After NFLPA Executive Director De Smith broke out the wireless mic on February 4 so that he could walk back and forth across the stage like a trial lawyer in the well of a courtroom when conducting his first pre-Super Bowl press conference, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash knocked down several of the points that Smith was trying to make to the general public via easily-digestible sound bites.
The three messages from Smith that resonated most clearly were: (1) the league wants players to take an “18 percent pay cut”; (2) the league is a non-profit organization; and (3) the league has specifically renegotiated television contracts so that $5 billion will be paid to the NFL in 2011 if there’s no football played.
In a conference call conducted not long after Smith’s remarks ended, Pash addressed each of those points. As to the most eyebrow-raising — the idea that the league has engineered a $5 billion money-for-nothing incentive to lock players out — Pash was clear.
“It is hardly the first time that a television contract has had that type of provision in it,” Pash said. “That goes back in my experience at least to the early 1980’s. More to the point, it is nothing more than a financing mechanism. The networks aren’t going to hand over large amounts of money to us, and if they don’t get a product [in return] tell us to go ahead and keep that money. We will have to give it back to them and take reductions about what we get from them for future years. I am quite certain that the networks will make sure that they are made whole and then some if we are not able to televise games. It is not a payment, it is a financing mechanism. It is no different than borrowing on a home equity line. You still have to pay it back.”
We made this point last year, not long after it was pointed out that the NFL’s new deal with DirecTV contains a pay-for-no-play provision. “All sports league media deals are structured so payments continue in a
lockout or strike,” an industry source said at the time. “The money is then deducted off
future years. . . . The news would have been had this not been the
So the $5 billion would be paid back later, dramatically reducing the owners’ profit margin in years during which they’d be paying players and incurring the other expenses associated with running pro football teams.
We’re revisiting this issue because there’s a new item in the Boston Herald regarding the point Pash made 18 days ago. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells Ian Rapoport of the Herald that Smith’s point on the $5 billion lockout fund is “completely inaccurate.” Aiello reiterates that the money, if paid, must be repaid.
The more intriguing aspect to us is that the article has the look and feel of the league making an affirmative effort to “get the word out” regarding its response to Smith’s assertion. Though it’s entirely possible that Rapoport was simply doing some cleanup work based on notes he took during Smith’s press conference, it’s also possible (if not probable) that the league decided that the response to Smith’s assertion didn’t get as much attention as it should have received at the time, and that it made sense during a relative lull in the flow of NFL news to fill the vacuum with an effort to clarify the record regarding one of the three liberties Smith took with reality during his press conference.
Though we included a general reference to the inaccuracy of the information in a February 5 SportingNews.com column calling for the league and the union to act more like partners and less like enemies, there had yet to be a clear rebuttal of Smith’s contention.
There now is, on one of the slowest Monday mornings the NFL will see until May.