Maury Brown, the founder of the Business of Sports network, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about the NFL Lockout.
If it is humanly possible, could you briefly summarize (and link us to one of your articles about) the cause of the dispute, what it is both sides want, and what's keeping them apart?
When the owners opted out of the CBA in 2008, it was due in large part over their belief that regardless of how they collectively voted to approve that CBA in 2006, it was a "bad deal" for the owners. What the league has said repeatedly is that the "economic realities" have changed, and that profits have declined. With the likes of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson saying, "We need to take our league back," the owners had 3 main pillars in concessions they wanted from the players: a rookie-wage scale, an 18 game regular season, and most importantly, an additional $1 billion in expense credits for matters such as stadium development and growing NFL Network.
Since the owners have refused to release - and the players have requested since as early as 2009 - financial information to back their assertion that profits are declining. Absent substantive financial information, the players have had a hard time seeing that there is need to make the concessions. In fact, research I published on Forbes SportsMoney backs the players position that without proof, they would simply rather have an extension of the CBA that just expired, something they've requested 5 times, but have been rebuked on.
Could you explain the benefit to the players of decertifying their union? By suing teams individually, could one team (say the Buccaneers) suffer a different outcome?
"Disclaiming interest" (or as it's been labeled "decertifying") dissolved the union turning it into a trade association. With the players no longer represented by a union, a group of players that include Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning that have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the players, saying that since they are no longer represented by a union, the labor laws that once allowed the NFL to lockout the players is no longer valid. In having 32 owners working in concert to "boycott" the players, it breaks antitrust law. Tied to the antitrust suit is a request for an injunction that would stop the lockout, allowing play in the league to occur while the legal wrangling continued through the courts. In that sense, no one team in the NFL is being singled out, and the Buccaneers - or any other club - would not be in danger of being "singled out". This is about to the players the league and its owners working collectively together.
What is one thing that people aren't talking about that could play a big impact on whether there's football in 2011?
Two things, really. First, the injunction ruling is critical. On April 6, the first hearing will be heard by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson. Her ruling will determine if we continue with the lockout. Second, the league has filed an unfair labor practice charge that says that the NFLPA's decertification is a "sham" - something done as a move to get out of collectively bargaining a new labor agreement. If the National Labor Relations Board says that at the time the NFLPA was still a union that it conducted unfair labor practices, it would mean the whole premise of dissolving in order to file the antitrust lawsuit is invalid.
Could you briefly explain Judge Dotys' ruling and what it means for both the players and the owners?
It was a huge win for the players. Doty ruled that the league negotiated extensions with the broadcasters that were designed to allow them to get paid over $4 billion in rights fees even if games weren't played (see the screenshots of a presentation to the owners within this doc), thus working as "lockout insurance" - a war chest that would be used in a battle of attrition with the players. Doty hasn't ruled whether to approve an injunction, or have a portion of those fees go to the players as damages. In one move, Doty's ruling empowered the players to not back down on asking for financial transparency from the owners. It's the biggest game changer in the entire labor battle.
What place do you think our elected officials should play in the labor dispute?
Right now, none. I know that House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) has introduced a Bill that would remove the NFL's antitrust exemption as it pertains to the national broadcast deals, but its chances seem long due to the other Big-4 sports (MLB, NBA, and NHL) being tied into the antitrust exemption, as well. You're likely to see some form of grandstanding, but if the lockout gets into the regular season, and certainly if it were to begin to threaten the Super Bowl, there could be serious noise and pressure from not just local, but State and Federal government, possibly all the way to President Obama, although for now he's wisely staying away from the matter.
EA has said that Madden NFL Football '12 is going to be released regardless of the result of the lockout. What other auxiliary industries might be impacted (tourism, TV, competing sports)?
Tourism would be hit, local restaurants, hoteliers, sponsors, and those that work on game day. The UFL will certainly see defections of practice squad players, and other rank and file players depending on how long the lockout were to last. The other sports (MLB, NBA, NHL, etc) could see a short-term bounce (over the duration of the work stoppage, and possibly months after), but the biggest losers would be the network broadcast partners. While they may get out of having to pay for games not being played due to the Doty ruling they would still have to fill programming where games would have been played. Nothing rates like the NFL, which means the networks lose ad dollars. There's only so much NASCAR, golf, and tennis that fans will want to watch.
And finally, how do you see things playing out? Will there be a full season of NFL football?
It's very hard to say, at this time. The ruling for the injunction is likely the biggest determining factor at the moment. If Judge Nelson rules for the players, then we have a season based pretty much off the last CBA - likely uncapped. If she rules against the players, then everything will hinge on what kind of deal gets done through the sides sitting at the table and grinding it out. With so much distrust, I don't see a deal reached until both sides feel they have some satisfaction in making the other side hurt financially. Of course, the bad thing in that is this: the fans are the ultimate losers. None of them win.