Monday, November 08, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011 – the NFL lockout clock continues to tick


Week nine of the National Football League season ends with the Monday Night Football match-up as the Pittsburgh Steelers head to Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium to meet the Browns. The Steelers who indeed might again be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 6, 2011 at Super Bowl XLV will be facing a Bengals team that is fighting for relevance. Off the field, time continues to tick towards the seemingly inevitable NFL lockout. Unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, the lockout will begin on March 5, 2011. Nothing that took place this past week suggests anything but a lockout will begin in early March. There was more rhetoric from both sides, which is bad news if the NFL and the NFL Players Association really want to avoid labor armageddon.

The one and only ray of hope came from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who suggested, in a featured profile with Fortune Magazine, that there will be labor peace well before the March 5, 2011.

"We're going to get a deal," he told Fortune during a recent conversation in his spacious office in Gillette Stadium, where he sits surrounded by Patriots memorabilia. "I think a number of us will want to do whatever we've got to do to do it."

The sentiments expressed by Kraft are similar to the one he said after last month’s NFL ownership meetings in Chicago. Kraft has been one of the few NFL owners to speak out on NFL labor issues – and his remarks should not come as a real surprise to anyone. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported the league could lose as much as $1 billion even if the 2011 NFL season is played in its entirety. The WSJ report suggested uncertainty is hurting the NFL everyday – challenging the Lords of the Pigskin from moving forward in managing the business affairs of the NFL.

“The impact of not having a labor agreement is already starting,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “It will continue to grow. It will continue to have a greater and greater impact and my point is that there will be lost revenue opportunities. And when revenue is reduced, it’s even harder to reach an agreement.”

“This uncertainty is something they chose,” George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said in a telephone interview.

Goodell said much work remains before labor and management reach a deal.

“We’ve got a responsibility to make sure we do everything possible to get a labor agreement that’s fair for all parties,” Goodell said. “I am convinced that it can get done and we have to do it. It’s going to require focus and it’s going to require everyone working hard to make sure it gets done. I have made it very clear, though, that I think the sooner it gets done the better.”

Marc Ganis, President of Chicago based SportsCorp one of the leading sports business consulting firm, shared some of his thoughts on the impending NFL lockout with USA Today’s Jon Saraceno. Ganis believes despite the lack of real negotiations between the two sides a settlement can still be reached.

“(There are) three scenarios: One is a quick resolution before the March 3 deadline. A second, much-more contentious option is the period after the March 3 (Collective Bargaining Agreement) termination that does not impact regular-season games and is done by May or June. The third one is the knock-down, drag-out (fight) that goes into August or September. Some games are lost, but the season will not be lost.

“There is, of course, the nuclear option: They lose the season. The only way that occurs is if one side or the other completely miscalculates the resolve of the other, or it becomes extraordinarily personal.

“There is enough money out there to find a resolution. It is not as if this is a distressed industry that does not have revenue coming in, or a dying industry where management and labor are picking (at the) carcass. There will be a negotiated agreement, at some point. But the (current scenario) could not have been avoided. The last two years have been a series of posturing, bizarre campaigns and setups for legal challenges.”

And what does Ganis believe the odds are of each scenario he believes might take place?

“The likelihood is the spring (May or June) scenario ... beyond March 3, but one that does not cost regular-season games. The second-likeliest scenario — and I hate to say this — is the one where it drags into a period costing regular-season games. Next is a deal before March 3, then comes the nuclear scenario. I don't see that happening, but it is possible.”

What Ganis told the USA Today makes sense if you take the time to consider the leadership (or lack thereof) the NFLPA presents to Goodell and NFL owners.

“You have the head of a union (executive director DeMaurice Smith) who never has done this before. It might wind up becoming personal for him. It could become a pride issue where he promised certain things to players and there is no way he can deliver. This (talk of possible union) decertification would be among the dumber things the union could do. All they would be doing is making Jeffery Kessler and all the other union lawyers rich. It's actually stupid. The reason I say that is because it will be obvious to the world, including the courts — that the union is using decertification as a negotiating tactic and not as a true decertification. It's like the boy who cried wolf; they did it once and it worked, but don't try it again. They have to decide, 'Are we a union or aren't we?' If they are a union, it will get resolved at the collective-bargaining (table). If they are not a union, then decertify and let all the players be on their own. It's one or the other.”

If one were to rate the four player unions linked to the four major North American based sports leagues – the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, the NFLPA is the weakest of the four leagues. True the NHL Players Association buckled after missing entire the 2004-05 season, but that was after missing an entire season.

Consider these issues when it comes to how ‘tough’ the NFLPA really is when the going gets tough. The NFLPA has yet to react to Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s recent raid of the Texans locker room, the players’ inner sanction. McNair who did not have a warrant, invaded his players’ locker room searching for performance enhancing drugs, felt he had the right to conduct the search. Does anyone believe if the Steinbrenner family decided they had the right to invade the Yankees locker room, the MLBPA would have stood on the sidelines and said nothing?

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith did speak this week and he did offer some thoughts – although it had nothing whatsoever to do with the impending NFL lockout.

"We will challenge and appeal any disciplinary decision that is unfair and disproportionate," Smith told ESPN. "The players want to be part of a league and business that doesn't just fine its way to health and player safety."

Smith is talking about NFL fines that are being levied against players for hitting other players.

"Players want a fair and transparent disciplinary process, but they also want healthcare and rights that will protect them from the dangers of the game," said Smith.

Troy Polamalu, he of the Head and Shoulders commercials, has had a great career as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers told an Associated Press reporter how he felt about the tough discipline Goodell has been dishing out. Polamalu’s comments followed Goodell fining of Steelers teammate James Harrison $20,000 for a late hit last Sunday on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. It was the third time the NFL has fined Harrison this season for a dangerous tackle.

James Harrison’s fines this year have now reached $100,000, including a $75,000 fine for his Oct. 17 helmet hit that left Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi with a concussion.

"[Goodell has] all the power, and that may be part of the problem. There needs to be some type of separation of power, like our government," Polamalu said. "I don't think it should be based totally on what two or three people may say that are totally away from the game. It should be some of the players that are currently playing.

"There is definitely a paranoia that is unneeded. Just because we had a few weekends ago, I think somebody said, five [illegal] hits out of 1,000. Yeah, I think there is too much paranoia.

"If people want to watch soccer, they can watch soccer. The people who are attracted to this game, they're going to see the big hits, they don't care about touchdowns," Polamalu said. "So you're also taking apart what attracts people to this game.

"I don't think there's any confusion [about the new rule]. I just think the problem is they're wrong."

Smith and Polamalu are right in standing up for the fines Harrison and other players are facing for late hits but their focus needs to be on the bigger picture – the lack of any real talks in direct relationship to reaching a CBA agreement.

Ganis did make several very good points in the issues he raised in the USA Today report – including an interesting and insightful view on how Roger Goodell will do if the going gets tough between the two sides.

“It's not his first time. He has been involved extensively in prior labor negotiations. But there is a lot of pressure on him. The owners all know that the current system is flawed. I say out of balance, but they will use harsher terms — the players are taking too much. I don't look at it that way. I may not be completely impartial, but I'm certainly not a shill. If you have a healthy industry on the top line that is increasing, then what you need is balance among owners and players. The NFL has exceptional management in an industry that is growing, one with a high level of interest among consumers. It has a trajectory with those things that every industry in the U.S. — make that the world — would love to have.”

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, AP, ESPN and Business Week

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