Very big news from the world of collective bargaining today. No, not an extension of the deadline, nor a new agreement, but something that could very well spur either one of those things. Today Judge Doty ruled in favor of the NFLPA on their appeal against the owner's guaranteed tv contracts for 2011. If you'll recall, the NFL negotiated tv contracts so that in the case of a lockout they would still receive revenue for 2011. They would have to pay that back, but not right away.
This tv revenue is valued at $4 billion for 2011, a huge chunk of change. It's not the $9 billion that the NFL normally generates in revenue, but having a slush fund of that size to lean on in the event of no football gives the owners some flexibility in how demanding they could be and how instransigent they could be.
The NFLPA brought a suit against the NFL over this, arguing that the NFL failed to live up to it's expectations to maximize revenue. Special Master Stephen Burbank heard the case and in early Febuary issued a ruling in favor of the owners regarding the contract, stating that they could keep those revenues. In response, the NFLPA appealed to a judge to settle the matters.
Judge Doty (who has had oversight of the NFL and the NFLPA since 1993) ruled today (in a story that was broken by SI's Jim Trotter) that the contract does violate the CBA and that the owners can not have access to that money. He also ordered hearings to determine damages. Those hearings are to be held later.
"The court overrules the special master's findings as to the NFL's breach of the SSA relating to its contracts with DirecTV, CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN, and holds that the NFL breached the SSA as to those contracts"
Full text is in the link.
Through his twitter feed Andrew Brandt noted that Judge Doty has been mostly an NFLPA guy during his oversight. As he put it "His player-friendly stance has been a constant pebble in the shoe of the NFL."
Chris Mortensen is reporting that the owners already have an appeal ready to go, which is not exactly surprising given the amount of money we're talking about here. He also pointed out that this is why the NFLPA wants to decertify, in the hope that Judge Doty will retain oversight and rule favorably for them.
In my opinion, this could be a game changer. The owners would like us to think differently though. In fact, almost immediately after the ruling Greg Aiello said via Twitter. " As we have frequently said, our clubs are prepared for any contingency, this decision included. Today's ruling will have no effect on our efforts to negotiate a new, balanced labor agreement."
Chris Mortensen has also said that two owners spoke to him last week and insisted that even if the ruling were to go against them it would not affect how they approach the negotiations.
Personally I don't buy that argument for one second. The owners still have bills to pay as well. They'll have to pay their head coaches, their GMs, and their senior executives. They still have to make payments on their stadiums. They'll just not have a $4 billion slush fund they can fall back on.