Mar 2, 2011

At this point, the NFL has to be thinking that U.S. District Judge David Doty is an honorary member of the NFLPA.

On Tuesday, Doty again sided with the NFLPA — see previously: Michael Vick recouping bonus money, Reggie White’s free agency ruling — in deciding that the NFL’s television contracts violated the current, soon to be expired collective bargaining agreement.

Doty’s ruling overturns Special Master’s Steven Burbank’s ruling of a month ago; which would have allowed the NFL to retain all of the television contract revenue, even in the face of a lockout.

Doty, on agreeing with the players that the league did not attempt to negotiate in good faith and maximize revenue for all parties,

[quotes]“The record shows that the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.”[/quotes]

[format] At the heart of Doty’s decision is the idea that the league, who recently negotiated television deals with ABC/ESPN, NBC, CBS, and DirecTV, linked payments during any potential lockout to the success of any deal. (side note: Maybe this is why ESPN’s deal with the NFL had to extend past their exclusive bargaining window?) In short, networks were forced to agree to “pay-during-lockout” provisions, or the NFL would take their business elsewhere — its the ultimate power play, and the NFL has the popularity and marketing appeal to pull off what would seemingly be a brazen move, with relative ease. Of course, the idea that the league could receive television revenue payments, even when football isn’t being played seems strange. Furthermore the fact that they would not share that money with the players during a lockout (a $4 billion dollar cushion, while eliminating $4.4 billion in player salaries and benefits), seemed to fly in the face of the idea of maximizing revenue for the owners and the players. [/format]

[format] Furthermore, Doty sided with the NFLPA on the structure of the contracts. The television contracts typically consisted of the NFL giving something for deferred compensation — i.e. DirecTV’s ability to access the NFL’s RedZone channel without having to pay an increased usage fee until 2011 or NBC’s ability to broadcast additional regular season games, with no increased usage fees until after 2012. Again, the Players Association argued that these deals did not maximize revenue during the years prior to 2011 and ’12 respectively, which would put the league in violation of the CBA. Doty agreed with this contention. [/format]

[format] So, where does this put us now? When the PA initially brought this suit in June of last year, I described it as a catch-22. If the league won the case, they’d effectively put themselves in an advantageous position as far as a new CBA. They’d realize more than $8 billion dollars of revenue during the 2011-2012 season, even in the face of a lockout, while the players were left to live off the NFLPA’s strike fund, and whatever money they had saved during prior seasons. Of course, now, with the league losing the case, one has to wonder about the level of trust between the two sides going forward. Although the NFL PR machine is already looking to assuage any fears of unfair bargaining, [/format]

[quotes]“…Today’s ruling will have no effect on our efforts to negotiate a new, balanced labor agreement.” End of statement. (via NFL PR Spokesman Greg Aiello on Twitter)[/quotes]

[format] Typically, successful negotiation usually involves both sides making some sort of concession in order to come to an agreement. Cautious optimists would argue that the NFL is now more willing to make a concession now that their plan to make themselves “lockout-proof” has failed. They may even further argue that the NFLPA is less likely to continue forward with their process of decertification because they believed the NFL’s position has weakened, making them more likely to bargain. [/format]

All we know for sure is that, right or wrong, the cautious optimist — and everyone else — has only hours to find out if they’re right.

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