The NFL and NFLPA have begun discussions in earnest—at least in the media. Last week Bob Batterman, an attorney for the NFL, told the Washington Post that he believes the NFLPA is waiting for a lockout, and not truly negotiating with the intent to make a deal. The NFLPA quickly responded with a media conference call, explaining that they’ve received no responses to their proposals on key bargaining issues (such as the rookie salary structure). “We are waiting on them,” said NFLPA attorney Richard Berthelsen [emphasis his].
During the call, NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said he’s proposed a “lock-in,” as opposed to a lockout, where all the two organization’s leaders would mutually lock themselves into a hotel, and remain until a deal is done. As of the date of the conference call (the 14th), the NFL hasn’t accepted.
After the conference call, Batterman (who you may remember from such films as “The Completely Lost Year of the NHL”) reiterated his charge that the union isn’t truly interested in negotiating. He says they’re just biding their time until the lockout, at which point they’ll decertify the union, sue the league for antitrust violations, and hammer it out in court. NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs George Atallah said on that conference call that “We hope it doesn’t come to that,” and said they’ll do everything they can to avoid a lockout, and decertifying in the wake of it.
What’s going on here? How can both sides insist that they want a deal, but the other side doesn’t? Bob Batterman gives us a clue during an interview with the Associated Press:
It is in the employer’s interest to get a deal which gets this industry straightened out for the next generation for the good of the fans, for the good of the players, and yes indeed, the good of the owners. Nobody is looking for a lockout. We are looking for a deal. Is that deal going to require some concessions from the players? Yes, it is going to require some concessions from the players because the balance has gotten out of whack. The owners are going to make concessions, too. We are making changes to working conditions. We have made proposals to improve benefits for the players. We have talked about structures to protect the veterans in terms of what the impact of these economic changes are. There are going to be compromises on both sides, and we are hoping to do it without the necessity of a lockout.
This is the key: the NFL believes that the “balance has gotten out of whack.” I said so before in my initial CBA post: the common thinking says the players came out way ahead in the last round of negotiations. The NFL wants to move the scales back in their direction this time around. Unlike the “both sides give a little” language Commissioner used in his letter to fans, the NFL is actually seeking major concessions from the players. The best hope of avoiding a lockout, it seems, is for the players to simply capitulate.
Of course, that’s not in the best interests of the players—or the fans. Why is it that the NFL wants so badly to get major concessions from the league? Well, it’s a complicated tale.
In the last round of talks, the late Gene Upshaw, then NFLPA Executive Director, led the charge to make revenue sharing part of the CBA between players and league. It theoretically allowed for smaller-market teams to keep pace with the big spenders, so there’d be a healthier market for players’ services. The owners resisted it at first—and hammering it out amongst themselves was the biggest stumbling block to getting the last CBA done. Indeed, as Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post writes, the owners arguing amongst themselves about revenue sharing distracted their attention from the rest of the CBA. They inked a deal they almost immediately regretted.
We can see the NFL’s strategy for this time in their two main negotiating points: 1) the “enhanced” 18-game schedule, and 2) a massive increase in the “expense credit” that’s subtracted from the “total revenue” that’s split with the players. Functionally, Baltimore Ravens CB Domonique Foxworth had it right: the owners have decided that rather than hammer out their own disagreements, they’ll “take it from” the players. Their plan is to dramatically increase revenue by playing two more regular season games (for which attendance and TV deals will be much richer than preseason contests), then clamp down on the percentage of all incoming revenue that players receive. The result? A windfall rich enough to make revenue sharing a moot point.
Now, this is all part of the ebb and flow of the labor process; each side needs to negotiate in good faith, and one side cannot repeatedly come out the “winner” without eventual labor strife. I’m not asking the NFL to extend an agreement it seems to think is untenable going forward, and I’m not asking the NFLPA to simply surrender the advances it lawfully negotiated the last time around. I want is for both sides to commit to avoiding any kind of work action.
Tomorrow, the NFLPA is holding “#LETUSPLAY Day,” an Internet-wide push to get the owners to commit to not locking out the players. There’ll be #LETUSPLAY themed posts online, chats on Twitter, even gear giveaways. Let me be clear, I’m not on either “side” here—I’m on the side of the fans. I believe that what we fans pour into the game: our time, our money, and our passion, deserves the respect of both the players and the league. I believe that these men, who have prospered massively from our investments, can and should and will come to an agreement as to how to split the money we’ve given them—without taking away the game that we love.
Therefore, I’ll be supporting #LETUSPLAY day, on here and on Twitter. If you aren’t already, follow @lionsinwinter on Twitter to get all the latest as I help get the word out.