With time running out and business beginning to suffer, the NBA is eager to intensify talks with its union.
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And Commissioner David Stern says the NFL’s problems show why.
Stern believes football’s labor situation, which he called a ”mess,” was worsened by a lack of urgency to get a deal done well before its collective bargaining agreement expired, something he wants to avoid as his league tries to negotiate a new deal with its players.
”It seemed that at the end of the bargaining between the NFL and the players, one got the sense that in the last day or two they had closed the gap,” Stern said Thursday. ”I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that’s what I read. And you wonder as an outsider whether it would have been a good thing to close that gap a few days earlier, a couple of weeks earlier so that you had the opportunity and the plan to do that.”
The NBA plans to soon send the union a revised proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement, hoping it will trigger meaningful negotiations ahead of the June 30 expiration date.
But Stern made it clear in his meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors that he will lock the players out if a deal can’t be reached to give owners the financial relief they seek, even if it comes at the expense of his reputation.
”The league is my client, not my vehicle to a legacy,” Stern said.
Stern said someone on the players’ side challenged him on that before the 1998 work stoppage, telling Stern he wouldn’t dare shut down the league that he’d spent more than two decades growing.
”You’re going to learn the hard way. That’s not the way we operate this league. We operate in the best interest of the league,” Stern said of his response at the time.
But Stern doesn’t believe it has to come to that point, with more than two months of bargaining time available. And he warned the players that the deal offered to them before the current CBA expires may be more favorable than one they could be presented after games have already been lost.
”If there’s a work stoppage that changes our financial picture even more negatively … it would seem to indicate that the offer that was there has to recalibrated to what the new realities economically are,” Stern said.
Stern also defended the right of his owners to profit off their investments. Though the league is projecting $300 million in losses this season, the league’s initial proposal in February 2010 for a new CBA sought to reduce player salary costs by about $750 million annually.
The players quickly rejected that proposal, which also called for a hard salary cap to replace the current system that allows for certain exceptions. The players sent a counterproposal that summer, but the league wasn’t interested in it and there has been no progress.
But deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the uncertainty of whether there will be games next season will start to hurt the league when it comes to various ticket and sponsorship renewals.
”Frankly, we’re running out of time,” Silver said. ”We have roughly two months and a week to get a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement. And I think on that point, Billy Hunter and the union are in full agreement with us that we need to intensify these discussions.”
Stern downplayed other comparisons to the NFL’s situation, saying his league is losing money and has openly shared its financial data with the union. He also seemed to question the NFLPA’s decertification process, but said having two leagues with labor problems would only further anger the public.
He believes his league would bounce back if games are lost, but with a cost.
”The damage that would be done to both sides would be intense,” he said.