SBD/June 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 103: Negotiations Resume Following Owners' Meeting

NFL owners and players are scheduled today to meet for the fourth round of intense negotiations this month, following yesterday’s five-and-a-half hour owners meeting outside Chicago. While there was the expectation owner divisions might be exposed at yesterday’s meeting, such a development did not appear to be the case. And while there were reports yesterday of very specific revenue splits and deal terms being discussed, sources said what was presented to owners yesterday was more conceptual. “We don’t have an agreement,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We have I think a very strong view of the priorities, a very strong view of what we need to accomplish in the negotiations and a determination to get there and the ownership is unified on that basis.” Responding to a question about unifying the owners, he replied, “There wasn’t a gap in the first place.” However, those hoping for a quick return to the field might have had those hopes tempered here. Speaking after the commissioner, NFL Exec VP/Labor & General Counsel Jeff Pash said, “We would have to make sure the documents were fully drafted and approved and both parties would have to ratify the agreement. There is some litigation that would have to be dealt with and we would have to be before the various courts. If large sums of money are changing hands and players are signing multi-year agreements, you would want this confirmed not just in a general way.” A fair share of the meeting was spent discussing how, if a deal is struck, the league would come out of the now 103-day lockout, evidenced by football operations execs like Browns President Mike Holmgren and Chiefs GM Scott Pioli who attended (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: ESPN's Chris Mortensen cited sources as saying that among the details Goodell revealed to owners yesterday "is that in the next proposed agreement players will receive a 48 percent share of 'all revenue,' without the $1-billion-plus credit off the top that had been a point of contention in earlier negotiations." The sources said that under a new formula "being negotiated, players will receive 48 percent of all revenue and will never dip below a 46.5 percent take of the money." In the previous CBA, the players "received approximately 60 percent of 'total revenue' but that did not include $1 billion that was designated as an expense credit off the top of the $9 billion revenue model." Owners "initially were seeking another $1 billion in credit only to reduce that amount substantially before exercising the lockout on March 13." Sources added that owners "still will get some expense credits that will allow funding for new stadium construction," and that players "are willing to commit to at least a 10-year labor agreement if the sides can agree on terms." Mortensen reported a rookie wage scale "will be part of the new deal but is still being 'tweaked,' and the much-discussed 18-game regular season will be designated only as a negotiable item with the players and at no point is mandated in a potential agreement." A "full 16-game Thursday night TV package could be the source of new revenue," though Goodell said that "no discussions were held Tuesday on a potential full-season Thursday night TV package." A source said that current TV deals "make 2014 the target year for an extended Thursday package, not 2012" (ESPN.com, 6/21).

CONCESSIONS TOWARD A DEAL: ESPN.com's John Clayton reported owners are "willing to give players a major improvement in minimum team payrolls." Under the old CBA a team's "payroll minimum was 86 percent of the salary cap, but that was off just the cap number and teams could build in phony incentives to make up the difference." But a source said that owners in order to get a deal "now are willing to guarantee close to 100 percent of the salary cap as the minimum amount of payroll on a team's books." That means a team "would have to have a minimum cash payroll of close to $120 million if the cap were at $120 million" (ESPN.com, 6/21). The AP's Barry Wilner noted players "have been concerned that some teams whose revenue streams don't match up with the richer clubs would try to hold down salary spending" (AP, 6/21). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar noted the new Thursday schedule, "which would put 16 mid-week games in-season, would start in 2012 and would be a new source of revenue." The games "may be a way for the owners and [players] to bridge the gap between the profits the league anticipated from an 18-game season, and the fact that the players appear to see 18 games as a non-negotiable deal-breaker" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/21).

OWNERS LARGELY ON THE SAME PAGE
: In DC, Mark Maske notes owner opposition yesterday to the "plan hammered out in closed-door deliberations over the past few weeks apparently was modest and confined to certain aspects of the complex deal." Sources said that it appeared that "only a handful of owners had serious objections to the broad terms of the deal." Some owners "apparently want the agreement to provide protection for the teams in case of an economic downturn," while some "appear to believe that the league should take advantage of recent courtroom victories to negotiate a more favorable pact." But other owners are "pressing for a deal on the terms currently under negotiation." Goodell said, "We've got a lot of work to do and we've got to do it right." Meanwhile, Maske cites a source as saying that the players "likely would accept slightly less than half" of revenues "in the future because overall revenue is expected to rise sharply and total compensation would increase rapidly, even if players accepted a smaller percentage of the gross revenue" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/22).

