NFL, union wrangle publicly on CBA
Published 9:32 am Thursday, March 10, 2011
WASHINGTON — Not nearly enough.
That, essentially, was the NFL Players Association’s stance on two vital issues Wednesday as the deadline for a new labor deal approaches. The owners’ willingness to reduce the amount of extra money they want up front — from $1 billion to $800 million — isn’t a sufficient drop. And the financial data the league is willing to reveal isn’t what the union seeks.
Both sides spoke much more openly about money matters Wednesday than they have since they entered mediation Feb. 18. The twice-extended deadline for expiration of the collective bargaining agreement is at the end of Friday.
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Under the old CBA, owners received an immediate $1 billion for operating expenses before splitting remaining revenues with players. Owners initially sought to double that, and while they have lowered the up-front figure they want, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith tied that to the full financial transparency he’s sought for nearly two years in what is a $9 billion business.
“Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn’t what we asked for,” Smith said, “and, according to our investment bankers and advisers, they told us that information would be utterly meaningless in determining whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League” in each year of a new CBA.
“We have requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009,” Smith said. “We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league’s request to write a multibillion check to the owners.”
NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said the union has received unprecedented financial data, including some information the league doesn’t give to its clubs.
“No one is asking anyone to write any checks, I think we’ve been quite clear on that,” Pash said. “It is a fact that the players association in the course of these negotiations has received more and more detailed financial information than it has ever had before. Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely.
“And is it a subject that we’re prepared to discuss? Absolutely.”
In a letter dated May 18, 2009 — a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press — Smith asked Goodell to “provide audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league.”
Smith attached a list of 10 categories of information he sought, including
total operating income;
total operating expenses, such as player costs, team expenses, sales and marketing expenses, game expenses, salaries/payments to owners;
profit from operations;
cash and investment assets.
In the letter, Smith noted the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 as one reason “this information is critical in understanding the fair ‘cost/compensation’ model for players and teams.”
Pash didn’t reveal any specifics of the league’s offer of financial information. But a person familiar with the negotiations told the AP that the NFL offered to turn over five years of league-wide profitability data to the union.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because mediator George Cohen told participants not to publicly discuss details.
According to the person who spoke to the AP, the NFL’s proposal to the union included:
—audited league-wide profitability data with dollar figures from 2005-09 that wouldn’t show information on a club-by-club basis;
—the number of teams that have seen a shift in profitability in that span;
—an independent auditor to examine the data.
As far back as 2009, Smith told Goodell: “As you know, the NFLPA does not have access to a wide range of information that is directly relevant to the contention that the current CBA fails to address the owners’ concerns.”
“For example,” the letter said, “the NFL and the teams do not provide the NFLPA with their audited financial statements detailing the profit (loss) information for the teams. We also lack the information to discern the profits (losses) per regular season games, the profit per team per playoff game and other fixed financial non-player costs.”
The CBA dates to 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008. The deal was set to expire last week, before two extensions pushed the cutoff to the end of Friday.
Goodell was joined by three members of the owners’ 10-person labor committee: Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Mara of the New York Giants, and Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs. More owners are expected to attend on Thursday.
If a deal isn’t reached by Friday, the sides could agree to another extension. Or talks could break off, leading to, possibly, a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.
In Minneapolis, meanwhile, the NFLPA asked the federal judge, who ruled in its favor in a case involving TV contracts, to release information that the NFL wants kept confidential. U.S. District Court judge David Doty sided with the players last week, saying the league illegally set up $4 billion in payments from networks — money the union argued was collected to fund a lockout.
Wednesday’s move seemed to be reminder to the league of two important points — the possibility of legal action if no new CBA is reached, and the union’s insistence on transparency.
The NFLPA said in its filing that the NFL hasn’t explained why material should be sealed and that the league hasn’t cooperated with the union’s attempt to propose limited redactions to protect third-party information only.
“The NFL cannot be permitted to comment publicly about these proceedings and then turn around to embrace a cloak of confidentiality that thwarts the public’s right to know,” union lawyers wrote.
The league said it would respond to the filing.