Mark Murphy interview transcript

Packers CEO and president Mark Murphy joined ProFootballTalk Live on Tuesday, March 15 to discuss the labor situation between the league and the players.  The full transcript of the interview appears below.

MF (reading over Mark Murphy quote graphic):  Those are the comments from Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy after the talks collapsed on Friday, the players decertified, the union headed to court.  He shares the views of others like John Mara, Art Rooney of the Steelers, I almost said Dan Rooney.  Dan Rooney hasn’t been involved.  Some think maybe we’d be closer to a deal if he were, but the thinking is from the guys who were in the room on the owners’ side of the table that the players were not interested in doing a deal, that they wanted to launch their decertification and litigation strategy and that’s exactly what happened.  So joining us now, and before he was the president and CEO of the Packers, Mark Murphy played a little football.  He played from ’77-84 with the Washington Redskins, defensive back, 27 career interceptions, nine in ’83.  He was a member of the 1982 Super Bowl winning team.  That same year there was a players’ strike, so he’s been on both sides of this.  He was with the players when a strike occurred in ’82 and now he’s with the owners when a lockout is being imposed along with decertification and a huge antitrust lawsuit in 2011.  Mark, thanks very much for joining us today.

MM: Oh you’re welcome, Mike.  You know the other thing I should mention actually, when my career with the Redskins ended, Gene Upshaw hired me and I went to work for the Players Association and was Assistant Executive Director for about 4 years and was involved as a union employee during the 1987 strike so I’ve seen all sides of it.

MF: And the ’87 strike was interesting because after that strike ended, when the players crossed the picket line, the powers-that-be went back to the drawing board and came up with this decertification strategy for gaining maximum leverage over the National Football League and that’s what happened back in the early 1990s with the Reggie White antitrust case and that’s kind of where we are right now, although last time around the owners weren’t trying to lock the players out, this time that’s what the owners want to do.  You said recently that this takes us back to the ’80s.  Now when you say this takes us back to the ’80s, is there the same level of acrimony that appeared to exist between the players and owners back in the ’80s?

MM:  No, I don’t think so.  I think there’s a level of respect between the two sides that did not, that was not there in the ’80s and, but to the extent that it’s out of the bargaining process and it’s in the courts, that was really my point, that it is going backwards and I heard your comments earlier, this should be resolved and eventually will be resolved at the bargaining table and the sooner that we can get both sides at the table bargaining in good faith, we can get a deal done and you know I just really believe, and I know John Mara made comments and we all have having been involved in the process over the last year and a half, but especially over the last time period when we were in mediation it really became clear, especially on the economic issues that they were not going to move.  They were not bargaining, they’ve really been at the same level, they’ve been at the same place in terms of economics since September and I really believe they feel their best leverage is in negotiations, but they feel that the thing that gives them the most leverage is litigation following the antitrust suit, decertifying and then filing the suit and they feel that gives them the best possibility of negotiating a good agreement.  The irony is of course that when they decertify they say they are no longer a union, we can’t collectively bargain, but the whole purpose is to help them get a better collective bargaining agreement.

MF: And before this all collapsed on Friday, an offer was put on the table by the owners and it has been characterized by multiple owners as a good offer, a fair offer, the players left a pretty good deal on the table.  Drew Brees of the Saints had a different perception of that.  He had some comments yesterday on a conference call, he says, “I think it was all a show, with no real intent to get a deal done other than just to say they made a proposal –- that was no different than anything else that they proposed over the last couple of years, couple months, couple weeks.”  What’s your response to that comment from Drew Brees?

MM: Well, first of all Mike, I would say with this back and forth “he said, he said,” we’re never going to get closer to an agreement by going back and forth at each other, you know, publicly.  And you know you never can negotiate successfully through the media.  So I hate to get into it other than to say we had a serious conversation among CEC, the bargaining committee, and you know it was a legitimate proposal and there were a lot of new things, or a number of new things we put into the proposal, but also things, and we had made some progress with the union on non-economic areas, the proposal covered 20 different areas, I think obviously from an economic standpoint it was a significant move.

The parties were roughly $640 million dollars apart, $20 million dollars per team, and our proposal split the difference.  We went, we moved $320 million dollars toward them, one of the things we heard loud and clear from the players is, a big concern for them is health and safety, and we’ve had discussions in the context of an 18-game season on how we would shorten the offseason for players, reduce OTAs, reduce the number of practices where there’s contact and we put all those in the proposal.  And we also said we would not consider the 18-game season for at least two years, so I think that was a big concession towards them.  You go across the board, it was a serious proposal.  Now I would say Mike, we knew, we didn’t expect that they would say, “Al; right we got a deal that’s it,” but we thought that it would form the basis for further discussion that would eventually lead to a new collective bargaining agreement.  And that’s why were also disappointed when they walked away from the mediation process.

