As the players and owners met today to renew negotiations with just over 48 hours remaining before the current NFL CBA expires, a potentially huge ruling came down in regards to the owners 2011 television money. Federal judge David Doty has ruled that the NFL owners violated the collective bargaining agreement when they struck deals with the television networks to receive fees even if a lockout occurred. The belief was that this so-called lockout insurance would allow the owners to continue paying their stadium debt bills and thus wait out the players via the lockout.
The NFL released a statement indicating it was prepared for this kind of contingency and would be appealing. However, Mike Florio made an excellent point about this change in leverage:
It’s a huge factor. It’s real leverage for the union, something the union hasn’t really had. Until now, the league has had the union over a barrel, threatening to take football away from the players and the fans until the players cry, “Uncle!” Now, the players know that a lockout lasting into the season will hurt the owners as much or more, since the money needed to service the debt will have to come from somewhere, and it possibly won’t come from the networks.
While this doesn’t guarantee anything right now, a loss of NFL leverage could drive the owners closer to the bargaining table in these final days before a potential lockout could begin. Several owners have taken on a whole lot of debt to build shiny new cathedrals to the game of football. If you remove those billions of dollars in television revenue, things could suddenly get rather dicey for some of these owners.
You can view the details of the decision in PDF format at the NFLPA’s website.