Cover Story: NFL 2011 season over?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Big Cat, Jerry Richardson calls a rare news conference.  No big bombshells, but a lot of interesting nuggets.

Richardson told us why Coach John Fox was shown the door. In part, because Fox repeatedly failed to put together back-to-back winning seasons.

He told us the Panthers are leaning toward hiring an NFL assistant coach to replace John Fox, not some of the big names that have been floated around.

And Richardson said the team doesn't plan to trade the number one pick in this year's draft.

But Richardson's most poignant comments aren't nearly as glamorous.

Collective bargaining. The possibility of a work stoppage in the NFL before next season.

At Tuesday's press conference, Richardson drew a pie chart to explain what's going on.

And it's all about money. Everybody wants a bigger piece of the pie.  We're talking about a fight between millionaires and billionaires.

Neither side is going to win may sympathy points from many people, but if both sides don't get their act together, everybody loses especially the fans.

And fans should brace for a bumpy ride.

The current contract between the NFL owners and players ends March 3rd.  And if nothing changes in two months from now we could see no more football for awhile.

"I'm not optimistic we're making a lot of progress."

And if anyone should know it's Jerry Richardson.  The man who will be at the table representing the owners in contract talks with the NFL players.

"We're the most united we have been," he said.

NFL owners are asking for significant changes in the labor deal which is called the CBA, the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

  • Specifically a rookie wage scale (similar to the NBAs) which would keep players drafted right out of college from getting exorbitant salaries.
  • Expanding the regular season to 18 games eliminating two pre-season games.
  • And most sticky, a 18 percent reduction in the players' take of league revenues.

"This situation seems quite dire at the moment because you have two sides that are very far apart," says Liz Mullen.

She's a writer for Charlotte-based Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal and has covered extensively sports labor for more than a decade.  Mullen says players want a deal but aren't going to agree to what they see is an 18-percent pay cut.

Making the case for the owners Tuesday Richardson drew a chart showing how money is divided between teams and players and said teams are operating with a negative cash flow.

"Now I don't think many business schools would say that's a model that's going to sustain itself," the Panthers owner said.

To which the players say open up your books - which so far the owners haven't.

"The players seem to be quite angry actually," said Mullen.  "Show us why we should take this pay cut. and they are at a stalemate on that issue."

Right now with the regular season over, no meetings scheduled and the March 3rd deadline looming fears are owners will lockout players on March 4th.

NFL owners would follow through on their threats, throwing into doubt the draft and the off-season trades and leaving cites like Charlotte scrambling.

Think businesses were hurt this season by a poor Panthers performance?   Imagine no season.

What if there is a lockout and the entire season is lost?

Estimates are it would have an economic impact costing $160 million in each of the NFL's 32 markets.

At his news conference Tuesday, many seemed to get the sense from Jerry Richardson that he would be surprised if there is an agreement before the March lockout date.

What would the work stoppage look like?  Players wouldn't get paid.  In fact, the players union has been telling players to put away two paychecks.

Players could decertify the union and try to bring an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL.  The NFL could sue the players union.  It could get very messy.

Copyright 2011 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Sports Business Journal's Liz Mullen (based in Los Angeles, CA) covers sports labor and is on Twitter.  Sign up for Twitter to follow Liz Mullen (@SBJLizMullen) and get their latest updates.