By Michael Waxenberg, Staff Writer
Lost in the wash that was the NFL Draft last week, is the fact that after this season the NFL could be dealing with a work stoppage. This season is the last in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which has been in place since 1994. The potential for a lockout is even having an affect on this coming season. For example, there will be no salary cap or minimum or maximum.
To better understand these tense labor negotiations, I spoke with Bob Batterman, the labor attorney representing the NFL. Batterman represented the NHL when they had a lockout year and was a big part of drafting Major League Soccer's first CBA. He also happens to represent Hofstra University in their upcoming labor negotiations with faculty. This is the first interview Mr. Batterman has done in regards to the NFL CBA. The NFLPA did not return calls requesting comment or an interview.
As with the case for most CBA negotiations, the dispute lies within the economics of the sport. After all, these leagues are businesses. According to Batterman, "Owners do not feel there are incentives to invest in the business because they don't believe they're making enough out of it. For the investments they make and the risks they take, owners feel there is a disconnect between what the players get and the owners get. An example of a way to deal with this is to install a rookie salary cap and tighten it up so less money is going to unproven players. Also, there is the issue of forfeitures. Currently, a player who receives a bonus and ends up in jail gets to keep that bonus. The owners would like to change that."
There were recent reports that the owners were holding back financial information from the union. Batterman accuses these reports of being an attempt to create public leverage. "The union has received all the information it is required to see such as the revenue information and audit rights, but what they are asking for is something the law does not provide for. The net profit information never goes to a union. It is none of their business whether the owners make a one dollar profit or a 100 million dollar profit," he said. "The only way the union is required to see that information is if the owners are pleading poverty, which they are not. The owners are making money under the current CBA; just not what they deem is their fair share. The NBA recently and the NHL in 2004 provided the union with such financial numbers and the unions claimed to not believe the figures. This is why we feel providing our net profit information is useless and unnecessary."
It is evident that the owners want more money. The question is whether they deserve it.
The answer to that question may be found in understanding the financing of new stadiums. 10 or so years ago, stadiums were funded and maintained by the city or state in which it's located. According the Batterman, this is no longer the case. "In 1994, there was only one team with a privately financed stadium, Miami," he said. "Now all the owners finance the stadiums themselves and have to eat all those costs. The players association has failed to come to grips with this change."
Evidence of this change can be seen in the building of the new Cowboy Stadium. Owner Jerry Jones spent just about a billion of his own dollars to build it. Including all the maintenance costs and what it takes to keep the stadiums running, it adds up to unthinkable amounts of money.
Having leverage is key to these negotiations. Part of that leverage is understanding who a lockout would hurt more. Batterman believes a lockout hurts everyone. Owners will lose millions and players lose a year of their career. An average career in the NFL is 3-5 years so missing one year is essentially cutting 20% of a players work life.
Under the current CBA agreement players get 60% of all revenues. Batterman says under the owners' latest proposal, "We want to get credited for 18% of costs we currently don't get credit for, before giving the players their 60% share of revenue." He also says the owners have no intention of changing that 60% number.
Another key factor heading into these negotiations is how new NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith will do. Following the late Gene Upshaw is no cakewalk. "It's not for me to say whether he has done a good job, it's for the players," Batterman said. "It's his first year on the job, there's a lot to learn. He's very smart, articulate and a forceful spokesperson. I have nothing negative to say. Whether he's doing a good job or not…that will come out in the wash, it depends how the negotiations go."
Unfortunately for NFL fans this may just be the start of a stoppage. "At this point we are as far apart as I could imagine," Batterman said.