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Volume 20 No. 41

Labor and Agents

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The NFL has not made any proposals to the NFL Players Association on either expanding the regular season to 18 games or expanding the playoffs, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said. 

Both issues would change the working conditions for NFL players and, as such, would have to be negotiated and agreed to by the league and the union, Smith said in an interview late last month. 

“If they want to make a proposal about changing the players’ terms of working conditions, they know how to make a proposal,” Smith said. “There has been no proposal from the league about increasing the number of games or expanding the current game structure. There has been no proposal about the playoffs either.”

The league’s desire to expand the NFL regular season from 16 games to 18 games was a major issue in the negotiations that led to the current NFL collective-bargaining agreement in 2011. Since then there have been reports that the league could push to expand the regular season and would talk to the union about it. 

But, Smith said, “We haven’t had a substantive conversation about the 18 games since the CBA negotiations.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We are not focused on the regular season at this time.”

On the issue of expanding the playoffs, Aiello said in an email that the earliest the NFL could expand the playoffs is after the 2015 NFL season. 

“We are continuing to analyze it,” Aiello said. “No decision has been made. The union is aware of it. Dialogue with the union will continue at the appropriate time.”

Smith said he has conversations with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regularly on a number of issues. But, he said, “We don’t have casual conversations about issues that affect our players.”

Smith said he goes to great lengths not to discuss his conversations with Goodell, but said he could speak about proposals.

“Right now there has been no major proposals on either side,” Smith said. “The only outstanding proposal is the comprehensive drug policy and that remains unsigned because the league does not want to agree to neutral arbitration.”

The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed to all issues involving human growth hormone testing for players except for discipline in the case of a player in which there is evidence that he used HGH but no positive drug test. The players want those cases to go to a neutral arbitrator, and the league wants those cases decided by Goodell. 

Smith spoke to SportsBusiness Journal after he addressed newly drafted players at the annual NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles. Smith said he talked to the players about “the business of football,” including health and safety issues, as well as worker compensation issues. 

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Rookie Premiere, which was started as a way for trading card companies to get photos of newly drafted players in their NFL uniforms. 

This year, a record 43 players attended, including Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the first selection; Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 pick; and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel

> STUCKEY SIGNS WITH NEW AGENT: Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey is now being represented by Paolo Zamorano, who was certified by the National Basketball Players Association last year to represent players in contract talks. Stuckey was formerly represented by CAA Sports

> CAA SIGNS ARCHULETA: CAA signed former NFL safety and current CBS Sports football analyst Adam Archuleta for representation. At CAA, he will be represented by a team of agents led by Andy Elkin. He was formerly represented by Playbook Inc.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

In the two years before the 2011 NFL lockout, Electronic Arts, which sells the hugely popular “Madden” video game series, paid the NFL Players Association $68.6 million for the rights to use images of NFL players. EA had long been a primary source of group licensing revenue for the union, along with jerseys and trading cards.

In the last two years, through Feb. 28, 2014 — the first two full years since the lockout ended — EA paid the union a total of $4.5 million, according to the two most recent annual reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. 

What caused the drop? The answer is not entirely clear. 

The NFLPA declined for the second year in row to comment about the lower payment from EA. 

The NFLPA received $2.2M for 2013, the year Madden 25 hit stores.

EA, per its policy, declined to comment on the financials of licensees.

It has, however, been suggested by analysts that the NFLPA may have arranged to front-load its contract with EA before, and during, the lockout — with the lockout period being a point at which the NFLPA did not have to disclose its financials because it was not operating as a union during that time.

There are 1,959 active player members of the union, according to the most recent annual report, filed late last month with the labor department, so the drop in revenue over the two reporting years represents on average tens of thousands of dollars per player. 

“The license was intended to cost EA around $50 million annually, with some portion going to the NFL and another portion going to the NFLPA,” said Michael Pachter, who follows EA as managing director of research at Wedbush Securities. 

“The game generates around $240 million in annual revenue, and a 20 percent royalty is the very high end for deals like this. Professional sports leagues have the added issue of the athletes’ likenesses [and names] and the league each being intellectual property, so they tend to negotiate a split of the revenues. I don’t know how it is split, but it probably is similar to bargaining on TV contracts, so around 50-50.”

The drop in EA revenue for the past year, as in the previous year, drove overall NFLPA licensing revenue below the levels of pre-lockout years, though the sum was up slightly from last season. According to an analysis of the union’s report, revenue from licensing, marketing and sponsorship came in at $103.7 million for the year ended Feb. 28, 2014, up from $98.6 million the year before. 

In the year before the lockout, revenue from licensing, marketing and sponsorship was $126.9 million, and the sum was $114.6 million the year before that.

The primary revenue contributor in the most recent year was the NFL itself, which under the collective-bargaining agreement pays the union for player images and not to compete against NFL sponsors. In the most recent annual filing, the NFLPA reported the league paid the union $47.3 million, up from $44.5 million the year before.

Trading card companies Panini and Topps paid the NFLPA $25 million collectively, while Nike paid the union $14 million for licensing rights.

Less than two years after leaving Bobby Orr’s hockey player representation firm to start his own agency, NHL agent Darren Ferris is representing one of the three prospects most likely to be selected No. 1 overall in the NHL draft later this month.

Ferris’ agency, ARC Sports Group, represents Kingston Frontenacs center Sam Bennett of the Ontario Hockey League, who, along with two other Canadian junior hockey players, defenseman Aaron Ekblad and center Sam Reinhart, are seen as vying to be selected No. 1 overall in the NHL draft in Philadelphia on June 27, according to hockey agents and analysts.

Newport Sports, founded by agent Donnie Meehan, represents Reinhart, center and captain of the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. Ekblad, captain of the Barrie Colts of the OHL, is represented by the Orr Hockey Group.

Ferris knows both Ekblad and Bennett well, as he recruited both of them when he worked for the Orr Hockey Group. “They are the best of friends,” he said of Bennett and Ekblad.

But when Ferris left the Orr Hockey Group in 2012 after working there for 17 years as Orr’s top recruiter, Bennett was one player who left with him. “He wasn’t comfortable staying,” Ferris said.

Orr Hockey Group managing partner and Ferris’ former boss, Rick Curran, echoed that. 

“When Darren left, Sam Bennett was the one player who chose to stay with Darren,” Curran said. “None of the rest of us knew Sam Bennett that well. We decided to respect Sam’s decision that he wanted to stay with Darren and we didn’t block it.”

Ekblad stayed with Orr’s Boston-based firm, and Jeff Jackson, a former NHL player who replaced Ferris, is the defenseman’s primary agent now.

Ferris said the potential of representing the No. 1 overall pick is “tremendous” for the future of his company, which he established in Toronto in November, 2012. “I wasn’t going to build my business off of their business,” he said of the Orr Hockey Group. “I am building this organically and that was my intention from day one.”