MF: And that’s my next question, Mark, was that offer a bottom line or is there still room to move, room for further discussion to keep inching the two sides towards some type of acceptable compromise?

MM: Well, you know really a lot of it comes down to timing, Mike.  You know the longer we go, we’re all, we’re both losing money, so I think that offer was made at that time period.  If they continue on with the litigation strategy and we get farther along and we’ve missed opportunities as far as revenue for the clubs and for the league, our proposal would eventually probably go down from what we initially offered, at least from an economic standpoint.

MF: So what you’re saying then is if they would move quickly, if we’d get back to the table quickly there’s a good chance, number one, that offer’s still on the table and number two, there’s room  for further movement?

MM: We want to get back to the bargaining table.  You know, I think we’ve made that clear.  You know, I think that’s the best thing for all of us is to get back to the bargaining process.  We liked the mediation process.  You know I thought George Cohen was very professional.  He added a discipline, a structure to our talks and we would welcome continued mediation and would hope the NFLPA would be able to join us.  It’s hard to do it by yourself.

MF: There have been several players that have indicated, both on this show and elsewhere, that there was frustration last week.  That they spent a lot of time sitting in their room waiting to meet with the owners, waiting for more information, meetings were postponed or outright canceled.  Did you get any sense from the mediator, George Cohen, that there was frustration coming from the players about the lack of any face time with the ownership group?

MM: We really can’t talk about the mediation process and specifics but you know from our side, Mike, it was disappointment.  You know, especially with the way the process ended.  And, you know, Mike, and the reality of most negotiations is you need a deadline to push people and you know we really felt that as we got closer to the deadline that there would be movement from both sides and unfortunately I think they believe and continue to believe that their best route is to decertify and to file the antitrust suit, but eventually we’re all going to have to come back to, we’re going to have to negotiate a deal.  When that time occurs, you know, that’s one of the problems and that’s one of the points that I know the mediators have discussed is the advantage of a negotiated agreement is you control your own destiny.  When you go the litigation route you lose control in terms of not only what results you may achieve, but also the timing and you know so I think that’s why we would much rather have a negotiated settlement through the collective bargaining process and mediation.

MF: So now that one deadline has come and gone, the CBA’s expired, we’re into this abyss of uncertainty with litigation, when’s the next deadline?  Is there another deadline that the two sides can point to and say, “That’s a good point for us to focus on trying to get something done?”

MM: Well, you know, I think the next deadline is the April 6th date for the preliminary injunction hearing.  And I think both sides will wait and see what happens with that.  Again, we would rather start the bargaining process now and I heard you talking, and it’s really up to the judges and you could have a judge force the parties, or ask the parties to go to a mediation process.  We would prefer to have the mediation through the FMCS, it’s a process we already started, but you know that may be a possibility as well.  One of the issues really I think is the union’s position now is there’s no longer a union, they’ve decertified, they’re now a trade association and so the settlement talks would be regarding settlement of the lawsuit that’s been filed rather than the collective bargaining agreement.  We would really prefer the discussions be in the context of the collective bargaining.

MF: But the end result would be a collective bargaining agreement.

MM: Yep, that’s what happened in ’92.

MF: And I think if both sides are willing to enter in good faith into further talks, there are letters that can be written and there are statements and prefatory comments that can be used to make sure it’s not prejudicing anyone’s position.  If the NFLPA wants to continue these talks and the NFL agrees that we’re not going to beat you over the head with that and say, “See, it was a sham decertification,” I don’t see any impediment to continuing the talks, do you?

MM: No, you’re right.  We could handle that.  Yeah, and you know to be honest, Mike, if they want to bargain, if they’re serious, we would do it anyplace, anytime.

MF: A couple of final things before I let you run, I appreciate you taking the time with us today, Mark.  On the issue of splitting the difference down to $320 million and that would work out to $10 million dollars per team, the difference is $10 million dollars per team on the salary cap between where the union is and where you moved to, is it accurate that there was also discussion about what would happen to money that went over and above the league’s projected revenue growth for 2011 through 2014?

MM: Yes, ythere have been discussions for several months about that.  And what we’ve talked about is rather than having the current cap that we’ve had really since 1993 where it’s based, set on the previous year’s revenue, would be to peg a cap and to set the cap for a four-year period and then if your revenue goes above that which had been projected, there would be a split on that additional revenue that was earned and that’s something that we have discussed.

MF: Was that part of the offer made on Friday?

MM: No, we never really got to that point.  The offer that we made was not really that specific, but that would be, you know that was something that was understood that would be a part of anything that we’d eventually agree to.

MF: So there’d be further negotiation as to what the split would be?

