A new collective bargaining agreement hovers as a key piece of the NFL offseason, but the next round of TV contracts represents the more pivotal item on the league’s to-do list. Those contracts are not up after this season, but both the league and the NFLPA want those contracts done soon, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton reports.
NFL ratings rose last season, and the owners and players would like to capitalize on that momentum this year — before any potential ratings dips blunt it. A CBA not being finalized in the next few weeks — before the election of a new NFLPA president and the new league year opening March 18 — increases the chances of a 2021 work stoppage. The NFLPA will elect a new president between March 7-10. Russell Okung is running for the post Eric Winston is vacating, and his election may well stall CBA talks. He is against expanding to a 17-game season. The current CBA expires in March 2021.
People familiar with the CBA talks indicate the sides want to have this resolved, because 2020 presidential debates threaten to interfere with perhaps multiple NFL viewing windows, Beaton notes. NFL ratings fell during the 2016 election lead-up. However, that seems like a rather small-scale reason for concern given those debates’ infrequency compared to the many national TV slots the NFL has annually.
The league’s ESPN contract expires after the 2021 season; its deals with the other networks are not up until the end of 2022. But it appears once the new CBA is agreed to, the NFL and NFLPA will look to move into those negotiations. The networks are prepared to negotiate this offseason as well, according to Beaton. A chief players-side concern: the NFL’s TV deals coming at a later date and ending with a less lucrative package for the league. The NFL securing deals before a CBA is finalized would also give owners leverage to reduce their offer to the players. However, Beason notes the NFL is not expected to move forward with serious TV negotiations until the CBA is done.
A CBA vote at Friday’s NFLPA meeting remains unlikely, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. While the 17-game season continues to be a concern, the players are not yet satisfied with the league’s terms for the next CBA’s minimum salaries. The 2020 minimum for rookies would $510K under the current CBA. The highest league minimum, for veterans with 10-plus seasons’ worth of service time, sits at just more than $1MM.
The NFL’s TV talks will also focus on monetizing gambling, according to Breer. A 2018 Supreme Court ruling opened the door to states making inroads on the gambling front, and this component being factored into the next round of TV deals has been viewed as a “billion-dollar game-changer.” Cap spikes that surpass the approximate the recent $10MM-per-year bumps could well be on the table over the life of the 2020s CBA, adding to the stakes of the current negotiations.
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