The NFLPA yesterday canceled a meeting it had scheduled with a group of player agents at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis due to the ongoing NFL CBA mediation, raising some hope in the industry that the league and union could work out a deal. The NFLPA has routinely held a small group meeting for powerful agents on the Thursday during Combine week in Indianapolis before the larger agent meeting Friday, which most of the about 800 NFLPA-certified agents attend. However, one powerful NFL player agent said of the cancellation, "It doesn't mean anything." The NFL and the NFLPA, at the request of federal mediator George Cohen, have kept a tight lid on the mediation and have committed to seven days. Thursday would mark the seventh day of talks under the auspices of Cohen, the Director of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service. "If they are continuing to meet with George Cohen, that is a good sign," said Ian Pulver, former NHLPA associate counsel and current NHL player agent. "George Cohen is a folksy mediator, a very smart guy, who knows (NFL outside counsel) Bob Batterman; he knows (NFL Exec VP & General Counsel) Jeff Pash; he knows (NFLPA General Counsel) Richard Berthelsen. He knows the landscape of labor and management. If George Cohen can't bring the sides together, maybe no one can" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). In N.Y., Judy Battista writes the cancellation of the agents meeting "may be the first widespread indication about the direction of talks in the last week and whether there is hope for a new deal to be reached before" the CBA expires March 4 (N.Y. TIMES, 2/23).
OWNERS ABSENT FROM MEETINGS: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman cited a source as saying that "no owner has been present in the room during the five days of negotiations" to date. Freeman: "In a way, it's a smart strategy. It keeps things from getting heated since owners tend to lose their minds in these types of negotiations. ... But it is extremely odd. In my 20 years of covering the sport and more than a few labor issues, when the union and league met in the past to resolve labor differences, owners were always present." A source reiterated that "progress has been made, albeit a small amount" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/22). SI.com's Peter King wrote "one of the most important things in negotiating a deal between contentious parties is the ability to talk frankly, without fear of words being twisted and taken out of context." Jets S and alternate player rep Jim Leonhard: "Everyone was starting to get frustrated with the banter going back and forth. ... It's better to let the negotiating process work its course" (SI.com, 2/22).
The NFL yesterday agreed to unseal parts of some documents in the closely watched media fees case brought by the NFLPA, but not as much as the union has requested. The NFLPA is appealing a special master’s decision allowing the league to use media fees due for the ‘11 season in the event of a lockout, which could come as early as next week if the two sides do not reach a deal. All documents thus far in the case have been under seal, including the briefs. As part of the appeal, the NFLPA has asked to unseal many of the records, which include the decision, media contracts, deposition transcripts as well as numerous league wide debt contracts. The latter are believed to be included because of covenants in league-wide financings that require the media fees as collateral. This might undercut league sources who contended because the NFL has not budgeted to use the fees until year two of a lockout, there was no need for the league to take, as the union alleges, lower media fees in exchange for guaranteed payments during a lockout. The league would credit the fees back once games resume. The NFL asked Judge David Doty of the Minnesota federal district court to declare the union's unsealing request moot because the league is agreeing to unseal some records, with the confidential information redacted. “The NFL objects to the Union’s Motion because the version of the brief the Union lodged with the Court does not redact `all potentially confidential information,’ all information that ‘could affect competitive standing,’ nor all information from third-parties.” Oral arguments are scheduled for tomorrow, with the union having asked Doty to decide by March 3. The CBA expires at 11:59pm ET that night.
Formula One Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone said that FOM “will absorb the $40 million cost of the cancelled Bahrain Grand Prix,” according to Tom Cary of the London TELEGRAPH. Ecclestone: “The fee that is normally being paid for the event is not being paid. I am not charging them for a race they are not getting. Whether they are covered by their insurers for loss of revenues, tickets sales etc I am not sure.” Ecclestone said FOM was “not insured for this sort of thing." He added that it would be receiving “no money from Bahrain unless it can find a slot for the race later in the calendar.” Ecclestone: “If and when it is rescheduled they will pay their usual fee.” Ecclestone confirmed the reported $40M figure was “close” to the mark. Cary notes F1 revenues are “divided up at the end of the year between the various stakeholders and the teams, meaning that unless a new date is found, presumably everyone will miss out” (London TELEGRAPH, 2/23). In London, Kevin Eason notes FOM and teams “stand to lose millions” from the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and losing the race would “put a substantial dent in Formula One’s takings.” Ecclestone: “Nobody gains from this. I want to be loyal to the King (of Bahrain), because he is doing everything he can to put things right with his people. He doesn’t need people like me stabbing him in the back. Right from the start, we talked about the problem there, and he was straight with me” (LONDON TIMES, 2/23).
TOO BIG FOR HIS BRITCHES? In Toronto, Norris McDonald wrote the “chickens are starting to come home to roost” for Ecclestone. He “started doing business with a number of countries where, to put it mildly, the democratic rights of the citizens who live there are not anywhere near the top of the ruling classes’ list of priorities.” The ’11 F1 Grand Prix schedule includes races in Bahrain, Malaysia, China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, and Ecclestone “is the genius who took what essentially was a European open wheels series and turned it into a true, international, world championship.” But instead of letting F1 “grow naturally and on its own, he upped the ante so much that his short-sightedness is threatening not necessarily to destroy it but to severely hobble it” (THESTAR.com, 2/22).