DALLAS – After weeks of talking to fans, reporters and Congress about their lagging labor negotiations, the NFL and its players' union are getting around to talking to each other.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith met Monday in New York in an effort to kick-start efforts toward a new collective bargaining agreement. They agreed to a series of bargaining sessions between now and the early March deadline for a deal.
That schedule includes a formal round Saturday in the Dallas area — one day before the Super Bowl is played at Cowboys Stadium. The last such full-group negotiating happened Nov. 22. Since then, the league and union have engaged in plenty of public posturing and rhetoric, each accusing the other of failing to seriously address their differences face-to-face.
The current CBA expires at the end of the day March 3, and the union expects the NFL to lock out players as soon as the next day. Monday's session and the announcement of additional meetings would seem to indicate a sense of urgency for Goodell and Smith.
On Monday, they discussed "a range of issues related to a new collective bargaining agreement," according to a joint statement released by the NFL and union. The statement called Saturday's meeting "part of a process to intensify negotiations."
Among the key issues are the league's push to extend the regular season from 16 games to 18; a rookie wage scale; benefits for retired players; and the owners wanting players to cede an additional $1 billion of the gross revenues up front.
The union filed a collusion case against the league, arguing that owners conspired to restrict players' salaries last offseason; took steps to be able to decertify so an antitrust lawsuit could be filed if there is a lockout; and headed to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers.
The day after the regular season ended in January, Goodell sent an e-mail to about 5 million fans, saying that "economic realities are forcing everyone to make tough choices and the NFL is no different." More recently, he pledged to cut his salary to $1 if there is a work stoppage.
In a 1½-hour sitdown with reporters at league headquarters last week, a half-dozen NFL executives said they believed both sides could forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars if a new CBA isn't reached by the deadline.
"Players have a lot of risk; clubs have a lot of risk," Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead labor negotiator, said then. "We know that the financial consequences of no agreement — of a significant delay in reaching an agreement — will be significant and will be shared. It does not fall on one party."
The league estimates there would be a cut in gross revenues of $120 million without a new agreement by early March; $350 million if there's no CBA by August, before the preseason starts; $1 billion if no new contract is in place until September. And if regular-season games are lost in 2011, the NFL figures the revenue losses would amount to about $400 million per week.
The old deal was agreed to in 2006, and owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008. The union wants owners to pledge that they will not impose a lockout and continue to operate under the expiring terms until a new agreement can be reached.
The union said Monday that its TV ad emphasizing that point was rejected by CBS College Sports Network because the message was connected to labor negotiations. George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director, said the 30-second commercial was slotted to air four times on Saturday's broadcast of a college football All-Star game.
The ad, which can be seen on YouTube, includes shots of empty seats and a padlocked gate at a stadium. After voice-overs say, "Let us play," and "Let them play," union president and former NFL Player Kevin Mawae says: "We want to play."
The ad also promotes a union website and urges viewers to sign a petition.
CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said CBS College Sports Network would not have accepted an ad from the owners' side, either. McClintock would not comment further.