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NFL, Players Union Agree to Mediator at Labor Talks

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. government mediator will help the National Football League and its players’ union in talks aimed at reaching a new labor agreement.

The U.S.’s most-watched television sport and its players agreed to have the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service run negotiations starting tomorrow in Washington, the agency said in a news release.

“This is a very positive sign,” Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview. “If the parties don’t want to reach a settlement, they won’t. But the mediator will help them along.”

The sides are arguing about how to share almost $9 billion in league revenue. Owners want to double the $1 billion they take out to cover expenses before dividing the remainder with players, according to the NFL Players Association. Other areas of dispute include rookie salary scales, the addition of two regular-season games and health care for players.

In “highly confrontational situations” mediation can help parties back away from original positions and demands, or retreat from bellicose rhetoric, improving the chances of compromise, Chaison said.

“Negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices in Washington, D.C.,” Director George H. Cohen said in the FMCS release.

Soccer Agreement

The federal service, a government agency created in 1947 to promote labor-management cooperation, said a year ago that it helped negotiators for Major League Soccer and its players reach a labor deal extending through the 2014 season.

NFL owners voted in 2008 to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement with players two years early, saying the deal didn’t account for costs such as those of building stadiums. The agreement ends March 3.

NFL executives including Jeff Pash, chief negotiator in talks with the union, and Eric Grubman, executive vice president for business ventures, said before the Feb. 6 Super Bowl that the league may lose $120 million in ticket sales, sponsorship and revenue if there’s no deal by March and $1 billion if it takes until September to reach an agreement. Each week of lost games would cut league revenue about $400 million, they said.

Players also would suffer financially, Pash said, including about 500 scheduled to become free agents in March who would typically be signing contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Other players are scheduled to receive significant bonuses that month, along with more in the months after, he said.

DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, said at the Super Bowl that owners are preparing to lock them out when the labor agreement expires.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has rejected as a “negotiating ploy” the union’s demand that owners provide financial documents showing the need for a new agreement, since the league set audience records last season that helped to boost revenue to an all-time high.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Kuriloff in New York at akuriloff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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