Bleak outlook if NFL can't get CBA deal

May 25, 2011

NFL bigwigs tried to quickly leave town Wednesday afternoon before thunderstorms canceled their flights home.

There’s no guarantee the group will return as scheduled for Super Bowl XLVI.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell delivered his most sobering public message to date about the league’s labor impasse after a two-day owners meeting in Indianapolis. Goodell alluded to the decline in the league’s popularity — particularly drops in internet traffic and television ratings for April’s college draft — as well as slumping ticket sales since the player lockout began in mid-March.

“That is a reflection of the uncertainty and frustration of our fans,” Goodell said during a post-meeting news conference. “We all understand that. That is why we think it needs to get resolved. There are also financial consequences of that.”

Those consequences are being felt by league and team employees who have gotten their salaries slashed because of the work stoppage. The next shoe to fall may be the cancellation of NFL games and, if the situation becomes dire enough, an entire season for the first time in league history.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay warns that if a labor deal isn’t reached by July 4, the start of training camps and preseason contests will be jeopardized. The NFL already has taken into account the possibility of a delayed open to the 2011 campaign by the manner in which the regular-season schedule is booked and having two potential Super Bowl dates (Feb. 5 or 12).

“You miss those preseason games and even a (regular-season) game or two and get started late like Oct. 1, you have lost significant, significant dollars,” Irsay said. “I can’t give you a number, but probably in excess of $1 billion.

“We need to have some urgency. You get a deal Oct. 1 that you could have had July 15, that’s really unfortunate because that money is not going to be made up again. We have mutual interest of losing that.”

The money pit will grow even bigger if the impasse with NFL players isn’t broken soon. But there are no signs that any progress will be made through the only current negotiations that are occurring in a courtroom setting.

While judge-supervised mediation in the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit will begin again June 7 in Minnesota, NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash described such talks as “artificial” because they are “an extension of (lawsuit) litigation. It’s not in the form of negotiation and collective bargaining and reaching a comprehensive settlement, which is what I think we have to have.”

A circuit court decision will likely determine the next major step in labor talks. A three-judge panel will hear arguments June 3 about whether the NFL can continue its player lockout. Two of the three judges already have ruled to let the league keep the lockout in place on a temporary basis until a post-hearing verdict is reached.

That judgment isn’t expected until at least late June. While NFL and player representatives have publicly proclaimed a willingness to negotiate, neither party would likely budge much in their positions until learning of the lockout decision.

If the judges rule for the Brady v. NFL plaintiffs, the league will be required to resume personnel moves and player practices toward an on-time start to the regular season. A ruling in favor of the NFL would be a major blow to players who will begin missing paychecks in September if the season is delayed or even canceled. Such a decision also may prompt players to pressure NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith into accepting an NFL deal.

Goodell and league officials briefed team owners this week on a slew of contingency plans from a logistical and economic standpoint that hinge upon whether the lockout is lifted and/or a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached.

“I think 90 percent of the players and 90 percent of the owners or more want to get a deal,” Irsay said. “I guarantee you that sentiment is there. I think we have to push past that aspect of thinking rather than either side doesn’t or whatever.”

Otherwise, the city that houses Indianapolis' pro team may not have a championship game to host in nine months.