NFL, NBA Face Tough Contract Bargaining Sessions

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Billions of dollars are at stake this summer as the leagues for professional football and basketball try to negotiate new contracts with their players' unions. The NFL and the NBA both need new collective bargaining agreements.


Billions of dollars are at stake this summer as the two big professional leagues, in football and basketball, try to negotiate new contracts with their players' unions. The NFL and the NBA both need new collective bargaining agreements and both leagues are facing some tough bargaining.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us to talk about lockouts, walkouts and the prospects for a deal for either sport. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So talk about football first. NFL owners met in Illinois yesterday. Did we find out anything new about the negotiations?

GOLDMAN: Well, we found out that the owners are more united than we had recently thought. We'd heard reports of a hard-line faction that was poised to scuttle an agreement with the players. But at this point, it doesn't seem there are the nine owner votes out of 32 needed to reject the deal. Now, I say at this point, because these things of course can always change, as they try to hammer out an agreement.

We also learned some details of the proposal that the commissioner - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid out for the owners. The players would get 48 percent of league revenues, as opposed to the current take of anywhere from 53 to 60 percent. And owners would stop getting the automatic $1 billion off the top of revenues that they've been taking to cover expenses.

Another part of the proposal, the controversial 18-game schedule that would extend the regular season by two games, the owners aren't going to force that on the players.

MONTAGNE: And training camps are scheduled to start in about a month. Are the two sides going to be able to get a deal done in time?

GOLDMAN: Well, there's been momentum building toward a deal in recent weeks. Yesterday's largely positive owners' session didn't change that. And, you know, now we'll see how it plays out as the two sides resume negotiations today.

When the lockout started in March, there was this widespread belief that the people who run the league are too smart to blow up the entire season, or at the very least have games canceled. The NFL is too rich, it's too popular for them to let that happen - that's how the argument goes. Well, the lockout is now the longest work stoppage in NFL history, and it's approaching the point where they're going to find out just how smart they are.

Goodell said yesterday there's an urgency for everybody to get this done.

MONTAGNE: And, Tom, turning to basketball. Is the NBA better or worse off than the NFL when it comes to labor?

GOLDMAN: I'd say right now worse. The NBA appears to be where the NFL was in the days leading up to the start of its lockout - the NFL's lockout. It's not sounding very optimistic in the NBA.

MONTAGNE: Well, rattle off for us the main issues of the NBA. And then, you know, what's your opinion, are they likely to work things out?

GOLDMAN: The NBA says it's losing at least $300 million a year. It wants to make up for that by reducing players' salaries. The league has proposed a hard cap on player salaries, which players are adamantly against. Right now, there's a soft cap where there is an upward limit on salaries but it can be exceeded in some situations.

The owners have proposed what they call a flex cap. It's not as absolute as a hard cap, but players don't see the difference. They say flex cap has an ultimate ceiling that can't be exceeded.

So are you confused?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: So this great NBA season that just ended has been replaced by an apparent battle over the words: hard, soft and flex. And it's looking like they may not resolve things by next Friday, the first day owners can impose a lockout. And if there is a lockout, the challenge, like the one going on in the NFL right now, is can the smart people who run the NBA get it all sorted out by the time next season rolls around, and avoid canceling any games. And that, of course, is all fans care about.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thank you very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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