Late last month, the league’s top outside labor counsel — the man who counseled the NHL into a season-long lockout last decade — spoke for the first time regarding his work on behalf of pro football. The interview was largely overlooked, primarily because it appeared in the Hofstra Chronicle. (We found it after Bob Glauber penned a blurb on the subject today, but unless you’ve got a key to the Newsday database, you’ll only get the first two paragraphs, and the first word of the third.)
Bob Batterman provided Michael Waxenburg of the Chronicle with this ominous assessment regarding the negotiations: “At this point we are as far apart as I could imagine.”
Batterman generally observed that the owners believe they’re not getting a sufficient return on their investment, a common theme that has been offered in support of the league’s effort to pay less money to the players. But he defended the league’s decision not to share any details regarding the amount of the return on the investment, explaining that the law doesn’t require the NFL to share that information, primarily because (and this is our characterization) the league has done an adroit job of creating the impression that the owners are aren’t making money, without directly claiming that they’re not making money, a posture that would force the books open.
Batterman attributed the union’s harping on the absence of profit information as an attempt to create public leverage. And then Batterman attempted to create public leverage by harping on the need for a rookie wage scale and the inability of owners to recover bonus money from players who are in jail, two issues that surely will strike a chord with the average fan.
Frankly, we agree with both sides on these points. The league needs something stronger than “take our word for it” when complaining about the return on the investment, which while it doesn’t constitute a contention that the league isn’t making money, it means that the league isn’t making enough money. Also, the rookie salary system needs to be reformed — and players who are suspended or imprisoned should be forced to pay back advance compensation they have received in the form of a signing bonus.
Batterman also spoke about the realities of building stadiums, and the much-debated 18 percent credit for certain costs, which the owners would receive before application of the players’ current 60-percent cut, which Batterman says would not change. After, of course, the pie from which the players get their 60-percent cut shrinks by 18 percent.
But Batterman recognizes that a lockout would hurt everyone. And we continue to believe that the owners won’t lock the players out; instead, we think the owners will bargain to impasse and then impose the last offer as the new rules. Given that the two sides are so far apart, we believe that NFLPA Executive Director De Smith will then call the development a de facto lockout, in the hopes that the players will vote to strike.
Either way, the problem isn’t going away any time soon. No matter how badly the fans hope that it will.