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NFL talks stalling, confrontation looms

Mark Maske

The twice-delayed bargaining deadline in the NFL's labor negotiations looms again Friday amid heightened concern that talks between the league and the players' union are on the verge of falling apart and a labor confrontation could again be at hand.

The talks, supervised by federal mediator George H. Cohen, resumed Thursday with the league and union still at odds on key financial issues. Comments attributed Wednesday to DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, at a fan event cast new doubt on the players' willingness to agree to a proposed 18-game season under any circumstances.

Sources familiar with the deliberations said a settlement by Friday's bargaining deadline appeared highly unlikely and that Cohen might have difficulty even convincing the negotiators that a third postponement is warranted. The league and union agreed last week to two postponements totaling eight days, leaving the sport's current labor deal running through 11:59 p.m. Friday.

A third postponement could be a lengthy one if the two sides agreed to terms under which the league disclosed additional financial information to the union. But there was little or no movement on that issue Wednesday after the union rejected an offer by the league to provide aggregate profitability data over a five-year span.

Because of court notification deadlines, players must decertify the union by Friday afternoon, even though the talks have been extended until 11:59 p.m. Dissolvng the union as their bargaining agent would enable players to file antitrust litigation against the owners. The players also would likely seek an injunction in the Minneapolis courtroom of U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, perhaps as soon as Friday, in an attempt to prevent owners from locking them out Saturday.

Most of the members of the owners' bargaining committee were on hand to participate in Thursday's meeting at the downtown Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. It was the fourth day of mediated negotiations this week and 15th overall.

Smith said late Wednesday, both in comments to reporters outside the mediation offices and during an event for fans later that night at the union's nearby offices, that the league and union were $800 million per year apart on the core economic issue of how to divide the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenue.

The two sides apparently are discussing a six- to eight-year labor agreement, so Smith characterized the difference as amounting to roughly $5 billion over the course of the deal.

Entering this week, sources said the gap was $750 to $800 million a year. One source said Thursday that the gap was "substantially" less than $700 million and the progress had not come in the past 24 hours. The Web site profootballtalk first reported Thursday that the divide on the revenue split issue was less than $700 million.

When the salary cap was in effect under the sport's expiring labor deal, the owners were credited with about $1.3 billion per year for expenses, and the players received roughly 60 percent of the remaining revenue. The league originally sought another $1 billion annually for expenses before the players' receive their cut.

The players' side has maintained that the sport's economic circumstances do not justify such a financial concession. If the owners want it, the union has contended, it would have to provide sufficient financial data to make its case. The two sides have been haggling over that this week.

Smith, in his remarks Wednesday night to the group of fans, confirmed that the union had rejected an offer by the league to turn over profitability data.

A source said earlier Wednesday that the league's offer was to provide the union with five years of profitability data covering the 2005 to 2009 seasons. Under the league's proposal, the source said, the union would be given an overall profit figure for all 32 teams in the league for each year, and the number of teams that fared better or worse financially each year relative to the previous year. An independent auditor would be given financial data for individual teams over that span to verify that the figures provided to the union were accurate, the source said, but the union would not be given that data.

The union is seeking full, audited financial data for each of the teams over a longer period, perhaps 10 years. That request first was made in a 2009 letter to the league.

"The league has asked us to write a multi-billion-dollar check over the next few years," Smith said Wednesday evening outside the mediation building. "So... the first question that we posed to ourselves was how much financial information would you want if you're going to be asked to write a $5 billion check?... It's financial information that so far we haven't seen."

Jeff Pash, the lead negotiator for the league, said after Wednesday's meetings: "The union knows what we're proposing to do, what we've proposed to make available. We understand their position and so we're on to other subjects."

Pash said the league considered the terms of potential financial disclosures negotiable.

At Wednesday night's event for fans hosted by 106.7 The Fan, Smith was asked by one fan about the chances for an 18-game season. He said the players would not agree to 18 games.

"We don't believe that 18 games is in the best health and safety interests of the National Football League players," Smith said. "We certainly don't believe that playing 18 games is what the fans want. You all have been abundantly clear about not wanting to see 18 games...And I'll tell you what, 16 games for this long has been pretty good for the National Football League."

