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5th February 2010

Salary dispute threatens 2011 NFL season

• ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 14,’ says NFLPA director
• League wants players to take 18% cut in wages

The NFL Players Association’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, strongly believes there will be no NFL season in 2011, claiming that team owners had positioned themselves for a lockout by securing, among other things, television deals that he said would pay them up to $5bn (£3.2bn) regardless of whether any games were actually played.

The 2010 season is already set to be played without a salary cap after the owners opted out of the existing collective bargaining agreement, but in 2011 there will be no season unless a new deal is reached.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 14,” said Smith when asked how likely he felt a 2011 lockout to be. Smith said the NFL’s latest offer proposed to reduce the players’ share of the league’s applied revenues from about 59% to 41%.

“They’re asking us to give 18% [of existing salaries] back. My question is why?” added Smith. “I keep coming back to an economic model in America that is unparalleled. And that makes it incredibly difficult to then come to players and say, ‘On average, each of you needs to take a $340,000 pay cut to save the National Football League.’ Tough sell. Tough sell.”

Smith reiterated claims he has made before about teams experiencing a fivefold increase in value over the past 15 years, and once again appealed for the owners to make their financial records public so that the players could have a better understanding of what the margins actually are. Perhaps his most pointed assertion, however, was that teams had renegotiated existing TV deals so that broadcasters would continue to pay for rights to games even if none were being played.

“Has any one of the prior deals included $5bn to not play football?” Smith asked. “The answer’s no.”

The NFLPA president, Kevin Mawae, attempted to paint a more positive picture, saying: “I really and truly in my heart believe we’ll get a deal done. But there’s going to have to be some give and some take and not just taking from one side all the way.”

The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, added: “You don’t make money by shutting down your business. The idea that the owners want to lock out and not play football is absolutely not the case. That’s just not good for anybody.”

Goodell will have a further opportunity to respond to Smith’s claims at his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference later today. Yesterday, however, Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice-president, pointed out that the Green Bay Packers, the only team whose audited financial records have been made available to players, had experienced a 40% fall in profits.

“In most businesses, that would be a serious cause for concern,” said Pash. “It would indicate a serious issue that has to be dealt with. You look at your single largest expense, which is player costs.”

The NFLPA, meanwhile, has advised players to save 25% of their salary next season to give themselves some security in the event of a lockout.


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