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The NFL labor negotiations resume today "with optimism" that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith are "committed to making a deal and avoiding a legal fight that could imperil the regular season," according to Judy Battista of the N.Y TIMES. Still, the "hope that the NFL might avert an all-out labor war is tempered by a dose of reality: the two sides remain so far apart on the economic issues at the core of the negotiation -- how to divide annual revenue and a new rookie compensation system -- that it seems unlikely a deal could be finished by the Friday deadline." The "gap on the revenue split and cost credits for owners is still enormous, although perhaps narrower" than the reported $700-800M, and "details of rookie compensation limits have yet to be agreed upon." Sources involved with the negotiations contend that the hope is that "enough progress could be made by the end of the week on the key elements necessary to start a new league year -- what the salary cap will be, what the rules of free agency are and what the rookie compensation model will look like -- that the sides could then firm up the rest of the details in another week to 10 days." But last week's extensions of the CBA "did not come easily, with both players and owners said to be losing patience with the long, tiring process." Goodell had to "twist the arms of some of the more hawkish members of the owners’ labor committee to convince them to accept one of the extensions, much as Smith has had to manage those in the union who preferred to take the fight to court" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/7).
AS THE CLOCK WINDS DOWN...: SI.com's Jim Trotter reports with "only five minutes to go before the union's deadline to decertify last Thursday -- a move that might have obliterated the NFL as we know it today -- a player walked into the negotiating room" that included Goodell, Smith, NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae and declared: "We're done! We're decertifying." Sources indicated that the union "had a member of its legal team on the phone with the clerk of the court in Minneapolis, where U.S. District Judge David Doty presides over the case." Trotter notes "cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and the league agreed to the first of two extensions," but if "anything could be taken from that brief glimpse behind the curtains, it's that the players know the issues and are prepared to stand up to the men who run the country's most powerful sports league." Smith has "refused to participate in any formal negotiating session without at least one player by his side, and he has consistently pushed his player advocates and player reps to keep the membership informed." One player said, "I don't know that guys were itching for a fight, but we have been preparing for this so we're not at all nervous about pulling the trigger or stepping into that world" (SI.com, 3/7). ESPN's Michael Smith said, "The union was very concerned about stall tactics on the part of the owners. They were ready to decertify, so the owners must have come up off their stance to make the union agree to a seven-day extension" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/4).
REASON TO BE OPTIMISTIC: In N.Y., Gary Myers cited sources as saying that the "dynamics for a potential agreement are in place" between the NFL and NFLPA. One source said that "more progress was made last week than in the last two years." If the sides are "close enough Friday but still need more time, the clock will be stopped again." The new CBA is "expected to be a six-year deal" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6). SI.com's Peter King writes, "At some point this week you might see the owners give the players something they've wanted for a long time -- more financial transparency." The players "know they have the edge in litigation now" (SI.com, 3/7). But in N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cited a league source as saying that an extension of the CBA beyond this Friday is "highly unlikely." If an agreement on "how to divvy up $9 billion in revenue, an 18-game season and a rookie wage scale can’t be worked out in the next week, the next step will be chaos -- a lockout by the owners coupled with decertification and an antitrust lawsuit" by the NFLPA (N.Y. POST, 3/5).
BIGGEST ISSUES STILL REMAIN: In DC, Mark Maske reported some NFL insiders "cautioned that significant differences between the two sides remain, especially on the key issue of how to split" the league's $9B in annual revenue. Sources indicated that there was "movement by both sides in Thursday's bargaining," coming after the "negotiating leverage apparently tilted in the players' favor Tuesday when U.S. District Judge David S. Doty ruled in the union's favor in a case involving the league's television contracts." Sources noted that the union "might accept the owners' proposal" to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games "if it can win concessions related to players' health and safety." Sources added that the two sides "probably would agree to a rookie wage scale less restrictive than the one proposed by the league earlier in the bargaining." Maske noted "any settlement also would have to address the league's proposal that players be blood-tested for human growth hormone and the ongoing role of Doty in overseeing the labor deal, which is favored by the union and opposed by the league" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/5). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes the "biggest issue is the NFL's demand that an additional $1 billion in annual revenue be excluded from being split with the players." Sources indicated that there has been "no significant movement on the NFL's demand to keep that extra $1 billion, which is to be used for projects, including stadium construction, that the league believes will help grow the revenue pie and create money the players ultimately will gain" (NEWSDAY, 3/7). ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the league "closed the gap between $4-5 million per team per year, but you extrapolate out those numbers and essentially, you're talking about the two sides now being $775 million apart per year, which really amounts to billions of dollars over the life of that deal" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 3/6).
