SBJ/October 3 - 9, 2005/Other News

Two issues and little progress for NFL

The NFL and its players appear to be as far apart as ever on a new labor pact, contrary to recent positive comments from union chief Gene Upshaw.

As league owners meet this week in Detroit to receive a status update on talks centering on the collective-bargaining agreement, they will likely hear that the two sides are not even close on how much of league revenues should be committed to player salaries.

A meeting last Thursday between the two sides ended quickly and achieved nothing, a source said.

Meanwhile, sources say that several teams are very upset that the league has apparently temporarily sidetracked the discussions over how the clubs split their own revenues, in favor of the CBA talks. These clubs fear that the concerns of mid-market and small-revenue clubs are being shoved aside, as evidenced by two top-revenue teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, being placed in charge of the labor talks.

“De-linking revenue sharing and the CBA, at the end of the day, you can’t de-link them, you can’t stagger negotiations,” one team executive said. That’s because, according to the team executives, these clubs want to be assured they will get additional revenue-sharing money if their labor costs rise as part of a new CBA.

A league spokesman said that the two issues continue to be discussed simultaneously. Many club executives dispute that position, arguing that debate since March over widening revenue disparity within the league has been leapfrogged by the CBA talks.

Harold Henderson, the league’s top labor negotiator, mused, “We were doing revenue sharing and didn’t make a lot of progress, and maybe we go back to CBA.”

Team owners and executives declined to discuss the issue publicly, if at all, because NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue recently sent them a memo threatening a $500,000 fine for discussing the topic with the media.

For example, Ralph Wilson, the sometimes outspoken owner of the Buffalo Bills, politely returned a reporter’s call but, chuckling, said that given his team’s poor play, he couldn’t afford to pay half a million dollars.

A league spokesman said the memo reinforced existing policy and the fine applied only to “prejudicial” comments, not to all public discussion.

If the league is to reach a new labor deal, it must bridge a wide gap in expectations. The union wants 65 percent of all football revenues (which are $5.5 billion), and the league is offering 57 percent.

Asked if the league could meet the union halfway, Henderson said that even that would not be economically feasible. He criticized the union for not giving the league credit earlier this year for agreeing to share all league revenues with the players, instead of the 90 percent that is now open to pooling.

“That is a big concession,” Henderson said.

And Roger Goodell, the league’s chief operating officer, asked about Upshaw’s positive comments last month after a CBA meeting with the league, said, “Gene was positive, then he was negative, then he was positive. He was just sending a message. That is part of negotiations.”

From the union’s side, it has been waiting for some time for a new offer from the league.

“We keep getting indications that a significant offer is forthcoming, but it never quite comes forth,” said union adviser Jeffrey Kessler. “In terms of where the parties are currently, we remain very far apart. But we are hoping it will change.”

The current CBA, renewed four times since its 1993 inception, does not expire until after the 2007-08 season. However, that final season does not include a salary cap, and free agency is restricted.

As a result, both sides have incentive to get a deal done, with this season and next being the last ones before an uncapped year.

Owners at their meeting this week also are scheduled to vote on whether Houston, Atlanta or Miami will host the 2010 Super Bowl, and whether to extend NFL Europe.

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