Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why We'll See a New NFL Agreement by Independence Day

As baseball hits its summer doldrums, all sports eyes are fixated on the NBA Finals.  When we wake up Monday (or Wednesday) morning, a new NBA Champion will be crowned.  Whether the story is Dirk Nowitzki getting redemption five years later or the Big Three defying its doubters, it will be sure to dominate the airwaves for the week.  However, when the confetti in Dallas or Miami settles, all the attention will shift to the NFL Lockout and whether or not a season will be salvaged.

June 20th, the following Monday after the NBA Finals, will mark the 100th day of the NFL Lockout.  This infamous milestone will surely be harped on by our vast media outlets, as the season will be less than three months away and there is still so much uncertainty with OTAs, Minicamps, Free Agency, Training Camp, Preseason, and ultimately the Regular Season.  The general consensus is that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement must be made by roughly July 15th to ensure a (somewhat) normal procession of events.  If not, the NFL and NFLPA's coffers will start to shrink; according to NFL Network's Albert Breer, the loss of one Preseason game would equate to approximately $350MM and the loss of the entire Preseason will mean roughly $1B less to share.

At this point, however, optimism is growing.  Anyone who believes that there will not be an NFL season or that the season will be shortened is either misinformed or simply grabbing for ratings, or both like local sports radio station 99.9 The Fan.  The following is why we'll see a new CBA by the time Joey Chestnut terrorizes the Nathan's in Coney Island:

1) No public mudslinging - When the lockout first began, shots were fired from both sides, as recalcitrance elevated to new heights.  NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith emphatically stated the NFL's lockout was illegal, while the NFL called the NFLPA's decertification as a union (in order to file an antitrust suit) a "sham."  Like in any heated settlement, both sides want to stick to their guns and not lose any leverage.

The tides have changed in recent weeks; instead of the NFLPA vehemently pursuing litigation, both sides have initiated talks on their own.  Part of it can be attributed to the NFLPA's realization that they cannot win outright in court.  The NFL always wanted to settle out of court and form an agreement that would last for years, but the NFLPA was going to take whatever means necessary to ensure the players do not get a bad deal.  While it is only a small step, productive talks in which both sides respect to each other is a vital beginning to framing a new CBA.

2) Talks are hush hush - As a brief aside, the CBA talks this year resemble last year's contract holdout by Darrelle Revis.  In the very beginning, both sides were feeding the media with heated shots.  After a while, both sides realized that hiding behind the media did no good for each other or for the fans.  Serious negotiations did not take place until both sides agreed to a "media freeze," that way talks could be private and nothing would be misconstrued by the public.  The next step of promising news on that front occurred when both sides agreed to issue a joint statement to the public.  It hadn't meant that an agreement was imminent, but  it showed that cooperation was growing.

The CBA talks this past week are eerily similar to those between the Jets and Revis camp in 2010.  On top of the "secret" meetings this week between several owners, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith, and NFLPA player reps, Goodell and Smith reportedly met independently for dinner this past week on Long Island.  Not only that, but both sides are continually in talks, even when they are not meeting face-to-face.  While there hasn't been a "media freeze," both sides are committed to each other and are loath to feed into the media frenzy, hence the secret meetings.  Furthermore, the NFL and NFLPA took a page out of the Jets/Revis book this week by issuing a (predictably bland) joint statement.  While it may seem like nothing, it is a notable step of progress.  And all of this is occurring without the presence of lawyers, quite a leap from the persistence of litigation from the NFLPA's side up until June.

3) NBA Lockout will start June 30th - And you thought the NFL Lockout was ugly.  In a league where two-thirds of its teams struggle to break even, the NBA's impending lockout will also be a long, drawn out process, perhaps more grave than the NFL's. It's one that will commence the Thursday before Independence Day.

Can you imagine the PR nightmare of not one, but two high profile professional sports leagues being in an impasse?  Whether it is fair or not, fans across the country will gripe about millionaires and billionaires struggling to financially agree while the fans themselves are struggling just to afford season tickets.  The last thing both leagues want to see is having the fans turn a blind eye on them.  The NBA Lockout won't cause a new NFL CBA, but it could accelerate the process.

4) Nobody pisses away a $10B industry - If thirty-two owners were shrewd and intelligent enough to construct a league that would one day be worth $10B, there is no way in hell they would throw it all away.  This is not the NBA where most teams are struggling to make money; even the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills of the league are making money.

To take it a step further, those who say that the owners can afford a prolonged lockout are kidding themselves.  Do you think Jerry Jones, who constructed a $1B stadium in 2009, will be happy seeing his place only full three nights in 2011 for a few Keith Urban concerts and one Floyd Mayweather fight in which he is too much of a pansy to fight Pacquiao?  Do you think John Mara and Woody Johnson wanted the New Meadowlands to be used merely for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band?  In a league where roughly a half billion dollars is made each regular season week, everyone is a winner when games are played.

Nobody wins in a lockout.  Both sides know that.  So take a trip to South Carolina, buy some Black Cats and Roman Candles, and be ready to celebrate the looming 2011 NFL season this Fourth of July.

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