TALKING TO THE PLAYERS: In a special to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, former NFLer Nate Jackson wrote a lockout "would provide a unique opportunity for players to take back control of their lives." A work stoppage "would be a great opportunity for current players to feel what it will be like without that safety net, when their problems won't be solved for them" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/5). Panthers P Jason Baker, one of the team's alternate player reps, said, "We're going to find out how prepared guys actually are" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/6). Lions DE and player rep Kyle Vanden Bosch: "Now that the deadline's here, I think everybody feels a lot more pressure to get something done. We want to get it done, we want it to be fair for the owners, fair for the players" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/6). Chargers LB Shaun Phillips, one of the team's alternate player reps, said, "I think they're going to get it done now because of the fact they’re communicating" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/7). NFL players appear to be "almost uniformly against" an 18-game regular season. Packers WR Donald Driver: "My goal is to continue to play 16, and I’m hoping that we can get that all taken care of where we don’t have to play 18 games." Packers WR Greg Jennings said, "If we’re getting close and that’s the case, then we have to do what we have to do. But from a player’s standpoint, I’m sure the player reps are making sure if we have to go 18 games then there’s definitely some benefits we get out of it on the players side" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 3/5).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: In New Orleans, John DeShazier wrote, "The consensus is that the owners are falling behind in the public relations race. And while they might be exponentially more concerned with winning the negotiations rather than looking good in the fight, they're not so arrogant as to believe an image hit won't hurt" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/5). The AP's Paul Newberry writes, "If NFL owners aren't careful, they might just force us to sympathize with guys who make more in a year than most will take home in a lifetime" (AP, 3/7). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes, "The owners are that greedy and that selfish because they can be that smug in their knowledge that the paying customer and TV sponsors will come crawling back on hands and knees through their $50-a-slot parking lots to drink in their superfluous game as if it were drops of water in the Sahara" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/7). In Philadelphia, Ashley Fox wrote, "Do not be fooled. This is still about greed" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/5). A CNBC.com poll indicates that fans are siding with the owners. In response to the question, "Who do you side with on the NFL dispute," 48% of more than 4,600 respondents chose owners." Only 36% voted for players, with 16% not sure (CNBC.com, 3/7).
THE SPORTS GUY'S TAKE: In a much-discussed column, ESPN's Bill Simmons offers his take on NFL owners by writing under the header, “Greed Is Good In NFL Labor Talks.” He writes hypothetically about launching a new web business that served as an analogy to NFL ownership. Simmons: “If Charlie Sheen is addicted to winning, then I am addicted to making money. I have lost any and all perspective. … It's about generating more money in Years 5 through 8 than I made in Years 1 through 4. … Would I make a good NFL owner?” (ESPN.com, 3/4). SI's King on Twitter linked to Simmons' article and wrote, "This is not a good effort by Bill Simmons. It's a brilliant one" (TWITTER.com, 3/7).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash Friday said that a federal judge’s decision to require the league to put media fees into escrow during a lockout had no effect on the league staying at the negotiating table. The league had wanted to be able to use the fees. Federal Judge David Doty made the decision earlier Tuesday evening when the union was expected to decertify and the league to lock out the players upon the expiration of the CBA, then scheduled to end at the end of the day Thursday. The two sides since have agreed to extend talks until March 11. There have been many suggestions that Doty’s decision pressured the league, not just because of the media fees, but worries a player-led antitrust lawsuit would end up in Doty’s court. He expressed sympathy in his media fees ruling for antitrust complaint against the NFL. One of the central issues in the dispute between the two sides is the role of Doty, whom the league would like to remove from overseeing the CBA. The union wants him to stay. Asked if Doty’s decision had an effect, Goodell, following a brief press conference, turned as he entered the revolving doors of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service building and almost laughed, and replied, “No. We have been at the table.” Pash similarly looked amused following his subsequent press conference when asked about Doty, and replied, “Oh, no.” A source said not to interpret the extension of talks as reason for optimism. While many are presuming the extension means the sides are closing the gap, the source said while there has been some progress, it is not as much of a closure as some would hope. This source, unlike Goodell and Pash, said Doty's ruling earlier in the week did affect the league's stance (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
