Why the NFLPA Voted to Approve the New CBA


The NFL will have labor peace through at least the 2030 season after the NFLPA narrowly voted (1019 to 959) to approve the proposed new collective bargaining agreement. The ten-year deal calls for an expanded playoff field (+2 teams) and includes an owners option to add a 17th game to the regular season (as early as ’21). It’s believed that the owners will exercise that right, though the logistics (think: bye weeks, deciding who gets an extra home game) associated with a 17-game slate still need to be ironed out.

Howie Long-Short: The Coronavirus outbreak exploded on domestic soil during the seven days that NFLPA voting was open. Eric Winston wasn’t prepared to say that the change in macro economic conditions impacted league-wide voting, but for him it only furthered the belief that accepting the deal was the right move. The former union president said he “thought about what the world could look like [a year from now]” and wasn’t convinced the players would be in a better position to negotiate with ownership than they were this time around.

Unfortunately, delaying the vote (beyond the two-day extension granted) until the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic could be fully understood was not an option. With the start of the 2020 league year set for March 18th, the NFLPA was up against a hard deadline - at least if it wanted to realize the "benefits the deal gave to the players inside of 2020.” Enhancements to the benefits package (for both current and former players), improved working conditions (think: off-season requirements, fewer padded practices) and increased minimum salaries were among the alterations made to the final year of the 2011 CBA. Winston said, "there’s a lot of money changing hands in 2020 [that would have otherwise remained with the owners under the terms of the old agreement].” In other words, for it to have been worth the players holding out for a better deal in ’21, they would have had to negotiate a deal “+/- $500 million richer than [the one they accepted] just to reach the same baseline.” There’s certainly no guarantee that was going to happen.

The players didn’t get everything they wanted in the new agreement - no side does in a labor negotiation - but Winston says that there was enough “good in the deal” to vote it forward. “When you think about how much money is changing hands over the next ten years - looking backwards one to one-and-a-half points could be worth anywhere between $2.2 billion and $3.3 billion over the life of the deal and [the NFLPA] thinks it’s going to be a lot higher than that moving forward - [the increase from 47% of gross revenues to 48%] is significant. Bringing retired players pensions up to 2011 levels, starting up a network of hospitals throughout NFL cities to help former players and the enhanced HRAs are [also ‘wins’ to be] proud of."

The length of the new CBA caught some by surprise - the expiring pact was 'just' eight years long - but Winston says that historically speaking shorter deals have hurt the players. In ’06, the two sides agreed to a deal and just two years later the owners exercised their right to opt out before ultimately forcing a work stoppage. By contrast, “we’ve seen the players benefit from long-term from stability and [the NFLPA] believes there is another shot to ‘shoot the moon’ on some of [the league’s] television deals - perhaps for the last time. If TV is really hurting in five or six years, does [the union] want to be in a spot where it’s negotiating against a backdrop of falling revenues or is it better to be locked in long-term? It’s a matter of risk tolerance and [the players] felt it was best to lock in solid gains as opposed to potentially exposing themselves to fluctuations [in income down the line].”

The addition of a 17th game to the schedule was the most controversial deal point on the players side. Many union members opposed the idea of taking on further wear and tear on their bodies. But the additional inventory should help the league increase the value of its media rights agreements (they plan to create a new package with the 16 extra games) and the deal includes a ‘media kicker’ that gives the players a larger share of overall revenues (48.5%) if the size of the league's TV contracts climb by +60% (the league isn't going to 17 games without a new TV deal, so there is a high probability the players will receive 48.5%). The players' share can grow to 48.8% if the value of NFL media rights climb by at least +120%. In other words, there is a financial incentive - beyond paychecks growing by 1/17th - to play an extra game.

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