DALLAS – An outside labor lawyer for the NFL says the league's owners are as single-minded right now as NHL owners were when that sport lost an entire season to a lockout.
"The only other time I've seen owners this unified ... was in 2004-05, in hockey, where there was also complete unity," said Bob Batterman, who worked for the NHL during its labor dispute with players.
"And I see it here. These men and women — there are a couple of women in the room — know what's wrong with the business today and know how it needs to be changed."
Summing up the current negotiations from the NFL's perspective, Batterman added Wednesday: "It's not a revenue problem, even though revenues aren't growing as fast as they were. These folks are masters at generating revenues. The problem is at cost side. Costs have been growing faster than revenues. That's simple."
Batterman spoke after a pre-Super Bowl news conference held by Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead in-house negotiator.
Pash reiterated many of the same points he made during a meeting with reporters at league headquarters in New York last week, saying that both sides would risk hundreds of millions of dollars if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by the start of the 2011 regular season.
The old CBA was agreed to in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008. That deal expires at midnight at the end of March 3, and the union expects the owners to lock out players as soon as the next day.
"We think March is a pretty serious date," Pash said.
Among the key issues: how to split the roughly $9 billion in league revenues between owners and players; the league's push for an 18-game regular season; a rookie wage scale; benefits for former players.
"There is probably more common ground on a number of key issues than people may realize," Pash said, "but obviously the fundamental economics have to be addressed."
Also on Wednesday, when arbitrator Shyam Das denied a grievance by the union that sought to make teams pay health insurance premiums for active players beyond March 3, even if there is no new CBA to replace the expiring one.
The union filed the grievance in December, saying clubs should have to continue to pay for benefits through Aug. 31, when the insurance plan year ends. The NFL argued insurance would need to paid for by the players or union without a new deal.
That decision came a day after special master Stephen Burbank rejected the union's request that $4 billion the NFL would be due from TV contracts be put in escrow if there is a lockout.
Even as Pash made the case that it's important to reach a deal sooner rather than later, he acknowledged that March 3 really is not truly a hard-and-fast deadline.
"If you're making progress, you can stop the clock," Pash said. "It's not a 'Thelma & Louise'-type situation, where you just go over the cliff."