The MLBPA returned to the table with a written proposal
yesterday, "hoping to develop a foundation on which union and
management negotiators can begin serious bargaining" (Peter
Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/20). Small contingents from both
sides met for more than seven hours. The only member of the
owners' negotiating committee present was Phillies Exec VP Dave
Montgomery. Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris is expected to join the
talks today, while Red Sox CEO John Harrington is not due until
tonight or tomorrow. In New York, Jon Heyman calls the addition
of McMorris "potentially positive": "He at least has received
deal-making authority" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/20). McMorris is the
committee member MLBPA negotiators "seem to trust most. So it's
possible that keeping the group small actually could enhance the
chances of making a deal." Montgomery's presence is meaningful
"because he understands the nuances of the various tax plans
better than anyone else on the committee" (Jayson Stark,
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/20). Paul Molitor was disappointed
that more owners did not show: "You wonder if all they're doing
is posturing, preparing themselves for legal battles" (ATLANTA
CONSTITUTION, 12/20). THE PROPOSAL: Yesterday's discussion
focused on the revenue-sharing proposal from the players.
"Basically, the ideas are the same ones the players presented to
the owners 10 days ago, including a way of sharing ticket revenue
between the home and visiting clubs." But the "crux of the
problem continues to be the payroll tax" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA
CONSTITUTION, 12/20). Sources on both sides suggest that while
they did not "exactly narrow the gap at that session, they did
narrow their focus. And that focus seemed to be on a new,
double-edged tax plan that each side might be able to live with."
The plan features two taxes -- a minimal tax on payrolls that all
28 teams would pay, and a second tax that would penalize teams
for execceding a certain payroll limit. It is the "nature" and
size of the second tax that "apparently holds the key to
settlement." (Jayson Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/20).
ARBITRATION: There also was some discussion on free agency
and arbitration. The players are willing to give up arbitration
if free agency is moved from six to three years. The owners want
restricted 4-year free agency. Fehr: "If you want to get rid of
salary arbitration, you have to make everybody unrestricted free
agents all the way down" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION,
RAVITCH SPEAKS OUT: Richard Ravitch, outgoing chief labor
negotiator for the owners, was interviewed for Monday's N.Y.
NEWSDAY. On media coverage of the talks: "I can count on the
fingers of one hand the number of sportswriters who have ever
attempted to contact me to ask about what's going on. ... This
crisis has usually been covered in newspapers and on radio and
television as a sports story instead of a business story. ... It
would be a lot more appropriate for understanding if the issues
were analyzed in the business context they require." On other
sports' labor problems now: "The issues are the same:
Competition for the entertainment dollar within the pressing need
to split incremental revenues in the future more equitably" (N.Y.
Sources in the NHL and the NHLPA "expect a last flurry of
negotiations this week in an effort to avoid cancelling the
entire season. But as of yesterday, no date had been set for
resuming talks." The union holds a meeting of its 26 player reps
tonight in Toronto and will stage an open meeting of its
membership tomorrow. Meanwhile, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
held a conference call with five of the GMs on the negotiating
committee -- the Bruins' Harry Sinden, the Oilers' Glen Sather,
the Devils' Lou Lamoriello, the Flyers' Bob Clarke and Maple
Leafs' Cliff Fletcher. The call was an update on "concessions
the union made on salary arbitration in recent small-group
sessions in an effort to convince the league to remove its
proposed payroll tax plan from the table. Sources said Bettman
is canvassing governors from the 26 teams on that possibility"
(Jim Smith, N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/20). Sinden on the reported
concessions: "They didn't do enough to make us do anything at
the moment" (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/20).
TAX TALK: Union represenatives in the lower-level
negotiating sessions have reportedly told Fletcher and NHL
General Counsel Jeff Pash that the union "would not agree to any
deal that included a tax, no matter how benign" (Larry Brooks,
N.Y. POST, 12/20). But in Tampa, Roy Cummings reports of some
talk among union leaders of accepting a tax with a lower rate "in
exchange for maintaining status quo on arbitration." One source:
"The feeling is, the changes in arbitration would be worse for
the players as individuals. It would take away some of the
rights they have won previously. And if the league just wants a
tax just to say it has a tax, then they'd have it" (TAMPA
TRIBUNE, 12/20). In New York, Joe Lapointe writes, "Bettman has
used [the tax] as a bogey man to get what he wants through other
means. Best guess here is that they will eventually accept, at
most, a token tax, without sharp teeth, so that Bettman can save
face and set precedent" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/20).
ARBITRATION: The league is said to be pushing for a system
that prohibits players from filing for arbitration until after
six full seasons. The players are said to back five years or an
age restriction of 25 for players who enter the NHL after age 20
(Roy Cummings, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/20).
SOLIDARITY: The union's membership meeting comes on the
heels of statements by Stephane Richer, who called for a vote on
the owners' proposal, and Brian Leetch, who said the union would
accept a low tax. In addition, NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow faced
complaints from several Sabres and spoke with some veterans who
told him they want to "determine their own fate in a vote" (Dave
Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 12/20). But CP's Alan Adams writes, "The
players are solidly behind the NHLPA's negotiating committee and,
although there are cracks in the ranks, they are not as divisive
as the NHL would hope" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/20).
WHAT'S NEXT? Fletcher: "From the confident and positive
standpoint, it would be nice to say that we'll have hockey in a
couple of weeks, but on the negative standpoint there are people
out there who want to terminate the season" ("Sports Tonight,"
CNN, 12/19). Surprisingly, Sinden "said he didn't think there
would be any more full-scale sessions attended by the bargaining
teams from both sides" (Joe Gordon, BOSTON HERALD, 12/20).
Reports on Bettman's deadline for cutting off talks and canceling
the season range from three days after Christmas to New Year's
Eight months after "punting away an opportunity to move out"
of New York City, the NFL is again considering relocating its
offices in Westchester County, NY. NFL Dir of Communications
Greg Aiello confirmed that the league is considering moving its
offices when the NFL's current lease expires. In April, the
league opted to renew its Park Avenue office lease, originally
set to expire this year, but agreed to extend it only through
February 1997. At the time, league officials said they wanted to
remain close to New York's media and advertising communities.
Aiello said the NFL had no time-frame for deciding on the new
location for its offices and he declined to "disclose which sites
were under consideration" (Alex Philippidis, WESTCHESTER BUSINESS
JOURNAL, 12/19 issue).