NFL, Union Continue Talks on How to Split $9 Billion

Representatives of the National Football League and its players union started a 14th day of meetings with a federal mediator in Washington about how to divide almost $9 billion in revenue, the most of any sports league.

The NFL Players Association rejected an offer from the league to reveal audited profitability data for all 32 teams for the past several years, the New York Times reported last night. Union leaders want each club’s audited full financial statements, the newspaper said, citing two unidentified people familiar with the talks.

Jeff Pash, the league’s chief negotiator, said today that the NFL has made more financial information available during these negotiations than in decades of collective bargaining with the NFL Players Association.

“We’ve made it clear we’re willing to work with them on it and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get past that if that remains a serious problem,” Pash told reporters before he entered mediation. “I think issues of transparency should be behind us or should be behind us in short order.”

The sides are in a weeklong extension of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players, which was set to expire after March 3. Had the agreement lapsed, owners could have locked out players, shutting down the most popular U.S. sport for the first time since 1987. Also, players could have abandoned the union’s role in talks and begun antitrust lawsuits.

George H. Cohen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who last year brokered a deal between Major League Soccer and its players, said the extension ends the evening of March 11.

‘Give a Little Bit’

“What I’m hearing is the NFL has started to give a little bit,” Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, the team’s former union representative, said today on ESPN radio. “But there’s still not enough transparency to get a deal done. I’m an optimistic person, but I’m not very optimistic that something will get done by this Friday.”

Such disagreements don’t make it impossible to reach an accord, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Comcast SportsNet New England yesterday.

“We’re doing everything we can to get a deal consummated,” Kraft said. “I personally believe it’s possible.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the union, have declined to discuss the specifics of talks, at the request of Cohen.

Opt Out

Owners voted in 2008 to opt out of the labor deal, saying it didn’t account for costs such as those to build and maintain stadiums. Along with what share of revenue players should get, topics have included expanding the regular season to 18 games from 16, a rookie wage scale and health care.

The league wants to double the amount of revenue set aside for expenses before paying players, according to the union. Under the expiring agreement, about $1 billion is set aside before player payrolls are calculated, dedicated to costs related to stadiums, marketing, and NFL Network, according to Smith.

Another Extension

Brad Blank, agent for players including New York Jets tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the Giants’ Chris Canty, said he expects another extension to the deadline while talks continue.

“The owners don’t want to go nuclear, that became clear last week,” Blank said in a telephone interview. “There’s a number that will work. I don’t know what it is, but it’s probably somewhere between zero and $750 million.”

This week’s extension came three days after U.S. District Judge David Doty in Minneapolis ruled that team owners improperly negotiated $4 billion in television rights fees they might have tapped in a work stoppage. He will consider damages in a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.

Doty, ruling on March 1, overturned an arbitrator’s decision rejecting a union complaint that the NFL improperly negotiated to receive broadcast rights fees from its most-important television partners -- CBS Corp., News Corp’s Fox, Comcast Corp.’s NBC, Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and DirecTV -- even if a work stoppage cancels games in 2011.

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