SBJ/20101129/This Week's Issue

NFL’s Pash: ‘We are going to have a deal’

The NFL is willing to consider alternatives to the core economic proposal it made to the players’ union, but wants the pace of talks to quicken, the league’s top internal negotiator, Jeff Pash, said.

With less than 100 days remaining until the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement March 3, the NFL is publicly suggesting for the first time that it is not wed to its core demand of holding back 18 percent more in league revenue from the players in order to pay for costs like stadiums, NFL Network and team stores. The league made that proposal in December 2009, and while it has been mischaracterized as an 18 percent pay cut, it would have the effect of decreasing player pay until revenue accelerated.

The NFLPA said it did not have enough time to immediately respond to Pash’s comments.

The league remains firm, Pash said, that any proposal must address the balance between the risks and rewards of generating revenue. Pash responded to questions from SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Daniel Kaplan last Wednesday, and the NFL executive’s answers are excerpted below.

The NFLPA executive director last week was quoted in this magazine expressing gloominess about the state of the labor talks. What’s your attitude?

Characterizing on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis, as though you are doing a weather forecast or a weather report doesn’t accomplish anything.

Is that what you feel the union has been doing?

I don’t worry about that. It is of no consequence, because I know we are going to have a deal; I know we are going to have an agreement.




In identifying key owners in the
negotiations, Pash mentioned
Packers President Mark Murphy
(bottom) and Giants co-owner
John Mara (center) as having
attended “basically all of
meetings.” He also referred to
Panthers owner Jerry
Richardson, one of the chairmen
of the labor committee.

By March 3?

Well, there is no reason we can’t have a deal by March 3. … What we need is to have sustained engagement. We need to be meeting regularly, we need to leave meetings not worried about how we are going to characterize meetings, whether we are gloomy, whether we’re upbeat, whether we are excited, whether we are exhausted. We need to get past that. … But it has got to be a shared commitment. One side cannot do it alone.

You seem to be saying it’s their fault there have not been enough meetings.

I am not, I am not blaming people. I am saying you asked the question “Do I have any reason to think we can have an agreement by March 3?” and I am saying there is no reason we can’t have an agreement by March 3.

Do you have a meeting scheduled?

We just finished two days of meetings. And so we don’t have specific dates on the calendar, but we will probably meet with them next week and hopefully continue meeting with them.

Was there any progress made this week?

Again, again, I am not going to characterize the discussions, whether there was progress.

The union has asked for the audited financial books of NFL teams, which the league rejects. Has the union made this an issue in the negotiations?

Not really with us. … We have said all along we are prepared to make disclosures that document and justify what our bargaining proposals are. I think you don’t have to look any further than the basketball negotiations, where they did produce, as I understand it, all of their financial statements, that document losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the union’s response was quote, it’s baloney, close quote.

This is not something that the NFLPA brings up in negotiations?

We are not hearing, “If you don’t do this, we will not sign an agreement.”

Your core proposal remains the 18 percent cost credit?

Our proposal that we made was an 18 percent cost credit. Now what we have said to the union is that we are prepared to look at alternatives that would address the issues our owners have raised and the issues they have identified to us as being important in a new agreement. If the union has an alternative that it would like to propose we will look at it, we would analyze it. We are not so wed to a single approach or to a single proposal we would say we are not prepared to consider anything else. The question to us is … how does it address what is the central issue, which is having a relationship between financial risk and rewards that will encourage growth.

A cost credit does not necessarily always mean revenues rise. Can you guarantee that if the union accedes to a credit?

Probably the most obvious area for cost credits we have talked about is stadium construction. If the stadiums don’t get built you are not giving us any credit. On the other hand once the stadiums are built they are significant drivers of revenues. … We are not asking them to buy a pig in a poke here.

Can an 18-game season solve the issues by creating more revenue?

The deal realistically is an easier one to make in the context of 18 games.  

There was a story in the WSJ last month that quoted league officials saying the NFL would lose $1 billion by next season if a deal is not done, and so the union needed to get a good deal done now. Is that fair to the union, because it was the owners who opted out of the CBA a year early?

Well, first of all I don’t think anyone is putting any onus on the union. It is our loss too. If there are revenue losses, we are going to experience them too.

Was the $1 billion figure a loose estimate, a hard figure?

I would say it was not a loose estimate and not a hard figure, but it represented a realistic and documentable estimate of what would be lost if we didn’t start until sometime in September.

Who are the key owners at the negotiating table?

[New York Giants co-owner] John Mara and [Green Bay Packers President] Mark Murphy have attended — I would say — basically all the meetings, and they are both members of our [labor committee]. Jerry Richardson, as one of our two chairmen of the committee, has attended some meetings.

One often hears the real issue is revenue sharing among the teams.  How do you respond?

First of all, we have more revenue sharing in our league than any other league. Eighty percent of our revenue. … I frankly think that it is a misconception that the issue is between the high- and low-revenue teams. In the 30 years I have been associated with the National Football League, I have never seen our owners more unified.

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