2ND UPDATE, 3:35 PM: A federal court said it could take weeks before it decides whether to grant an injunction sought by NFL players to stop a league-imposed lockout. That’s because the judge wants both sides to agree to federal mediation to help resolve an impasse in finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement, according to Bloomberg. “Both sides are at risk. This is a good time to come back to the table,” the judge said. “This is really a matter to be resolved, in my view, with the services of the federal court.” Today’s hearing in St. Paul lasted five hours.
1ST UPDATE, 12:45 PM: Both sides are back from a break after more than three hours of opening arguments, NFL.com says. The league is making a case that the federal court has no jurisdiction over the injunction hearing until the NFL’s unfair labor practices claim against the players is ruled on by the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, most of the big names in the suit — like players Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and commissioner Roger Goodell — did not attend.
PREVIOUS, 7:04 AM: Every network sports executive, high-profile advertiser and football fan will have their eyes trained on a St. Paul, Minn., courtroom today, when an injunction hearing that could decide the fate of the next NFL season is scheduled to get under way. If U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson finds in favor of players who filed the suit to block the league from locking them out, games likely will be played as planned. If she doesn’t, the current stalemate — which began last month when labor talks between management and the players union broke down — could continue indefinitely.
The latter result would not be good news for network rights-holders like NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN, who count on the sport’s sky-high ratings to set ad rates, or satellite carrier DirecTV, which stands to lose millions if it can’t offer its NFL Sunday Ticket package to draw in cash and new subscribers. And don’t forget the hand-wringing due brands like Anheuser-Busch, which Advertising Age says is paying $50 million a year to make Bud Light the official beer of the NFL (taking over that distinction from Coors Light beginning this season); Unilever’s Vaseline, which recently kicked off its NFL campaign amidst the lockout; and Century 21, which already has bought a Super Bowl ad and committed to sponsor NBC’s pregame shows, Ad Age says.
How the hearing will play out is anybody’s guess, but the players’ side might have gotten a boost this week when the judge decided to combine the players’ suit with one filed by retired players, who say the lockout will impact their benefits. That could make it harder for the league to argue that players negotiated in bad faith during contract talks — part of a separate suit the league has filed with the National Labor Relations Board — because retired players aren’t part of the union’s negotiating committee. Both current and retired players have filed similar antitrust suits against the league in addition to the injunction.
The players association said the NFL has refused overtures to settle the court case before today, with the league telling the NFL Network that it only wants to discuss a collective bargaining agreement. But with the main question being how to split $9 billion in revenue, any talks won’t be easy or brief no matter when they resume.
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