SBD/March 8, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: Talks Stall As Owners Refuse To Open Books

Goodell, Batterman and Mara led the NFL's contingent at Monday's negotiating session
The NFL and NFLPA are $750M apart on the key, core economic issue of the split of revenue, according to sources, and attention now focuses on ownership sharing more financial details. The NFL had been asking that the players’ share of revenues be reduced by 18%, which worked out to about $1B. That gap has been narrowed by $250M, but players want owners to provide financial proof of the need for concessions. "The players really think that the NFL opening their financials has become the key to getting a deal done,” according to a source, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the talks. If there is no new CBA before the 5:00pm ET deadline Friday, it is expected the NFLPA will decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit against the league. The NFLPA would be forced to do this because the NFL CBA has language in it that would prevent the union from suing the league for six months if it waits to decertify until after the NFL CBA expires. The NFL is expected to file an antitrust lawsuit in Federal Judge David Doty's courtroom if there is no deal reached (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). Doty's role in the negotiations was chronicled by SportsBusiness Journal in November '09. 

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS: In N.Y., Judy Battista notes NFL players "have long maintained that they wanted detailed proof of why owners were seeking an additional $1 billion off the top of the revenue pool, above the $1 billion they already receive, and players’ demand for owners to open their books became a cornerstone of their negotiating strategy." The owners have "moved off the $1 billion demand, but the sides remain far apart on how they would divide annual revenue." In addition to splitting revenue, the two sides "must hammer out a new rookie compensation model." One source indicated that "if both sides are willing to compromise on money for the rookie pool and the salary cap, there are no other major obstacles in the way of a new deal." Getting those "concessions from both sides, though, is likely to be slow and painstaking work" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). In DC, Mark Maske cites sources as saying that yesterday's mediation began with the NFL and union "close to $800 million apart on the central economic issue of how to divide the sport's annual revenue." Sources contend that "if there is to be a settlement this week, it probably would have to involve a tradeoff between the two sides on the revenue split under a salary cap system" and whether Doty "would continue to oversee the sport's labor deal." The sources added that a settlement, "if it is to be completed by the new bargaining deadline Friday, also would be likely to include an 18-game regular season that would be accompanied by reductions in offseason workouts and perhaps other concessions to the players, and a version of a rookie wage scale less restrictive than the NFL originally sought." They cautioned that "all the elements of a potential deal still could change as negotiations progress this week" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/8).

UPDATE FROM TUESDAY'S MEETING: Today's mediation session began with Giants President & CEO John Mara and Redskins GM Bruce Allen joining NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners' delegation. The NFLPA's group includes Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, President Kevin Mawae and several "current or former players." NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler "is not at the mediator's office Tuesday morning" after also missing yesterday's session (ESPN.com, 3/8). NFL Network's Albert Breer this morning on Twitter reported, "Per a league source, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt is planning on arriving late afternoon today. John Mara is the only owner in the room now" (TWITTER.com, 3/8). On Long Island, Bob Glauber reports Kessler was a "notable absence" yesterday, but Kessler indicated that he "had previous commitments with other clients" (NEWSDAY, 3/8). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports the "tenor of yesterday's talks ... was described as good in part because" Kessler was absent (N.Y. POST, 3/8). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Gary Myers notes Mara was the "only owner" at yesterday's meeting, described as a "tough, candid session." Mara has "developed into one of the key figures in this drama" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/8). ESPN's Mark Schwarz: "The players know that the owners are serious. Mara is well-respected by both sides" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/7). Monday's meeting lasted about four hours and both sides "appeared serious after the session, one of the shortest since this round of negotiations began Feb. 28" (USA TODAY, 3/8).

KRAFT STILL OPTIMISTIC: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft yesterday said the owners are “doing everything we can to try to get a deal consummated, and I personally believe it's possible." Speaking from Israel, where he is on a trade mission, Kraft said, “It's always good to be talking ... and I know from the ownership side that we feel there's a deal to be made and we very much like to do it." He noted he would leave Israel early if Goodell told "me he'd appreciate my presence" at the negotiating table (CSNNE.com, 3/7). Meanwhle, Comcast SportsNet's Kelli Johnson reported more owners "are expected to be here this week." Johnson: "If the owners show up and really get involved, that will say a lot for the players union, who from what I've heard from sources inside their camp were unhappy with last week's representation by the owners" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 3/7).

IMPACT ON PLAYERS: USA TODAY's Graves notes the NFLPA is "helping its members prepare financially for the possible loss of salaries" due to a work stoppage. The union has "issued a 64-page lockout handbook that offers money-saving tips that almost all recession-strapped Americans can relate to." In addition, a "mortgage assistance program is available, providing interest-free-payment loans for up to six months or mortgage payments for the same period if a work stoppage exceeds 30 days" (USA TODAY, 3/8). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote it is a "lot easier for the public to empathize with the players because they’re not asking for another $1 billion off the top of a $9.3 billion pie, or summoning for a private jet at the snap of a finger." Frenette: "Be honest, who’s rooting for NFL owners in their dispute with the league’s Players Association? ... Few things are tougher to stomach than arrogance, and that’s just how the owners acted when they tried to sock away a $4 billion slush fund from guaranteed television contracts as lockout insurance" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 3/7).
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