One of the key pieces of leverage the NFL owners have held over the NFLPA has been that they get paid no matter whether there is a season or not, while the players get nothing. This advantage came as a result of a deal struck when the NFL negotiated its current TV contracts that required the TV networks to continue paying TV rights even if a season isn't played. The revenue would be upwards of $4 billion dollars. The players meanwhile, would not be paid if they don't play... So the leverage here is clear. The NFL owners are well set up to hold out as long as they need to get the deal they want, while the players are not.
When you consider that this is a lockout, not a strike... it comes across as pretty nefarious. The players are not allowed to play and therefor have no chance to actually earn any real money if there's no football.
The players alleged that in order to secure this deal with the TV networks, the NFL essentially sold their TV rights at a discount. They argue that this is proof that the owners not only started planning to lock out the players years ago, but they violated an earlier agreement in which they promised to deal in good faith to get the maximum amount of revenue possible. If the NFL had purposefully given the networks a discount to convince them to risk paying for football even if there is none, then clearly they would not have been trying to get the highest possible revenue deal they could.
Today, a federal judge agreed with the NFLPA argument. U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled that the NFL owners had violated their good faith agreement with the players.
"The record shows that the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players," he wrote.
He said that the owners "consistently characterized gaining control over labor as a short-term objective and maximizing revenue as a long-term objective ... advancing its negotiating position at the expense of using best efforts to maximize total revenues for the joint benefit of the NFL and the Players."
The players association has asked that the $4 billion in TV revenue that would be paid this year be placed in escrow until a new collective bargaining agreement is made. No hearing has been scheduled to determine any potential damages or injunctions as a result of the ruling.
While the NFL downplayed the ruling, clearly it does weaken their position. If they didn't have this guaranteed revenue in their back pocket, the threat of them possibly canceling the season is all but off the table. From a fan's perspective, anything that diminishes the possibility of no football next year is certainly a good thing.