The NFL and the NFL Players Association are getting along. At least for now.
Kevin Draper and Ken Belson of the New York Times take an extended look at the nascent negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Talks have begun, even though the current labor deal covers two more seasons.
The league seems to be inclined to turn the page on the 301-page document signed eight years ago in August, securing long-term labor peace before embarking on the next round of TV deals. The thinking is that the league will be in better position to maximize the sale of broadcasting rights if the league comes to the table with the fruitful efforts of a trip to the bargaining table with players.
Talks between the NFL and NFLPA thus have begun. Per the Times, a pair of bargaining sessions have had “little of the rancor evidence in the last labor dispute,” which led to a management lockout in order to secure a better deal for ownership, which had been complaining about the prior CBA from not long after the ink had dried on it.
This time around, no owner has complained publicly or privately about the CBA. And all that that implies. They’ll say that the current deal works for both sides, which could be code for, “It works really really well for us, and it’s important for them to think the same.”
Indeed, the report from the Times indicates that unnamed people involved in the discussions expect the players to receive a “modest increase” in their share of overall revenue (it must be working really well for the owners, then), and that the agreement to otherwise contain “few major changes.”
“I do hope it is sooner rather than later,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week regarding a possible CBA extension, during his press conference at the conclusion of the May ownership meeting. “I think there is great value to all parties, and most importantly our fans, that we get this issue resolved and move forward.”
That all sounds good, and it should be easy to check the boxes on many of the minor aspects of the relationship. But the reality with any high-stakes negotiation is that both sides have to agree on a deadline for getting a deal done, or neither side will move toward bottom-line positions on the major issues.
The agreed-to deadline can arise from the same motivation, and the manner in which the league and the union share revenue gives them an equal incentive to agree to something sooner than later, so that negotiations can then begin with media companies for the next round of TV deals. However, there’s a separate incentive for both sides, which the Times briefly mentions.
“The union’s leaders want to get a deal done while Eric Winston, its president, is still in office, and not risk a shift in leadership during negotiations,” Draper and Belson write. “Winston, who won his third term last year, will be president through March 2021.”
The desire to not risk a leadership shift understates the smoldering concern, for both sides, that the next NFLPA president will be adamant about pushing for more, about maximizing all available leverage in the quest to do so, about laying the foundation for a strike (even though a strike likely won’t work) by making a wide array of over-the-top demands and by generally taking an unpredictable, illogical, and irrational approach to negotiations, potentially screwing things up for everyone.
Those concerns are real, and those concerns — coupled with the desire to rake in many more billions in TV rights — could be the factors that keep these talks on course for a smooth landing before March of next year.