MM: Oh yeah, no the proposal that we made was not a full collective bargaining agreement, it was the basis for future discussions.

MF: You’re in a unique position because the Green Bay Packers are publicly owned, and I meant to ask you this earlier, do you own any stock in the Packers?

MM: I actually do, yep.  That was a, you know, when I first started here I was given one share.  That’s part of the deal, so I’m a shareholder.

MF: Well, your books are open because your team is publicly owned, the other 31 teams are privately owned, their books aren’t opened.  What’s the main reason, or reasons if there’s more than one, as to why the other owners don’t want to open their books to the player’s for the purpose of trying to work this out?

MM: Well, first of all, you’re right ours are all opened.  And I really think, and you probably have looked through these

Mike, is if you look at our financial statements from 2006 on shows the problem that we have with the current agreement, you know, our revenue has grown at a much slower rate than our expenses, particularly our player costs.  Player costs have grown at about twice the rate on an annual basis than our revenue and you know both our profit, operating profit and net income, have dropped considerably so it kind of paints the picture.  But to go back to the financial transparency issue, number one, I guess to answer it for a couple of different reasons:  First of all, no union in the country has access to the kind of information that the union has requested.  We also offered to provide them much more transparency then they’ve had in the past and in order to address the concerns that [DeMaurice Smith] has stated, that “if your profits are really declining show us that.”  We’ve offered five years of audited statements.  I guess at the end at the end of the day, Mike, as I look at it I believe that their request for financial information is really part of their bargaining strategy.  It’s a way to avoid bargaining.  So, rather than sitting down and negotiating with us, and you know Gene Upshaw very successfully negotiated many, several extensions of the agreement that was originally settled in 1993 without getting this kind of information.  They know the industry, they know our revenue, they know.  They have enough information to make a deal.  We believe that the constant request for financial transparency is a way for them to avoid bargaining.

MF: But the difference in this case and the past cases is Gene Upshaw was always trying to get more and more and more for the players.  This is the first time where the league has turned it around and said, “You know what, that deal we signed in 2006 is not working for us, we’re not making as much money as we’d like to make” and then when the Union responds by saying, “Well, prove it,” there’s got to be something, doesn’t there have to be something substantive that you use to persuade the union, something reliable and something that’s complete, that allows the union to look at and say, ‘OK, we get it, the Packers’ books are similar to the books of the other teams, we’ll work with you to help fix this going forward.’  Isn’t that a reasonable request from them?

MM: You make a good point in terms of Gene pushing for more and more and in some ways,  going all the way back, you talked a little bit earlier about the 1980s versus now, in some ways it’s completely flipped.  In the 1980s I was on the players’ side and we were pushing hard to change the current agreement.  Fast forward to where we are now, players are very happy with the current agreement and management, the owners, are looking to make some changes to the agreement so it’s really on a different side.  But, in terms of the points you made, that’s exactly what we have tried to do, you know De has said, ‘If you could show that the league as a whole has had declining profits and that a majority of the teams have had their profits decline since the new agreement was put in place.”  You know, we offered for them audited financial statements that would show that and that’s why I was disappointed because I thought that would be a way to kind of break the logjam, but they really didn’t even look at what we provided them and said, “No, that’s not enough we need more.”

MF: And just so we’re clear, you didn’t actually offer to give them five years of audited financial statements, you offered information that was gleaned from five years of audited financial statements, is that accurate?

MM: I know you talked to Jeff Pash about this yesterday.  I believe we were willing to offer audited financial statements for the last five years.

MF: Well, Mark, I’m confident there’s a middle ground somewhere out there for 10 years of audited financial statements and whatever the league specifically has offered.  I’m confident that if Judge Doty or Judge Nelson would order the two sides together to mediate between now and April 6th a deal would get done and I appreciate you taking the time to help our audience understand these issues, I know it’s a stressful time, it’s a difficult time and I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of fans saying we just want to put this time behind us and I’m guessing you do as well.

MM: I appreciate it.  Thanks for your time, Mike.

MF: Thanks, Mark.

MM: Take care now.

MF: That’s Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers.  I’m sure he’d rather be basking in the glow of that brand new Vince Lombardi Trophy that they won a little over a month ago.  What a change.  They go from celebrating the NFL championship, his second ring, to go along with the one he won in 1982 with the Redskins coincidentally during a strike-shortened season, and now he’s got to roll up his sleeves and he’s in a unique position because he’s fought this fight from the side of the players as a player, as an employee with the union in ’87 and beyond and now he’s one of the 32 owners, although he’s the only one who isn’t an owner other than his one share of stock and whatever was added to it.  So great stuff from Mark Murphy and I think I better understand the issues and I think I now feel even more strongly these two sides need to get back together, not tomorrow, they need to get back together right now.