SBD/June 1, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 82: League Ahead Of '10 Pace For Season-Ticket Sales

The NFL is "ahead of the pace on season-ticket sales compared with this point last year, a counter-intuitive trend given the uncertainty of the league’s 2011 season with a lockout that has now stretched into its 12th week," according to Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The gains were "ascribed in part to the earlier sales start many teams used this year in anticipation of a potential lockout, which began March 12." The selling season "traditionally begins in mid- to late March." Specific sales numbers and "details on the gains compared with last year could not be determined" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/30 issue). Meanwhile, Kaplan reports the NFL "may allow teams to artificially reduce their seating capacities in order to ease compliance with the league’s blackout policy, which requires a sellout 72 hours in advance in order for a game to be broadcast in the home team’s market." Owners discussed the potential change last week during their spring meeting in Indianapolis, and it "could be brought up for a vote as early as a league meeting in Chicago on June 21." Referring to the number of seats that must be sold to trigger a sellout, Giants President & CEO John Mara said, "We talked about reducing manifests for blackout purposes" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/30 issue).

ROOKIE ORIENTATION: In Boston, Karen Guregian reports the NFLPA has decided to "run its own version of the annual rookie symposium" after the league canceled the event because of the lockout. All 254 drafted rookies will be invited to the event, "The Business of Football, Rookie Edition," June 28-29 in DC. Attendance "will not be mandatory, but the NFLPA will pick up the cost of travel and lodging." Patriots draftee Shane Vereen said, "It’s definitely something I would be interested in. I really think it will help, especially if they’re going to have past and present NFL players there" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/1). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote it "won't hurt" NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith to "curry a little good favor with many of his constituents." If the NFL lockout "drags on, more than a few people are going to be angling to oust Smith" (BOSTON.com, 5/31). Meanwhile, an NFL official yesterday said that the "supplemental draft will be held sometime in July -- if there are applicants." The league official said, "So far, there have been no applicants." The official added that "no deadline for applying for the draft has been set" (ESPN.com, 5/31).

MORE COACHES SIDE WITH OWNERS: In New Orleans, Mike Triplett reported the Saints coaches "voiced their support for the team's ownership during the NFL labor battle on Friday, stressing that no members of the staff are part of the NFL Coaches Association," which last week filed an amicus brief in support of the NFLPA. Saints LB coach Joe Vitt said he and his fellow coaches were "appalled by the NFLCA's decision." He added, "It was awful presumptuous on their part that they would represent all the coaches on our staff. We're supporting the owners. I've said this a million times, our organization has been built on trust. (Owner Tom) Benson has been great to us. Unequivocally, we support our ownership" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/28).

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: In N.Y., Judy Battista notes on Friday, the "most pivotal hearing of the lockout that has shuttered the league since March 12 will take place in St. Louis," where the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals "will hear arguments on the NFL's request to reverse the injunction that would stop the lockout." The hearing "has loomed so large in the fight for leverage that court-ordered mediated negotiations have gone nowhere since they began in April, as both sides waited for the balance of power to be settled." The outcome, "expected by early July, will strongly influence when, and under what conditions, the NFL will play this season." An NFL brief states the league will ask the judges to reverse the injunction, and also to issue a broad ruling that makes clear "that the solution to this dispute over terms and conditions of employment lies with the labor laws and not in the antitrust courts." Battista notes that decision would most likely lay the groundwork for the league to seek the dismissal of the case" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/1). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes, "This thing is probably over after the next ruling. ... As much as the players deserve to win this squabble the owners started, I can't see the players doing anything but eventually giving in if the lockout is upheld. Unfortunately, not enough of them are financially prepared to miss more than a paycheck or two" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 6/1).

AN IMPERFECT UNION? Smith insists that he has "embraced decertification as an enduring state of existence." He revealed that he "envisions navigating the NFLPA through a union-free future, even after a possible settlement of the Brady et al antitrust lawsuit and a new contractual agreement between players and owners." Smith said, "When I went into this, my attitude was that the only way you have power is collectively, and I believed in unions as vehicles for employees asserting their rights. But looking back on what Gene [Upshaw] experienced and understanding this particular situation, I’ve now come to appreciate the value of decertification in our particular circumstance. And I don’t see why we’d want to go back to being a union." YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver noted "absent a union, players would be free to assert their legal rights under the Sherman Antitrust Act, and accepted institutions such as the NFL draft and rules governing free agency would be vulnerable to courtroom challenges" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/27). In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote it is "completely logical to believe there will be some kind of player revolt in August if the lockout is still in place, if there's still no sign of an imminent agreement and it becomes apparent that regular-season game checks will be missed." One former NFLer said, "I still think De and his staff and the player reps have done enough in communicating why the players are in this position that they are in. They may have to do more as the time approaches" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/29).
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