants President & CEO John Mara and Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy joining league execs. There is still the chance the two sides agree to extend the deadline, though the gulf between the two groups has been wide (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). Colts Owner Jim Irsay said that the "full ownership group did not vote on a lockout when it met for about three hours." Irsay: "We didn't break the room with a lockout vote. It was just an update. Owners were able to ask questions." NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, "There were no decisions made. No actions were taken, and we'll continue to go through the mediation process." But some officials believe that "no formal lockout vote by the owners was required because they previously authorized their bargaining committee to act as it sees fit" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/3).

LET'S KEEP TALKING: NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator, yesterday said that "mediation talks could continue past the expiration" of the CBA and federal mediator George Cohen's role "would not end after today." Pash: "Negotiations don't end today. You keep negotiating until you reach an agreement and I think the mediators, if they're willing, can continue to be a constructive part of that process" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/3). In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch notes while there has been "no indication of any name-calling or fist-pounding or let's-take-it-outside ill will in these sessions, there also has been no indication that all of this talking has gotten them any closer to a new labor deal." There is "no chance -- none -- that there will be a new deal in place by midnight." Domowitch: "The best hope right now, really the only hope, is that the players and owners agree to keep on talking for another week or 2 and extend the current CBA while they do. But even that might be wishful thinking" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/3). USA TODAY's Gary Graves notes "nothing happened Wednesday to suggest an 11th-hour agreement was possible, and players are preparing to be locked out when the CBA expires." Still, despite those "worst-case scenarios, a buzz circulated Wednesday that the deadline could be extended" (USA TODAY, 3/3). Jets Owner Woody Johnson said, "Ultimately, something will happen. Whether it happens today or tomorrow, I'm not sure." In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes the "owners' actions appeared to speak a lot louder than their words last night" when they "bolted Northern Virginia less than seven hours after they arrived" (N.Y. POST, 3/3). But Jones as he was leaving yesterday's meeting said, "We can get back together in a short period of time, so don't read anything into it" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/2).

THE LATEST FROM DC: NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports on his Twitter account the league is “prepared to reveal more financial data during today's mediation, I'm told. Sides remain inside the FMCS with the mediator.” NFL Network's Albert Breer notes, “My understanding is this mediation could be over by noon, which would allow, according to sources, the sides to ‘get their ducks in a row.'" Yahoo Sports’ Michael Silver writes, “I'm told there is a quiet, calm vibe among the NFLPA contingent. I would liken it to the way certain players hyper-focus before a big game.” Meanwhile, SBJ's Daniel Kaplan on Twitter reports, "Talk is nfl will put out a press release this afternoon. Expect it will be anncment of a lockout. Nflpa sure to run to doty's court."

DECERTIFICATION SEEMS CERTAIN: If the union decertifies as is expected, it would need to do so by 5:00pm ET today to be able to file an antitrust lawsuit against the league. Under terms of the CBA, the union has to decertify prior to the labor pact’s expiration or wait six month before filing such a case. That means to decertify today the union would need to notify the NLRB, with the business day over at 5:00pm. It is possible then there could be a formal announcement from the NFLPA at some point today. The league could not lock out the players, on the other hand, until the deal expires. Whether the league announces it will lock out the players is unclear. The league is not expected to take any new action today against the union’s potential decertification. It has a charge filed at the NLRB alleging the union decertifying is a sham designed to avoid bargaining. The union’s response is to note it is the league that is threatening a lock out players (Kaplan). In DC, Mark Maske cites sources on both sides of the dispute as saying that the NFL and NFLPA are "making contingency plans for a confrontation that would begin Thursday barring last-minute developments in their negotiations over a new labor deal that neither side expected." The sources said that "only a postponement of Thursday's 11:59 p.m. bargaining deadline or a last-minute shift in strategy could change both sides' plans" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/3). In N.Y., Judy Battista notes "unless there is a breakthrough Thursday morning, the next confrontation could be over where the union seeks the injunction." The players "will surely want it filed" to U.S. District Court Judge David Doty, who has "repeatedly ruled in favor of players, including in a decision Tuesday" about NFL media fees during a lockout (N.Y. TIMES, 3/3). SI.com's Don Banks writes the "next steps look like all but fait accompli" (SI.com, 3/3).