Video of the comments was posted on the radio station's Web site.

Smith's remarks led to reports that the league's proposal to lengthen the season from 16 to 18 games per team is now off the table. But sources on both sides of the dispute said Wednesday night the union has not formally told the league in negotiations that an 18-game season is off the table and the subject rarely has come up during the mediated negotiations.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus wrote on Twitter that he still holds out hope for a settlement. "If the owners turn their back on the players," he wrote, "they will regret it and will be crushed in court just like the [television money] case!" That was a reference to Doty's March 1 decision that the NFL's $4 billion contract with television networks was improper.

By Leonard Bernstein  |  March 10, 2011; 12:58 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Socialism is hard.

Posted by: ozpunk | March 10, 2011 5:48 PM

If they extend the deadline one more time, then I move that the term "deadline" be banned from all of these kinds of "news" reports and that a new term be used. Perhaps MM can set up a readers' poll for suggestions. (Please note that "clusterf**k" has already been taken by the ********** political party and, therefore, cannot be used.) I eagerly await the results of the readers' poll.

As the NFL is a "special" industry under law, the new term must be approved by C******s and signed into law so the sooner we get started, the greater chance we will know the NFL finances, and therefore, the righteous split before the beginning of the 2012-13 season and this "not clusterf**k" can be ended.

By the way, that's my suggestion: "righteous split".(In fact,I think I'll trademark it."

Posted by: beansforbob | March 10, 2011 5:42 PM

While watching working-class people in Wisconsin having their right to collective bargaining taken away by corporate interests, I came upon this little snippet from life's toy store, the full-of-itself-beyond-belief world of sports. The very existence of this story is an insult. I've watched the NFL for decades, but I wouldn't shed a tear if these greedy, self-absorbed squabbling millionaires and billionaires dissolved the whole league. I'd barely notice, in fact. This story gets way, way too much press coverage.

Posted by: michaelfpasse | March 10, 2011 5:09 PM

"that's how free people operate." Isn't that a part of the issue? These guys aren't FREE to go anywhere and sell their services to the highest bidder, like the rest of us do. We don't like our job situation? We find another job that, hopefully, pays us and treats better. If they talk about blowing it up, they should just blow the thing up. Everyone's a free agent, and can sell their services to the highest bidder. The poorer franchises must sink or swim on their own merit. THAT's how the "real world" operates, doesn't it?

Posted by: wcbassman | March 10, 2011 4:49 PM

"It is because of this sense of entitlement on the part of the players that I have no sympathy for them."

Taking all of the zero's out of it, I can't find fault with what the players are asking here. If you are asking me to "rebate" money to you, I need to know why.

Saying this I think it's all stupid anyway. Millionaires all arguing over millions/billions of $$$ and I am just barely able to pay my mortgage. :(


- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | March 10, 2011 4:17 PM

LOCK EM OUT!! And let this NFL wither on the vine. It's a boring sport, populated with billionaires ripping us off, treating us as marketing opportunities rather than fans, and player who feel an absolutely unjustifiable sense of entitlement.

To hell with the whole lot of them.

Posted by: Ve1ostrummer | March 10, 2011 2:59 PM

There is correspondingly no right of the employees to see the books of the employers. If they feel that offered recompense is inadequate for their services then they should seek work elsewhere (in another industry if necessary) and the employer may seek new employees. That's how free people operate.
Posted by: michaelmagnus9 | March 10, 2011 1:47 PM

That can happen when they win their antitrust suit....but it won't be in another industry....

Posted by: myrtle_beach_fan | March 10, 2011 2:49 PM

"The league has asked us to write a multi-billion-dollar check over the next few years," Smith said...

Preposterous. Whatever the employees may have been paid as a term of the recently expired contract is just that - expired. That deal has no bearing on this one. A new deal means you start from zero.

There is correspondingly no right of the employees to see the books of the employers. If they feel that offered recompense is inadequate for their services then they should seek work elsewhere (in another industry if necessary) and the employer may seek new employees. That's how free people operate.

It is because of this sense of entitlement on the part of the players that I have no sympathy for them.

Posted by: michaelmagnus9 | March 10, 2011 1:47 PM

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