The offseason of discontent

On the one-month anniversary of the lockout (what cause for celebration!) and decertification, mediation, litigation and frustration of the past couple of months in football, let’s take a step back and regain an understanding of what this whole mess is about: who gets how much of all of the money coming into the NFL.

Everything that has happened and will happen in this seemingly endless battle between NFL Owners and Players is jockeying for position when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is finally settled/negotiated/mediated, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Never going to trial

Drew BreesICONBrees chose not to attend the hearing.

Brady v. NFL is an antitrust suit filed by NFL players with some high-profile name plaintiffs – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees -- whose names are more meaningful in the court of public opinion than in the court of law.

Although Wednesday’s preliminary hearing was about the lawyers, not the players, none of these players chose to make it a priority to be there. As Brady v. NFL continues, it will be interesting to see the commitment of the A-list players beyond lending their name to the proceedings.

As for an actual trial in the case, that will not happen. We will not have the specter of Brady, Manning and Brees being called to the witness stand and being cross-examined by the NFL lawyers. Neither side wants that.

Again, this case was filed because the NFLPA decided on a strategy of decertification and litigation in an effort to make more progress in negotiations with the owners than they had without it. Will they? Time will tell.

What is the problem?

As always, follow the money. The Players want an equal (50/50) split of all NFL revenues. They feel they should be treated as equal partners in the growth of the game.

The Owners argue that an even split is what the Players have from the 2006 CBA from which they opted out (the Players get 59% of revenues, but after cost credits it has worked out to 50% of total revenues). The Owners position is that since 2006 the economics have changed, especially the public appetite for stadium financing and ticket price increases.

The Owners, in their last best offer on March 11th, offered between 45-46% of revenues to the players. Thus, they are not fighting about $9 billion; they are fighting over about 4-5% of that, or approximately $350 million.

As to other issues, they are all ancillary to the revenue split. As happened this weekend in Congress, there will be last-minute horse-trading of most other issues -- rookie salaries, 18-game schedules, HGH testing, conduct, benefits, etc. -- once there is agreement on the big issue.

What about the fans?

What about them? While the two sides have their public relations departments in full throat seeking the hearts and minds of fans, the prinicipals are concerned with their own bottom lines.

In negotiating player contracts on each side of the table, I understood my task. As a player agent, my priority was to maximize cash to the player. As a team executive, my priority was to do the best deal within the marketplace and minimize future risk.

On a larger scale, in negotiating the contract between the NFL and the NFLPA, each side is concerned about doing the best deal possible for them, maximizing upside and minimizing risk. Those are their priorities; the fan is not part of their thinking in those negotiations.

New round of mediation?

Bringing the case up to the moment, Judge Susan Nelson has ordered formal mediation starting Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan at his office in the Minneapolis federal courthouse. Boylan will meet with Player representatives Tuesday and Owner representatives Wednesday before combining the two on Thursday .The Owners had preferred mediation with George Cohen who has an 18-day head start. The Players have acheived home field advantage under the supervision of Nelson’s court.

Boylan, who has done hundreds, if not thousands of mediations, will run the process similar to Cohen, with the parties in different rooms and brought in together at different times. The hope, of course, is that he can acheive meaningful progress in focusing the issues and reporting back to his boss in this matter, Judge Nelson.

Of course, neither side is talking. Unlike Cohen’s earlier gag order (both parties eventually started treated Cohen like a substitute teacher) there could be real consequences – including Contempt of court – if they disobey Nelson.

The good news – we think – is that Boylan will force them to talk. However, based on the past two years of negotiations defined by mistrust and dislike, I don’t expect much. We will back in court soon, which, again, is all a search for leverage in the eventual broader negotiation of a CBA.

Our offseason of discontent continues…

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