WHAT'S THE BREAKING POINT? In N.Y., Steve Serby writes if the NFL "truly cares" about its fans, it will "extend the negotiation beyond the deadline and allow the mediation process to give peace a chance and keep hope alive for an NFL as we know it and love it." At some point, the owners and players "will see the light and recognize that they are partners rather than adversaries, so it might as well be now" (N.Y. POST, 3/3). A USA TODAY editorial states "divvying up a $9 billion pot of annual revenue must be an arduous task," but players and owners are "up to the job." The editorial continues, "The key is for you both to realize that some of your biggest adversaries could be on your own side of the bargaining table. Owners: You are systematically devaluing your most valuable asset -- the parity between teams. ... Players: Understand that it's OK to compromise in ways that won't lock you into future concessions" (USA TODAY, 3/3). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes, "It's going to take the first real pressure point -- when the players realize they are about to lose game checks and the owners are about to lose big money -- for any movement to start happening. Once this heads to the courtroom, it has the potential to get drawn out and extremely messy" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/3). CNBC's Darren Rovell said, "Right now might be the deadline for the collective bargaining agreement, but it's just not the time to talk. As anyone knows, negotiation comes to a head when someone's willing to buckle and right now, there's no sense that either side is willing to buckle" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 3/3). ESPN's Mike Greenberg: "This thing will end when the owners decide it is over. The question is, how long are they willing to take it and how much damage will be done between now and then?" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 3/3). In L.A., Sam Farmer: "The process feels like a high-stakes game of chicken, with each side waiting for the other to flinch while fast approaching the cliff's edge" (L.A. TIMES, 3/3).

PLAYERS, AGENTS WEIGH IN: Bills S George Wilson "doesn't expect a new deal" by tonight's deadline. Wilson said, "Everything I’m telling my guys is: Prepare this Friday for the start of a lockout. I certainly don’t believe a deal will be reached by Thursday midnight. That’s what I feel in my heart. I have not received any indication (from the union) that we’re close to a deal" (TORONTO STAR, 3/3). Jets CB Darrelle Revis believes that the labor situation is "out of the players' hands." Revis last night said, "We’ve just got to wait and see. It’s out of my hands; it’s out of the players’ hands. We’ve just got to wait and see what [NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith] does and see what ... the owners do to make a decision on what’s going to happen" (ESPNNY.com, 3/3). NFL player agent Harold Lewis said, "There's too much to lose, everything to gain. You've got to get this deal worked out. It doesn't make any sense at all not having it worked out. You've got some of the most brilliant minds in the world on both sides, so you should be able to come up with a pretty simple answer to all this" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/3).

WHAT ABOUT THE FANS? The AP's Tim Dahlberg wrote what a lockout or decertification "means to fans depends on how long it goes on." Initially, it will "cut into the buzz of the offseason because there will be no free agency, and the NFL draft next month surely will have a hollow feel because those drafted won't be able to bargain with their teams." It will "start to get messy by summer as the opening of training camps approaches" (AP, 3/2). In Pittsburgh, Gene Collier writes after the current CBA expires without a deal for a new one, "any semblance of patience or understanding among pro football's frothing fan base should become purely theoretical" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/3). In Nashville, Joe Biddle writes fans "can live with a lockout" during OTAs in May and June, and they "can skip training camps without any lasting emotional problems." But if the owners and players "want to flex their muscle and start canceling regular-season games, rest assured there will be lasting consequences and backlash from fans." Biddle: "The NFL is foolish if it thinks it can spit in the eye of fans" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 3/3). In Tacoma, Dave Boling writes under the header, "A World Without The NFL? That's Sheer Madness" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 3/3). In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd writes, "A season without NFL football in this country? ... I can't believe both sides would let this dispute play out that long -- not with all the money that's at stake" (Baltimore SUN, 3/3).

FINDING FAULT: ESPN this morning posted a poll question on its website asking fans which side in the NFL labor dispute is “more to blame if there is a work stoppage.” As of presstime, 45% of more than 56,049 respondents voted that ownership is to blame, 14% selected the players and 41% believe they share the blame equally (ESPN.com, 3/3).

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