Contract set to expire Friday
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Pro Football Writer
WASHINGTON -- Players’ union leader DeMaurice Smith indicated Wednesday that NFL owners have lowered from $1 billion to $800 million the amount of additional revenues they want to take off the top of their $9 billion business.
He also was clear he considers the lower figure still too high, because the league is not offering to turn over enough financial information.
Leaving the 14th day of mediated talks -- and with the labor contract set to expire Friday -- Smith called the information the NFL proposed to provide “utterly meaningless.” The union rejected what the league offered to give; that financial information doesn’t include data requested nearly two years ago by Smith in a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely,” NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said. “And is it a subject that we’re prepared to discuss? Absolutely.”
At the outset of talks, the NFL sought an additional $1 billion before splitting remaining revenues with the players; the NFL already gets an immediate $1 billion for operating expenses under the old collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL Players Association insists it wants full financial disclosure.
“Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn’t what we asked for,” Smith said, “and, according to our investment bankers and advisers, they told us that information would be utterly meaningless in determining whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League” in each year of a new CBA.
“We have requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009,” Smith continued. “We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league’s request to write a multibillion check to the owners.”
In a letter dated May 18, 2009 -- a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press -- Smith asked Goodell to “provide audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league.”
Smith attached a list of 10 categories of information he sought, including:
-- total operating income;
-- total operating expenses, such as player costs, team expenses, sales and marketing expenses, game expenses, salaries/payments to owners;
-- profit from operations;
-- net income;
-- cash and investment assets.
In the letter, Smith noted the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 as one reason “this information is critical in understanding the fair ‘cost/compensation’ model for players and teams.”
In Minneapolis, meanwhile, the NFLPA asked the federal judge who ruled in its favor in a case involving TV contracts to release information that the NFL wants kept confidential. U.S. District Court judge David Doty sided with the players last week, saying the league illegally set up $4 billion in payments from networks -- money the union argued was collected to fund a lockout.
The NFLPA said in Wednesday’s filing that the NFL hasn’t explained why material should be sealed and that the league hasn’t cooperated with the union’s attempt to propose limited redactions to protect third-party information only.
“The NFL cannot be permitted to comment publicly about these proceedings and then turn around to embrace a cloak of confidentiality that thwarts the public’s right to know,” union lawyers wrote.
The league did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the filing.
On his way into Wednesday’s mediation session in Washington, which wound up lasting about eight hours, Pash said the issue of financial transparency -- a key sticking point in labor talks this week -- “really should be behind us.”
“We’ve made more information available in the course of this negotiation than has ever been made available in decades of collective bargaining with the NFLPA,” Pash said. “Far more information. And we’ve offered to make even more information (available), including information that we do not disclose to our own clubs.”
Pash didn’t reveal any specifics of the league’s offer and wouldn’t comment on the union’s response. But a person familiar with the negotiations told the AP that the NFL offered to turn over five years of league-wide profitability data to the union -- and that the offer was rejected.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the mediator overseeing the labor talks has told participants not to publicly discuss details.
According to the person who spoke to the AP, the NFL’s proposal to the union included:
--audited league-wide profitability data with dollar figures from 2005-09 that wouldn’t show information on a club-by-club basis;
--the number of teams that have seen a shift in profitability in that span;
--an independent auditor to examine the data.
The NFLPA long has demanded that the league give it complete access to financial data -- including team-by-team information -- and made that a central issue in contract talks.
“As you know, the NFLPA does not have access to a wide range of information that is directly relevant to the contention that the current CBA fails to address the owners’ concerns,” Smith wrote to Goodell in 2009.
“For example,” the letter said, “the NFL and the teams do not provide the NFLPA with their audited financial statements detailing the profit (loss) information for the teams. We also lack the information to discern the profits (losses) per regular season games, the profit per team per playoff game and other fixed financial non-player costs.”
The CBA dates to 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008. The deal was set to expire last week, but two extensions now have pushed the cutoff to the end of Friday.
Goodell was joined by three members of the owners’ 10-person labor committee: Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Mara of the New York Giants, and Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs. More owners are expected to attend today.
If a deal isn’t reached by Friday, the sides could agree to another extension. Or talks could break off, leading to, possibly, a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.
“The commissioner said ‘talking is better than litigating.’ Talking is better than, you know, going to DEFCON 3 or whatever term I’ve heard thrown around,” Pash said. “So let’s keep at it.”