NFLPA too focused on posturing in NFL's CBA battle
By Jon Saraceno
USA Today

Sports business expert Marc Ganis said Thursday that the NFL Players Association appears more focused on strategies involving legal, political and public relations rather than resolving substantive issues at the collective bargaining table to avoid a lockout in 10 weeks.

[IMGR][/IMGR]"I don't know if the union has the intention of getting it done by then," Ganis told USA TODAY. "March 3 might not be a relevant date for them."

After decades of labor peace, the NFL and NFLPA appear on the brink of protracted and potentially contentious negotiations that might threaten the 2011 preseason and/or regular season. The current agreement expires on March 4.

Ganis said he still believes a portion of the 2011 season, whether the preseason, regular season or parts of both, probably will be adversely impacted. Early games lost to postponement could be rescheduled, he said.

At the heart of the negotiations is the league's desire for a rollback in player compensation. In 2005, the median salary for NFL players was $569,000. In the last five years, it has swelled to $906,000 as the league has enjoyed extraordinary growth, largely through an increase in television rights fees.

Two years ago, owners exercised an option to terminate the deal, which was scheduled to expire in 2013. They want a reduction in the slightly-less-than 60% of total revenues allocated to the players (after expense credits are taken off the top). The owners seek a reallocation based on their claims of increasing operating costs, including stadium replacement and enhancements.

The NFLPA re-emphasized Thursday that it was the league, not the players, which opted out of the contract in 2008.

"The players offered to play under the existing contract and (the NFL) said no," said NFLPA director of communications Carl Francis in an e-mail to USA TODAY. "They have asked for more than a billion dollars in give-backs per year, but they continuously refuse to open their books. We have offered to extend the deal many times. They hold all the cards to getting a deal done and so far they continue to ask for capitulation on money with no proof (of need), and for players to sacrifice health and safety."

But Ganis said that DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director, might be motivated to forestall an early agreement because it is his first negotiating tango with the league following his replacement of the late Gene Upshaw.

"I suspect De Smith has concluded that he cannot, in his first contract, agree to any modifications that the league is asking for unless he first appears very tough and takes both parties over a cliff," Ganis said.

Likewise, Paul Tagliabue was NFL commissioner when the last labor deal was struck in 2006, although Goodell was heavily involved in the negotiations. Goodell, 51, replaced Tagliabue as chief executive officer later that year. Recently, Goodell has spoken out publicly on the lack of meaningful progress with the union.

Last week, he met with the NFL's Management Council Executive Committee in Fort Worth regarding the impasse and cautioned them not to negotiate in the news media.

"The main message he wanted to get across to owners was that we need to get serious at the bargaining table," said Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney told USA TODAY. "I would hesitate to describe his attitude as frustrated, but certainly we're heading into a critical timeframe in terms of getting this done. I think he recognizes there is a greater sense of urgency."

Last Sunday night, Goodell told reporters in Foxborough, Mass., that his "biggest frustration is the commitment and the energy that needs to be there. .. we (need) to get there as quickly as possible."

Asked if he agreed with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said after the owners' meeting that an extension of the labor agreement could be reached before March 4, the commissioner replied: "Robert Kraft can speak for himself. I can only speak for myself."

A day later, in Minneapolis, Goodell told reporters, "I have said it publicly and I will say it again: If everyone gives a little, everyone will get a lot.. .. Any negotiation you have, not everyone is going to get what they want."

Ganis, who said he spoke with Goodell in Fort Worth, said the commissioner's "mood is not quite anxious yet, but clearly he wants to get to the negotiating table. .. get to the substance of it."

The Chicago-based businessman, who has done stadium-related work for the league in the past, said owners are "absolutely determined" not to repeat what they believe were mistakes that led to the last extension agreement.