In the eleventh hour of the NFL Labor dispute the situation has dramatically shifted. Up until this point the Owners essentially held all the power in the "negations" for a new CBA between themselves and the players making many believe that a new deal wouldn't be reached until the players were ready to make major concessions to the owners.
This advantage came from the reworked television contracts the Owners recently signed with their major television broadcast partners. Under those new deals, the Owners took less overall money for the ability to have their broadcast partners pay them even if there was no football in 2011. This payment would form the bulk of the Owner's lockout fund essentially allowing them to outlast the players while still paying their own bills in the event of a protracted labor dispute.
Now all that has changed.
Judge Doty ruled yesterday (Tuesday March 1, 2011) that the Owners acted in "bad faith" when they reworked their television contracts and has ordered another hearing to determine whether the players’ remedy will be financial damages or an injunction preventing the league from pocketing the money during a lockout.
But I believe the general takeaway is this:
*When the current CBA was signed, the league (Owners) were given the exclusive right to negotiate TV contracts in the name of the themselves and the players.
*As such the league (Owners) were ethically and legally obligated to to bargain in good faith to get the best possible deal for themselves and the players.
*When the league took less money to get their broadcast partners to continue to play the league (Owners) in the event of a lockout in 2011, the league (Owners) acted in bad faith by negotiating a deal that not only hurt the players in the short run by decreasing the NFL's total revenue in 2009 and 2010 (of which the Players get a percentage) but which also provided the league (Owners) with a source of income to cover their business costs as they locked the players out in 2011.
So what does this mean for the fans?
Believe it or not, this is some of the best Labor news to reach the fans in some time. For this first time since the Owners opted out of the current CBA, they actually have an incentive to get a deal done at the negotiation table instead of depending on a lockout. Many Owners are considerably leveraged against their NFL assets and were dependent on their lockout fund from their TV contracts to stay afloat and pay their bills as they locked the players out. Without that money, their ability to "outlast" the players in a protracted labor dispute is in serious question.
And they finally seem to realize that. Today nearly a dozen Owners showed up the mediated negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA (compared to only one who has attended any previous meetings).
If Judge Doty ruling holds (and there are few reasons to believe it won't), then the players and Owners are finally evenly matched in this mess. Locking the players out to break their resolve and force a one-sided deal no longer seems quite as easy as before. Both will suffer significant financial losses if a new deal isn't reached and that might be the only thing that makes everyone involved see reason.