MOVING AT A FAST PACE: NFL.com's Albert Breer noted owners "had the opportunity to voice concerns and debate issues" at the meeting yesterday, and "so the speed at which things moved along was considered a good sign." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "It's good that things seem to be moving. But there's a lot of hard work left to be done." The meeting was "designated as a 'two-per-club' meeting," and "because such a small number of clubs have been involved in the 'secret' meetings the last few weeks, it was important for football people to stay updated on the process to preserve competitive balance." Breer also noted the plan for "how the league year would begin following a labor resolution is on the table, and football people need to be involved in that" (NFL.com, 6/21). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge reported owners and GMs "swore there were no rancorous discussions or divisions among clubs and that Goodell did not have to serve as a peacemaker." A source: "It wasn't like there was a rumble that was expected in there. But I didn't come here expecting that. It was more to bring us up to speed on what's going on" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/21).

Goodell cautions that there is still a ways
to go to reaching new CBA
BUILDING OPTIMISM
: On Long Island, Roderick Boone reports the mood at yesterday's meeting was "described as positive, leading to the ever-growing speculation that a deal could be reached between the owners and players some time within the next few weeks." But Goodell "cautioned there's still a ways to go" (NEWSDAY, 6/22). Goodell warned about "overly optimistic predictions of a quick resolution," but he said that it was a "'tremendous positive' that principals from both sides are talking" (L.A. TIMES, 6/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote the "wide grin" on Giants President & CEO John Mara's face yesterday was a "pretty good tell about the state of the talks." Cole: "In recent months, Mara's face has been etched with a dour look" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/21). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy "didn't look unhappy after leaving" the meeting, which "counted for something." Murphy: "I'll be a lot happier when we get it done" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 6/22). Bears President & CEO Ted Phillips added, "It was a good update. We're hopefully getting back to playing football soon" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 6/22).

NOT ENOUGH OPPOSITION: THE SPORTS XCHANGE's Len Pasquarelli reported there are "some owners, including at least two from AFC franchises, who are not in favor of some of the presumptive tenets of an agreement framework." After yesterday's meeting, three owners said that the opposed owners "have not dramatically shifted their opinions." However, Pasquarelli noted it "does not appear there is sufficient opposition to derail the process or to block approval of a CBA if current momentum leads to an agreement." Several owners "seemed to be operating under the assumption that an accord could come in the next 2-3 weeks" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/21). SI.com's Don Banks reported he "talked to no one within the NFL at Tuesday's owners meeting who counts nine no votes poised to quash a possible deal." There was "some dissent and concerns being voiced in the NFL's nearly six-hour session," but league sources said that it was "not significant enough numerically to pose real trouble should a vote occur." However, league sources said that there were "very few specifics relayed to league owners about the framework of what a final deal might look like, and minus those details, there was no reason to either start counting votes in the room or engage in spirited debate about the pros and cons of such a proposal" (SI.com, 6/21). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes the meeting was "expected to be a huge test of Goodell's leadership because several small-market clubs had balked at the latest league proposal." But if there were "any significant internal opposition ... it was nowhere to be found in the hallways of the meeting site." Hubbuch writes the "onus now is on" NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "to sell the owners' proposal to his side" (N.Y. POST, 6/22).

GETTING ANTSY: YAHOO SPORTS' Cole wrote the league year could start "sometime or or just before July 15." An owners source said, "That kind of timeline is altogether possible" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/21). Colts Owner Jim Irsay: "There's a sense of urgency to continue to get something done. That's my hope, but these things are tough and fragile, and that's why you've got to keep working at it" (USA TODAY, 6/22). Goodell: "Is there a 'drop dead date?' There isn't. But obviously time is moving quickly, and I think there is an urgency to get this done. I hear from fans all the time, and the anxiety level is very high. ... We know how important football is to them, and we hope to deliver" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 6/22). He added, "It's not what everybody wants; it's what everybody needs to reach an agreement that's fair and balanced and is going to work to make our game better and to continue to grow our game." In N.Y., Judy Battista notes league officials indicated that they "hoped to increase the frequency of negotiations with players." In recent weeks, the sides "have met for about two days each week" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/22).

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The NBA is currently trying to negotiate a new CBA before it expires on June 30, and SportsNet N.Y.’s "The Wheel House" yesterday debated whether Goodell or NBA Commissioner David Stern is hurting their respective sport more with each sport’s labor troubles. SNY's Eamon McAnaney said, "I got to go with Roger Goodell on this one because he's just losing all the good PR that the NFL gained over the last few years. ... Roger Goodell does not have the clout in that league that David Stern does in the NBA. I don't think there's any question that what David Stern wants or what David Stern says goes in the NBA, whereas Roger Goodell is coming off right now as a mouthpiece for the owners.” But the N.Y. Daily News' John Harper said, “What Goodell has going for him is, the NFL is the NFL. No matter what happens, even if they miss half a season, people are going to come back to the ... games. I don't think you can say that with the NBA. That’s why I think Stern really can hurt this league even more” (“The Wheel House,” SNY, 6/21).
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