DAVID VS. GOLIATH: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cites league sources as saying that the owners "held off on a lockout and are much more open to a new CBA because of their certainty the dispute will eventually end up in front" of Doty, "whose rulings often favor the players." Considering a possible antitrust lawsuit from the NFLPA "would be heard by Doty and that any damages he might award would be tripled under federal law, it's no wonder the owners' tone has suddenly softened" (N.Y. POST, 3/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman wrote, "By now one thing has become clear in the National Football League labor showdown: NFL owners want to do whatever they can to avoid having this fight land in front of an 81-year old judge in Minnesota named David Doty" (WSJ.com, 3/4). NFL player agent Ralph Cindrich: "Judge Doty knows them inside and out and he doesn't have a high opinion at all of NFL management after all these years of dealing with them" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/5). In Boston, Ron Borges noted the owners want Doty "out because they believe he is seldom inclined to agree with their point of view." The union "would argue that’s because Doty follows the law, yet it may have to sacrifice his protection in order to close a deal that avoids the union having to decertify and file another anti-trust suit against a league arming to lock it out." If the CBA expires "or a new one replaces it, the owners would argue Doty is no longer empowered to rule over their actions." The NFLPA "might be reluctant to allow that, but ownership is pushing hard for the change and is rumored to be willing to do what they always do in such a circumstance -- buy their way out of a troubling circumstance" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/5). ESPN.com's Michael Wilbon wrote it seems a "sense of cooperation and even fear now exists in these negotiations," after the players "unquestionably gained a measure of leverage" with Doty's ruling last week (ESPN.com, 3/5).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "are hardly chummy," yet as they "push toward a peaceful compromise that is likely to avert the work stoppage most of us have seen coming for well over a year, they have displayed many common qualities, most notably a deep-seated respect for professional football and the fans who have made it far and away America’s most popular sport," according to Michael Silver of YAHOO SPORTS. Confronted with "significant challenges from the start, each man stood tall against more extreme elements in his own ranks and helped avert the NFL’s equivalent of nuclear war: a union decertification and antitrust lawsuit countered by league-initiated legal challenges and a lockout." Statements on Friday by both Goodell and Smith, "as well as conversations with several of their confidants, suggest that the two leaders are absolutely committed to bridging" the gap and avoiding a work stoppage. Last week, Goodell "made it clear to his constituents that a short-term extension in the hope of a settlement was the smart play." Sources indicated that it was Smith "who faced some resistance from his executive committee after presenting them with the specifics of what he and Goodell had discussed Thursday afternoon." But Smith, too, "sold his charges on the advantages of a compromise, as opposed to a nasty labor war that could have lasted several years" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/4). SI.com's Don Banks cited sources as saying that both Goodell and Smith "seemed to recognize the full weight of the moment that came with the most important two days of their now high-profile careers, and both rose to the occasion in trying to find ways to bridge the differences that can be bridged, and put off until later the issues that still divide" (SI.com, 3/4).
UPPING THE ANTE: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez wrote Smith, meeting with the press after the NFL and union agreed to the seven-day extension on Friday, "gave the kind of lawyeresque speech that his straight-to-the-point predecessor would never deliver." An attorney before joining the NFLPA in '09, Smith "sounded more like he was trying to sway a jury to side with the union in his four-minute 'news conference' than provide meaningful perspective on the labor talks." Smith "branched into propaganda with seven references" to the fans, and also made reference to the late Dave Duerson as "being part of the initial lawsuit that helped bring the CBA into existence in 1993." But Marvez noted "skeptics will wonder whether Smith was being exploitative by invoking Duerson's name in a labor negotiation when answering a simple, unrelated question" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/5). In Pittsburgh, John Harris wrote, "The players aren't backing down. Instead, they've ramped up the pressure. It starts with leadership. Union chief DeMaurice Smith is doing what people believed couldn't be done." Smith's ability to convince QBs Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees to "be plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the league if the union decides to decertify was a stroke [of] genius." Harris: "It delivered a forceful message to owners that the union won't buckle" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/5).
