OWINGS MILLS – Declarations of war and doomsday scenarios have dominated the conversation regarding the labor strife surrounding the NFL
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith bellowed, “We are at war!” during his recent meeting with newly-elected player representatives.
And the league countered Sunday with a much lower-key rebuttal from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“This is not anywhere near a war, this is a business dispute that we have to get resolved. We have been partners and we should continue to be partners.”
A lockout looms as the owners and the players’ union haggle over the NFL’s proposed 18-game season, a potential rookie wage scale, player safety issues, the salary cap, free agency rules and, most importantly, how to divide up the gross revenue with the owners opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Rhetoric, primarily gloomy, divisive remarks, has gotten the most attention with little headway made in negotiations.
Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has a much different take on the unresolved labor situation.
The Anne Arundel County businessman remains confident that there will be football, a full regular season. And he predicts the return of a salary cap following last year’s uncapped season.
“It doesn’t do me any good to be a pessimist,” Bisciotti said. “I understand labor management relations. I took courses in college. I get it. My business wasn’t union-based, so this is my first exposure to it. We’ve got some work to do, there’s no doubt about it. I am very limited in what I can say. I want to keep my money. It doesn’t do me any good not to be optimistic. I know how intelligent and committed our group that’s representing our side.
“I know how intelligent they are. I know how committed they are to getting a deal done. We’ve got someone, Domonique Foxworth, here, who I think if any of you know how intelligent he is, and he’s just one of the many guys on their side. So, I just have to have hope that a bunch of smart people on both sides of this argument are going to get it done. So, I really have high hopes. I still believe that we’re going to have a full season next year.”
Bisciotti is in the minority, though, when it comes to optimism.
There has been a lot of finger-pointing and acrimony.
And NFL owners haven’t built much of a rapport with Smith, a former corporate lawyer at Washington power law firm Payton Boggs and the successor to the late Gene Upshaw.
"I don’t know the personalities,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney told Pittsburgh reporters Thursday. “There is maybe distrust. Maybe dislike is a better word. But that’s beyond. You have a situation like this, you’ve got to get a deal. You’ve got to forget personalities.”
“We should not let a disruption of next season happen because of a lockout, a strike, whatever. It’s in everybody’s best interest to get a deal. The players want to play. The negotiators should get it together.”
A voice of reason, Rooney said he won’t get involved in the labor negotiations.
He’s busy as the United States ambassador to Ireland, but he remains in touch with what’s going on.
"We should have a deal," Rooney said. "We should not let the disruption of next season happen because of a lockout, a strike, or whatever. … It’s in everybody’s best interest to get a deal. The players, of course, want to play, and that’s what should happen. The games this year couldn’t be better. The ratings are high. So why would you step back?"
Rooney is not in favor of expanding the regular season to 18 games, which is drastically stance from his ownership brethren.
"I would rather not get the money," Rooney said.
And Bisciotti says this is the time for action, not words.
“It’s not a fight that we should be taking to the public,” Bisciotti said. “I don’t think there’s an argument on either side that is going to put us in a good light to buy these tickets and root for us. I think we ought to shut up and get behind closed doors and keep banging until we get this thing done.”
The Ravens aren’t raising ticket prices, and they aren’t laying employees off.
Bisciotti is dissatisfied with the current labor deal due to rising labor costs.
The last thing he wants is a similar deal to the one brokered between Upshaw and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue that was heavily tilted toward the players.
“When you talk about the labor being 60 percent, what is not clear is that labor is more like 80 percent here by the time you pay the other 140 employees,” Bisciotti said. “And, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any other industry that has labor costs of 80 percent. It just doesn’t happen. The health of the league, by definition, by your definition, is the revenues keep going up.
“If expenses keep rising at a higher percentage, if you were a public company, your stock would be going backward, and that’s what we’re trying to protect against.”
Last week, Goodell met with Smith.
Following that meeting, Goodell announced that talks should be instituted around the clock until a deal is consummated.
Both sides have alternately made similar comments, but nothing of consequence has happened as the clock ticks down to a March 4 deadline.
Will a deal get done?
“Yeah, I think so, but, as I’ve learned, not everybody is an optimist,” Bisciotti said. “When the season is over, I think the rhetoric will die down. So, I think everybody should just hold out hope that we’re going to get things done and I’m confident that we will.”