Friday, February 25, 2011

Big Issues Unresolved at NFL Mediation & TV Deal

A week ago, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to sit down for 7 straight days of mediation. That ended yesterday, and the parties are preparing to meet again on Tuesday with the March 4 expiration of the CBA looming. However, this is a soft deadline and frankly doesn't mean too much. The parties can continue to negotiate.

According to Liz Mullen of the SportsBusiness Journal, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith told NFL player agents at a large union meeting in Indianapolis to prepare for an NFL lockout.

"His position is that we want a deal and the NFL isn't moving and only says, 'No!'," said one source at the meeting. Subsequent reports, however, dispute this report.

The mediator George Cohen released his own statement. He said that "some progress was made, but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues that separate the parties".

That doesn't sound good. Here's Cohen's press release.

Cohen also said that the parties will meet again on Tuesday after spending the weekend assessing "their current positions on those outstanding issues". Sounds like the sides have homework.

These developments are in keeping with the reasonable position that this may well drag out into the summer and maybe fall. The issue of revenue sharing is a big one, and last time around the owners felt they gave him too much. This time though they've made it clear - they won't. That means this could go on for awhile.

There is the other issue of the NFL television network deal where the NFL gets paid $4 billion if there are no games next season.

By way of background, in June of this year, the NFLPA filed a complaint alleging that the NFL structured its contracts with broadcast partners, such as CBS and FOX, to ensure that fees would be paid even if there were no games played in 2011.

Why is this a big deal? In the event that football is not played in 2011, the NFL won’t be sharing television revenue with the players, and in securing a payout for not having a season in 2011, the Union is arguing that the NFL did not seek to maximize revenue in other seasons when the league would need to share that revenue with players. So for the Union, the deal violates an agreement between the parties that the NFL must negotiate in good faith with a view to maximizing revenue for players.

The NFLPA essentially lost the case and has since appealed the decision. The case now sits before United States District Court Judge Doty, who will decide whether NFL owners should be able to pocket the $4 billion in network payments in the event of a lockout.

The NFL argues it shrewdly maximized the revenue for all to share back in 2009 and 2010, and that lockout protection has been a normal part of broadcast contracts for years. So it says it did nothing wrong, and that the $4 billion is akin to lockout insurance.

The NFL is not a big fan of Judge Dody. Doty has presided over cases involving the NFL, the players' union and their collective bargaining agreements for the past 19 years. The league has previously alleged that Judge Doty has a pro-union bias and has previously sought to have him removed from cases.

There have been some reports that Judge Doty wanted to delay his ruling given the CBA negotiations. However, that does not appear to be the case, and a decision could come as early as next week.

Would a Union win be important. Yes.

The Union's attack is aimed at the heart of the NFL's lockout strategy. If the Union is successful in this action, the NFL owners will lose the $4 billion safety net they thought they had created for the duration of a possible lockout.

Should be an interesting week.

No comments: