NFL Labor Dispute 101 with Braham Dabscheck

March 18, 2011

Just when sports fans were starting to turn their attention away from the NFL labor dispute and toward NCAA March Madness, the fighting between the players and owners has taken center stage once again. And during a time when buzzer-beating underdogs advancing in the NCAA Tournament typically captivates the nation, it’s quite a feat that the NFL has been thrust back into the proverbial water cooler discussions.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett put the NFL dispute back into spotlight by these comments earlier this week to XX Sports Radio in San Diego about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:

“Goodell’s full of it. He’s a liar. You’re a blatant liar. ‘It’s our league, it’s we, we love the players, we want the league,’ but what have you done for the players? What have you done, in all honesty, to improve the game, besides fine guys, besides take money away from guys, besides change a game that you’ve never played? … He’s done nothing to improve the game.”

While the players and owners kept comments to themselves during the mediation process, since the NFLPA has decertified, a group of players has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its owners, and the owners have locked out the players, the public verbal sparring has begun once again.

But for those without a law degree or intimate knowledge of player associations, sport leagues, and labor relations, much of what the two sides are bickering about can be a bit confusing. That’s why Fitness Information Technology has turned to Braham Dabscheck for a primer we’ll call NFL Labor Relations 101. Dabscheck, a senior fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne in Australia, is an industrial relations scholar who has conducted research on professional team sports for nearly four decades. He is also the author of a new release, Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game.

Q: With the players’ union decertifying and 10 players filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL owners, who as a result locked out the players, which side holds more power at this point?

Dabscheck: “There will be different answers for the short- (off-season) and long-term (when next season should begin). A lockout is an aggressive act by employers attempting to force workers/players to accept their terms and conditions. In the short run it will negatively affect the players. Once the season is scheduled to start, if the lockout continues, the players don’t buckle, and there is no play, that will hurt the owners more. Why? Because they will obtain no revenue. I feel at this stage both sides are testing each other; wanting to see who will blink first. This may suggest that the dispute will drag on to just prior to the new season. If the players haven’t blinked there will be internal pressure from within the owners to lower their eyelids.”

Q: What exactly is an antitrust lawsuit?

Dabscheck: “Owners/leagues introduced rules like the draft, trading, salary caps etc to control players. Such rules (with the exception of baseball) have been found to be in breach of the Sherman Anti Trust Act 1890 (see my chapters 3 and 4). An antitrust suit would be where players challenge such IMPOSED rules as being in violation of such legislation. A way for owners/league to protect such rules from antitrust action is to have them endorsed in a collective bargaining agreement with players/players’ association. This is why the NFLPA has decertified as a Union under the National Labor Relations Act. It removes such protection.”

Q: Is the decertification and lawsuit just a power move or do the players really intend to see the lawsuit run its course?

Dabscheck: “It is both. It is a power move that opens up the owners’ revenue sharing plans, which by definition is a collusive agreement to antitrust action. It is the major bargaining chip at their disposal. To back down would be tantamount to throwing in the towel. The problem for the NFLPA is for players to hold firm. It looks like the action is well supported by players, especially the stars who have the most to lose if the NFL wins.”

Q: Aside from locking out the players, which they have now done, is there anything else the owners can do to try to gain the upper hand in this dispute?

Dabscheck: “If the dispute goes on long enough they would have the option of looking for replacement players, as they have done in the past and as American corporations do in other disputes. This will help to raise the temperature. Fans and commentators may regard this as a devaluation of the NFL product. In short, this is a tactic that has to be played most carefully.”

Q: Will both sides continue to negotiate even though a group of players is suing the owners and the owners have locked out the players?

Dabscheck: “Yes. Negotiations will occur formally and informally. Also, various intermediaries will be active behind the scenes.”

Q: Can you give us your best projection of how this will play out and how, if at all, the 2011 NFL season will be affected?

Dabscheck: “This is a tough question. It looks like the owners want a fight. They may or may not be solid on this. The NFL has experienced much growth and success in recent years. The owners will feel less inclined to fight when they start to experience costs (loss of revenue). Assuming the players don’t capitulate, the 2011 season may be disrupted. If the owners (or enough of them) perceive that the players aren’t likely to cave in and the use of replacement players will cause different types of problems, they owners will have an incentive to lower their eyelids.”


Fantasy football lockout might deal with real numbers

February 4, 2011
To some, the idea of playing in a fantasy sport league may seem childish and unnecessary; to others it’s a way of life. With $800 million spent last year on fantasy leagues alone, the leagues are hard to ignore. As the industry becomes more widely followed and the fans become more involved, it’s hard to imagine a year without the excitement of drafts and statistics. Some players might say fantasy sports are mostly about having fun, making money, and competing against friends, but the industry is much more complicated. In the probable event that the NFL has a lockout this year, what happens to fantasy football will be much more than simply locking out fans from playing for entertainment.

 There are entire shows on ESPN dedicated to fantasy football statistics, keeping fantasy footballers up-to-date with all of their players.  Many companies are banking on the amount of interest fantasy football incurs each season, such as Yahoo and CBS. According to CNBC online, there are an estimated 21 million fantasy football players bringing in millions of dollars for the industry, and the amount of players continues to grow each year. CNBC also said that 60 percent of the leagues cost money to join and the average league costs $60-80 per team. With statistics like that, it’s easy to see how the leagues bring in such a significant amount of money. For most people, fantasy football wouldn’t be their first concern in the case of a lockout, although for some, it could mean a great financial loss. Advertisers who make money on fantasy football websites and businesses that offer fantasy football software would be greatly affected. For Art of the Fan, a website devoted entirely to fantasy football merchandise, priding itself on original t-shirt designs and the perfect gift for the fantasy fanatic, next season may mean few if any buyers. In the event of a lockout, websites and businesses such as Art of the Fan will have no one to turn to for recourse. The NFL doesn’t endorse this small business along with other similarly small businesses and will have no obligation to help them during the lockout.  

ESPN tells the story of a man named Nathan Harrington who was on medical leave from his job and was subsequently evicted from his apartment, leaving him, his fiancé and their son homeless. Luckily for him, he had his fantasy team to pull him through. He checked friend’s computers, library, and nursing home computers to keep up with his team. His time and effort finally paid off when he came in first in the league on ESPN, making $2,500 that would ultimately help find a way off of the street. What would have happened to Nathan Harrington if the season had been canceled? Fantasy football gave him and his family a second chance. Obviously, while this is a not a scenario that is highly likely for the average American, but it is something to think about in the upcoming months.

Many leagues use pre-draft boards to organize members and players.

Fantasy draft parties make up a large part of fantasy revenue for businesses. On Squidoo you can find tips for what not to do in when you become a fantasy football coach. Yahoo also features a community site, Associated Content,where you can find an extensive list of tips for planning your next NFL draft party. If planning your own party is not for you, you can head over to bars like Hooters that held a staggering 25,000 draft parties this year, offering free draft kits with each reservation.

Most of the discussion on the possibility of an NFL lockout revolves around effects it will have on the owners and player’s union but the true victims in this situation could be the fans. Without a fantasy football season to concentrate on, fans may turn to other fantasy sports, leaving fantasy football in the dust. Similarly, without an NFL season for fans to follow, other leagues may grow in popularity, such as the MLB, NBA and NHL.  During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Ken Dryden, former NHL goaltender stated, “You never want to give a fan a chance to find out whether it was passion or habit.” The lockout could potentially benefit other sports leagues by taking the most popular sport in America out of the entertainment scene. Time magazine online states that, “for fans, well, no football wouldn’t just be a bitter disappointment that could rearrange their fall weekend schedules, but also a betrayal of intense loyalty that could permanently damage America’s best sports brand.” It’s not just going to affect the sport for one season; this cancellation could mean the loss of fans for many years to come. Those who aren’t already lifelong fans may decide that football isn’t worth the time and money spent following the teams.

There are young men, some as young as eight years old, who dedicate their lives to perfecting their skills as football players and one day dream of making it to the NFL. What will happen if this lockout turns into more than just one season? Many of the boys and men who have trained their entire lives to play in the NFL may lose hope for success. For the owners and the players, there are more things than just wage percentages that must factor into the potential 2011 lockout; they should consider the long-term effects the canceled season will bring. There are millions of fans and businesses who will suffer from this lockout which could potentially harm the football industry for years to come. After all, without fans, there wouldn’t be any football.