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02-24-2011, 11:12 PM
Experts predict NFL lockout


By Carl Prine
Friday, February 25, 2011

Indicating that "very strong differences remain," NFL owners, the players' union and federal mediators said Thursday they will continue negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in hopes of saving the 2011 season.

Talks will continue today between owners and the NFL Players Association, under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, before resuming Tuesday. Owners can lock out players March 4.

Throughout the week, players including Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, NFL brass and their attorneys have toiled in groups focused on resolving sticking points such as: beginning a rookie salary cap, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in player salaries, boosting the size of rosters and adding additional games to a sport that generates nearly $9 billion in annual revenues but is ravaged by life-long injuries.

All parties agreed yesterday to cut off contact with the media as they continued working out their differences.

Past and present NFL front office leaders, sports agents and business experts interviewed during the past week by the Tribune-Review pray for a breakthrough. But they predict a labor stoppage that could cut into the season's opening weeks.

"If you look at the deadline, what would be the incentive of the owners?" said Susan Tose Spencer, the Philadelphia Eagles' general manager during the 1980s labor strife. "They gain more bargaining power after they lock out the players.

"What the sides need to do is set up a framework for resolving their issues, maybe in stages, over the next five years. If they do that, we'll be OK."

St. Louis attorney and agent Robert Lattinville said fans should realize that while the talks in Washington, D.C., are "encouraging, they're not binding.

"There's a complicating factor that a lot of people aren't talking about," said Lattinville, whose stable of players includes Detroit Lions quarterback Shaun Hill. "It's the owners. They're trying to work out their own revenue sharing disputes. They're trying to grow the pie, but some clubs are benefitting more from revenues in their markets than others are. That's not lost on the players."

Shortly before entering the mediator-mandated cone of silence, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Trib that owners already share more of their profits than any other sport and that the "clubs are unified on the goals for a new CBA."

Owners unanimously opted out of the CBA in 2008, and a new deal couldn't be worked out during the following 33 months. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said he wants to grow revenues to $25 billion per year by 2025 but believes players should assume more of the risk in an era of sparse construction of stadiums and flattening profits from TV and ticket sales.

The union declined to comment, citing the gag order. Players in all 32 franchises have voted to decertify their union, triggering special challenges to the NFL's federal antitrust protections a "poison pill" strategy that could prod the owners to give in to demands to continue splitting about half of league revenues.

"The NFL is a business, and it's proven that it's not completely recession-proof. The franchises are finding that out the hard way," said New York University sports economist Lee Igel. "For the players, they need to realize also that there is so much change going on socially, politically and economically and everyone needs to adjust."

Carl Prine can be reached at cprine@tribweb.com or 412-320-7826.

Read more: Experts predict NFL lockout - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/print_724591.html#ixzz1EwcbX7mt