The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is urging NFL owners to open their financial books to the players union, arguing that it would help resolve a labor dispute that is threatening next season's games.
“Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to sort out this stalemate is for the owners and the league to answer the biggest sticking point: money,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller wrote in a Washington Post opinion column on Friday. “What I’d like to see from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners is a simple display of good faith: Show the union your books. Don’t keep secrets. If there are financial pressures that keep you from agreeing to the revenue-sharing plan proposed by the players, let’s see the proof.”
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., suggested that a neutral third party review the financial data, remove anything sensitive and prepare an assessment of the league’s finances.
The NFL declined to comment on Rockefeller’s suggestion, citing a request by federal mediator George Cohen that the two sides not discuss negotiations while they’re in mediation. Those negotiations are scheduled to resume next week.
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The league has previously said that the players union already has access to all relevant financial information.
The biggest sticking point between the two sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. The current collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday, and the union has said it expects a lockout to come as soon as the next day.
The NFL hasn’t argued that it’s losing money, only that it needs to keep a bigger share to finance costs like stadium construction.
As to what the committee will do if the NFL doesn’t provide the information, Rockefeller spokesman Vince Morris said that the senator is keeping all options open but is mainly focused on encouraging the two sides to sort this out themselves.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said his hope is that the union and the NFL can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires. “We want a deal, and our hope is it will get done as quickly as possible,” Smith said. He refused to comment on the past seven days of negotiations with a federal mediator. The Chicago Bears gave coach Lovie Smith a two-year contract extension, keeping him through the 2013 season after a year in which his team won the NFC North and made it to the conference championship game. Cornerback Stanford Routt signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders. He is guaranteed $20 million over the first two years of the deal and says he’s happy not to have to deal with the unknown that could come with a potential lockout.