By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
The recent Supreme Court ruling that the NFL cannot consider itself a single entity is the first major victory for the NFL Players Association in their efforts to get a new collective bargaining agreement with the league owners.
In the lawsuit, American Needle versus the NFL, the high court unanimously ruled that the league cannot act as one singular unit when it comes to marketing and other licensing issues. American Needle contended that the league’s exclusive deal with Reebok was a violation of antitrust laws.
The Supreme Court ruling was far-reaching for the NFLPA . For starters, since the 2010 season is an uncapped year, it will prevent NFL teams from collectively imposing a single standard salary upon the players similar to a situation in 1985 when an arbitrator ruled that Major League baseball owners acted in collusion against free agents.
“Had the Court allowed the NFL to evade the anti-trust laws, ticket prices would have increased, free agency would have ended or been crippled, the way we watch football on television would have been fundamentally altered and our states and local governments would have been held hostage by a league with a Court-issued license to run wild,” the NFLPA said in a statement on its website.
Meanwhile, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is hoping the Supreme Court ruling will be the catalyst that will bring about a renewed effort by the league to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement.
“(May 24) Supreme Court ruling is not only a win for the players past, present and future, but a win for the fans,” Smith said in a statement. “ While the NFLPA and the players of the National Football League are pleased with the ruling, we remain focused on reaching a fair and equitable Collective Bargaining Agreement. We hope that today also marks a renewed effort by the NFL to bargain in good faith and avoid a lockout.”
Even with the current ruling, the players union has advised its players to save about 25 percent of their salaries in anticipation of a lockout by the owners. That’s something that Smith and the players union believe the owners are looking to do if things aren’t settled by March 2011.
With the NFL not having anti-trust protection, the NFLPA could decertify itself, sue the league on anti-trust gounds and allow the players to make their own individual deals with teams around the league. That could be disastrous for both sides and considering that the NFL made close to $9 billion dollars in revenue in 2009.
But the NFL downplayed the ruling’s effect upon its current negotiations with the players. During this week’s league meetings in Dallas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the ruling had no effect in its negotiations with the players union which is set to resume in June.
“I’ve never bought that. I’ve said before our labor issues are going to get addressed in collective bargaining and that’s where they should get addressed,” Goodell said. “I’ve never felt that this had any impact on our collective bargaining process. What we have to do there is sit down at the table, address our issues and get it resolved. We will have a labor agreement and it will be done through collective bargaining and not through the courts.”
Goodell said he is hopeful that a new collective bargaining arrangement will be in place by March 2011.
The main bone of contention between the players and the owners is how to divide the revenue between the players and the owners. When the current collective bargaining agreement was reached in 2006, the NFL’s 32 owners agreed to allow the players to make 60 percent of the gross revenues.
But by 2008, the owners canceled the final two years of the current CBA citing that the current arrangement was favorable to players. The owners claimed that because of the poor economy that their costs were rising faster than they were making a profit.
For the new collective bargaining agreement, the owners want the players to give back 18 percent of the revenue. But the players union are not willing to take that cut because of the league’s growth and because of the owners failure to disclose information regarding their expenses.
Whether you believe the owners or the players side in these negotiations, the possible loss of billions dollars in revenue as the country’s No. 1 professional sport will probably be enough for both sides to come up with an equitable solution to satify both sides.
For Smith and the NFLPA, the lack of anti-trust protection for the NFL might be the first step in getting the owners to realize the gravity of the situation.