SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

The takeaway on NFL talks: No progress, not sure why

A key NFL owner last week called the lack of movement toward resolving differences with the players union “baffling,” continuing the escalation of the war of words between the two sides. The collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association expires after March 3, less than six weeks from now.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson
“It is baffling we are not making more progress,” said Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, co-chairman of the owners’ labor committee, upon leaving last Tuesday’s meeting of NFL owners. “The fact is we are just not making more progress.”
Asked why, he declined to pin blame on either side.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, who also was questioned as to why no progress had been made, responded, “I wish I knew.”

Those were the on-the-record comments last week after the short, six-hour meeting to discuss the CBA. Anonymously, league sources painted the union as not being serious about reaching an agreement, often in unfavorable terms. That portrait is shredded by the NFLPA, which has said it is the owners who are seeking to lock out the players. On the same day the owners were meeting, the NFLPA launched an online publicity effort with the Twitter tag #LetUsPlay, part of the two sides’ increasing dispute in the social media space.

The NFLPA did not respond for comment for this story but has said before it is willing to meet and continues to ask that the NFL not lock out the players. Last week, after the owners meeting, Goodell met one-on-one with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

Indeed, at the owners meeting, there was talk that the two sides were ready to meet face to face either late last week or early this week. That came as much of the recent public rhetoric had devolved into who didn’t want to meet and which side really wants to shut the game down.

Goodell, asked why no more progress had been made, said, “I wish I knew.”
On a conference call with reporters earlier this month, union representatives said they wanted to meet but the NFL turned them down, resulting in no in-person meetings since around Thanksgiving. Jeff Pash, the league’s lead negotiator, responded after the owners had concluded their meeting that he knew of no dates offered by the union, and he quipped that he was like a high school kid: “I am always ready for a date,” he said.

Clearly, though, the league is ready to pursue a lockout of the players if the CBA expires, or the imposition of work rules drawing from what was proposed under the last league offer. The mood at this gathering of owners was grim, with multiple sources saying that while they thought a deal could get done based on the league’s relative health, they did not believe the union wanted to solve the differences at the negotiating table. The union has filed complaints that the league undersold its TV deals in order to ensure payments during a work stoppage and, more recently, that owners colluded to not sign restricted free agents before the 2010 season.

Owners were thus briefed last week on a post-March 3 strategy. At that point, sources said, the league while still negotiating would begin its campaign to refute an antitrust challenge to the NFL, if the union decertifies, by documenting what it hopes will prove the union has not bargained in good faith and an impasse had been reached. It’s possible then the league would impose work rules, and the legal battle could stretch into years.

But for now, there is still a chance to hash out a deal. The owners want what amounts to, based on where league revenue now stands, a $1.44 billion credit to offset the cost of new stadiums and other capital intensive projects. Presuming a 59 percent salary cap, that would result in a more than $850 million decrease in the amount of money going to the players.

The union did make a counterproposal in late November, and the NFL responded to that, said Mark Murphy, the Green Bay Packers president and a key member of the owners’ labor committee. One source said nothing had been communicated between the sides in recent weeks.

For his part, Richardson clarified something he said earlier this month, which was reported as him contending NFL teams had operating losses. Instead, he said his comments were that the NFL has suffered operating losses on the revenue generated since 2006, when the CBA was last renewed, not on overall revenue.

The league has made the post-2006 claim for several years now. The distinction is key. If Richardson contended that NFL teams suffered operating losses, the union could then argue the NFL’s position is one of financial distress, which would trigger federal labor laws requiring the league to disclose its financials. But Richardson said he did not make that claim, only that the revenue generated since 2006 has not exceeded the expenses incurred since 2006. Taking overall revenue, NFL teams would then continue to report profits.

The union has pushed aggressively for the league to open its books, contending the NFL must prove its margins are shrinking before the union will consider concessions.

• GANG GREEN: Whether the New York Jets won or lost Sunday in the AFC championship game, it is worth noting how the Jets made a little money on the playoffs, something NFL teams usually do not do. Unlike the other three major leagues, deep runs into the playoffs can mean losses for NFL teams because of the travel costs involved and the fashion in which the NFL shares playoff revenue. So the Jets chartered a plane from team sponsor JetBlue and sold packages for $800 to 150 people. Players’ families had first dibs. The packages included airfare, hotel and game tickets.

Matt Higgins, Jets executive vice president of business operations, said the club could have charged more but wanted to keep the price down for team personnel and their families. Combined with Pepsi Max’s sponsorship of the team’s Twitter feed during the playoffs, the club has generated at least six figures off just these two endeavors.

49ers owner Jed York said his team will handle stadium naming-rights sales.
NINERS LOOK INSIDE: To all those big marketing agencies out there, cross the San Francisco 49ers off your call list. Team owner Jed York said the 49ers would not retain an outside agency to sell naming rights to the club’s planned stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Instead, the sales effort will be handled in-house, he said.

NAMES AND NOTES: The NFL promoted Jeff Miller to senior vice president of government affairs. He had been vice president. … Nice gesture by New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft, congratulating Jets owner Woody Johnson after the meeting for the Jets’ playoff victory over the Pats two days previously. … There’s been some recent buzz that there might not be an NFL annual meeting if a lockout occurs. General managers and coaches come to that meeting, which would not seem necessary in the case of a lockout. Pash, however, said the New Orleans meeting is still on for March 20-23 … Goodell said negotiations were ongoing with ESPN over renewing “Monday Night Football.” The two sides remain in an exclusive negotiating period, but he said there was nothing to announce. SportsBusiness Journal has reported the two sides have been talking about a renewal for nearly $2 billion annually, a huge jump over the current $1.1 billion annual fee (SportsBusiness Journal, Jan. 10-16, 2011, issue).

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