SBD/May 23, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 73: MLBPA, NBPA, NHLPA File Briefs In Support Of Antitrust Suit

The three major sports unions filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of the 10 players suing the NFL, contending that if the league lockout were allowed to stay, it would imperil labor relations in all sports. The NHLPA, NBPA and MLBPA filed the 40-page brief Friday. “The resolution of these issues may affect employer-employee relations not only in the National Football League, but also in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA,” the unions wrote. The amici filing Friday was quickly followed by the players' own brief, a 125-page document seeking to persuade the two judges who had voted last week to stay a lower court's injunction of the lockout, strongly suggesting they believed the NFL’s case that the dispute was still largely a labor one, and not an antitrust case. If that is true, not only would the lockout remain in place, but also the player’s antitrust case might be dismissed. Calling the NFL a cartel, the players contended, “The NFL’s view of labor policy is premised on its belief that the right of the majority of a workforce to change or remove a union is unavailable once the union engages in collective bargaining.” When the NFLPA decertified on March 11, the players contended that removed the antitrust exemption for the league. The league argues the exemption lasts a certain period past the end of the collective bargaining process. Without the exemption, the lockout would almost certainly be an antitrust violation. The NFL’s reply to the players is due Thursday, and oral arguments are set for next Friday before the three judge panel (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In Friday's filing, the players reiterated that the "decision to dissolve their union was their lawful right, and the absence of a collective bargaining agreement shouldn't stop the NFL's ability to 'conduct professional football'" (AP, 5/20).

CLOCK IS TICKING: USA TODAY's Nate Davis notes while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that there is "no timetable under which games would be lost, barring resumption of talks between the owners and players toward a collective bargaining agreement, the window is growing perilously small." Teams playing in the annual HOF Game "typically report to camp roughly two weeks beforehand, around July 24 this year." In addition, the "shrinking offseason could become a concern for players -- especially those trying to rehabilitate from injuries to be physically prepared to avoid future ailments amid the rigors of the season" (USA TODAY, 5/23). SI.com's Peter King writes he does not expect U.S. District Court Judge David Doty's ruling on damages in the TV rights case "to sway the case enough to force the two sides to negotiate." King: "I don't expect anything to happen until the three-judge appeals panel rules whether the NFL can continue to lock out the players, and by all accounts, that decision won't come until late June, at the earliest" (SI.com, 5/23). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "There seems to be an increasing amount of gloom and I think it's a real chance that we could wind up missing the start of the season" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 5/20). In Nashville, Joe Biddle wrote both owners and players are "guilty of allowing this work stoppage to happen, and neither will admit it." Biddle: "When I watch television clips of both parties walking into mediation sessions, I lose faith that anything will be settled until late summer at best. ... If you think these guys are itching to go above and beyond the call of duty to settle this labor issue, guess again" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/21).

PUSHING FORWARD: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Kaplan cites sources as saying that the NFL is "planning an expansive marketing and promotional initiative for its 2011 kickoff game and opening weekend contests that fall on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11." The league is "scheduled to brief owners on the plans" tomorrow at the spring meetings in Indianapolis. Sources declined to "divulge details of the rollout other than that the effort would be sizable and involve a variety of communication mediums." Owners this week also "will get a briefing from the league office on how teams are handling customer relations during the lockout." The NFL's club services group is "set to present on the practices clubs are employing to assuage ticket holders, fans, sponsors and other over the work stoppage" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/23 issue). Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Tony Grossi reports the lockout "will not affect" the Pro Football HOF enshrinement ceremonies this year. The Class of '11 induction "will take place on the night of Aug. 6 inside Fawcett Stadium no matter what federal judges say" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/23).
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