At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, Eight Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit E. Bye said that the NFL and players should continue their attempts to negotiate a settlement. “We will take this case and render a decision in due course,” Bye said. “We won’t, I might also say, be all that hurt that you’re leaving us out if you should go out and settle the case. But that’s up to you. But we will keep with our business and if that ends up with a decision, it’s probably something both sides are not going to like, but at least it will be a decision.”
The reality of the NFL’s labor dispute is that a long-term collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is in the collective best interest of both sides; the players and the owners. A deal of nine or 10 years is the preferred term that will maximize the revenue for the teams and thus the income for the players. The other reality is that any short-term leverage gained by a judicial victory in any one of what seems like a multitude of legal venues, will create only a short-term CBA which will benefit nether party and will continue to damage the foundation of the greatest professional sports enterprise ever created.
The players are seeking judicial intervention to end the lockout though the legal premise that the NFL is a monopoly and violates any number of tenets of the Sherman Antitrust Act. If the players are successful in their arguments, then football will resume and their antitrust law suit will continue towards a trial in some two or three years with potentially billions of dollars of damages owed by the owners and the NFL to the players. If the players are successful then they feel the owners will be pressured and leveraged into increasing their current offers to resolve the CBA.
Conversely, the owners are seeking judicial intervention to allow them to continue their lockout of the players and the possible curtailment, delay or cancelation of the 2011 league year. The owners are arguing that labor laws gives management the negotiating strategy of “locking out” employees if an impasse in CBA negotiations occurs. The also continue to believe that if they can lockout the players that the players would ultimately “cave” or capitulate to the owners demands and accept a less than ideal CBA; one much more favorable to the owners than the player.
If either one of these two scenarios occur then the victorious side will achieve interim leverage, whether it be the players or the owners. If the owners force or strangle the players into a poor CBA then the players will agree to only a short-term deal and find every opportunity to disrupt the deal and make life miserable for the owners and their partners. The converse is also true; if the owners have to capitulate in the short term then they will agree as they did in 2006 to a short-term solution.
The ultimate reality for these warring factions is that the league’s largest individual source of revenue, the television contracts, all come up for new contracts in 2013; a mere two years away. The last thing the networks will want to worry about, think about and factor into their proposals, is that they will have to go through another year of CBA turmoil and tribulations any time in the near future. The networks realize the tremendous value of the NFL to their bottom line and won’t mind paying incredible if not silly numbers to keep the league on their airwaves, so long as there exists no unnecessary future disruptions caused by the partnership of the players and owners. If the league and the players can present a decade-long deal to the networks, all parties will benefit to a level past their wildest imaginations. We are talking about billions of dollars for both sides; surely both sides can see the wisdom of this partnership for their mutual future business models and work out a deal that both sides feel that they won on some issues, lost on an equal amount and tied on the rest. This is usually the hallmark of a deal that is actually fair for both sides and what is wrong with that?