Federal mediator George Cohen, who suggested the latest seven-day extension of talks between the NFL and the NFLPA, "might be the most important skill-position player in this game of high-stakes bargaining," according to Gary Mihoces of USA TODAY (3/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote under the header, "If There's An NFL Season, Cohen May Be Unlikely Hero." Freeman: "What Cohen has done is stunning. Even if the NFL's players and owners do end up annihilating each other, the fact he has gotten both sides to momentarily remove their fingers from the red buttons says a great deal about his abilities." One league official said, "He's building a small amount of trust piece by piece" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/6). In L.A., Sam Farmer noted throughout mediation, Cohen has "broken the parties into small groups, and occasionally brings them all together in one room." In those "large sessions, the topics and financial numbers are discussed in broader terms." Cohen and his staff are "exceedingly polite with the participants, constantly shuttle from room to room, and provide help whenever they can" (L.A. TIMES, 3/6). Those involved with the negotiations said that Cohen is "especially adept at making all parties feel equally heard," especially players who have "taken an active role" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). ESPN's Mark Schwarz said Cohen is the "unsung hero of this negotiation." Schwarz: "He has created what the sides are saying is real communication, real dialogue. Let's face it, there's a lot of testosterone in that room. He has dialed that down some and he's dialed the volume down. From what we're told, this thing came very, very close to blowing up late Thursday" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/7).
ALREADY HELPED SOLVE ONE LABOR CRISIS: SI.com's King notes last March, MLS and its players' union "spent a couple of weeks locked up" with Cohen during negotiations for a new CBA, and "both sides left the building swearing" by the federal mediator. Galaxy F Landon Donovan said, "The moment we -- me and some of the guys in the league who were a part of the negotiations last year -- saw George was going to be the mediator for the NFL, we all said basically the same thing: that we think the league and the players will get a deal done" (SI.com, 3/7). During the MLS negotiations, SportsBusiness Journal profiled Cohen, "one of the most respected labor lawyers in the country."
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig Saturday said that he was "satisfied with the first round of collective bargaining" for a new CBA that took place between MLB and MLBPA reps last week, according to Barry Bloom of MLB.com. The current CBA expires on Dec. 11, and Selig said that another bargaining session "would take place in Arizona" this week. Selig said baseball "has never been more popular," and there are "a lot of different reasons for that, but one of the primary reasons has to be labor peace." Selig: "What we all underestimated is how badly (all the acrimony) hurt us. Every two, three years that's all people were reading about." Meanwhile, Selig also "fielded questions about other areas." He said that "despite speculation to the contrary, contraction of franchises is not on the table for these contract negotiations." Selig: "Nobody ever talks to me about it. I find it interesting, because it hasn't been something I've talked about or we've talked about. It hasn't been on the table." Bloom noted last year's Giants-Rangers World Series earned "record-low ratings," and Selig said he hopes "postseason ratings this year are going to be better." Selig: "We're going to do a lot of things to try to deal with that. [We] have a lot of ideas, I've been kicking them around. I've been talking to Fox and Turner a lot" (MLB.com, 3/5). MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner said he does not think it is "likely that the owners are going to try to contract." Weiner: "All I would say is if that changes, if contraction becomes a goal of the owners in this negotiation, the tenor of the talks would change quickly and dramatically" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/6).
PLAYING FAVORITES: In L.A., Bill Shaikin writes Selig would like Mets Owner Fred Wilpon "to stay" and Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt "to go." Selig has "not put it quite so bluntly, of course." But last week he said he has "great affection and great respect" for Wilpon, and then said, "I'm not going to discuss the L.A. situation. Thank you for asking." Wilpon "asked Selig to loan him $25 million from the commissioner's discretionary fund, and Selig said yes," while McCourt "asked Selig to approve a loan of about $200 million from Fox -- with not a penny from the commissioner's fund -- and Selig said no." Shaikin: "His actions speak for him." Selig "bristled when asked how he would justify approving a loan to one financially strapped owner but not another." He said, "Every situation is radically different from the other. To compare one situation and say, 'Well, you did this but you didn't do that,' if all the facts are similar, that's a different story. But they're not similar" (L.A. TIMES, 3/6).