For the next week, the biggest story in sports will be the Super Bowl.  For the next several months, the biggest story in labor-management relations will be ongoing negotiations with the NFL Owners and the Players Association over a new contract and potentially a lock-out or strike.  The negotiations have been contentious and gives suggest that Super Bowl XLV may be the last professional football game for an extended period of time. 

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the Players Association expires on March 1, 2011.  Once that Agreement expires, the parties are free to engage in activities such as strikes and lockouts.  While the Players Association has not indicated an interest in striking, the owners have expressed an interest in locking the players out of training camp and off-season workouts if a new CBA is not reached.

The biggest issues between the sides include:

Owners want to increase the credit they receive for operating expenses and capital improvements from the pot of revenue the players and owners share and reduce the percentage of adjusted revenue the players receive.  Additionally, the owners want to move to an 18 rather than a 16 game schedule.  An extended schedule would presumably increase the total revenue that the players and owners share.  The owners would also like to implement a rookie pay scale that would limit compensation of new players during their first several years in the league. 

The Players want to increase the total dollars that they realize under the revenue sharing arrangement with the league.  They do not want to make concessions to the owners by providing greater operating credits or reducing their share of the revenue without the owners providing more information on the teams’ financial position.  As private entities, 31 of the 32 NFL teams do not have to make their financials available which makes the players view the owners’ claims that they are not making a commensurate amount of money for the risk they take with skepticism.  The players also want to increase the owners commitment to post-career health benefits and pension payments.  At the end of the day, it really comes down to money.

If the rhetoric is to be believed, the parties are far apart and a work stoppage of some sort is likely.  However, the NFL is so profitable and the millionaire players and billionaire owners have so much to lose, I expect an agreement to be reached without any loss of regular seasons games during the 2011-12 season.  Regardless of the outcome, the NFL labor negotiations will be the hottest story in professional football after the Steelers and Packers finish their game.

A complete copy of the CBA is accessible here.

NFL Players Association informational lockout website here.