The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the NFLPA’s Possible “Decertification”


If the NFLPA decertifies, it could sue the NFL by using federal antitrust laws. Decertification, however, would seriously weaken players' ability to bargain collectively.

An article in Sports Business Journal dated 13-19 September, written by Liz Mullen and titled, “NFLPA Handing Out Voting Cards to Players; Move Could Prevent Lockout by Owners,” tells a brief story of an attempt by the NFL players’ union to ward off the possibility of an owners’ lockout in 2011.  The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the league and players is set to expire in March of next year and the union (NFLPA), under instructions from its Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, issued ballots to all NFL players for a vote on possibly decertifying the NFLPA.  Should the players vote in favor of decertification, the NFLPA would cease to operate as a union and function as a trade organization instead.  According to Mullen, as a trade organization, the NFLPA could sue the NFL in the event of a lockout and rely on an arsenal of antitrust laws to wage its war.  A letter to the NFL announcing the possibility of decertification with a firm deadline for a new CBA and a threat of legal action in the event of a lockout accompanied the issuance of ballots to the players by the NFLPA.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

The NFL is not powerless here, however.  Mullen mentions that the NFL also has the option to sue the NFLPA and call its decertification – if it is accomplished – a “sham” and accuse it of still acting as a union but decertifying itself in order to gain access to antitrust laws.  “A source close to the league,” as Mullen puts it, stated that the NFL would have a strong argument.  In 1989, the NFLPA decertified only to once again become a union in 1993 after negotiating a new CBA with the league.  Still, the 1993 Reggie White v. NFL case set a precedent allowing the union to decertify in the first place.  Finally, the downsides for the NFLPA should it choose to decertify include: loss of power to collectively bargain, inability to collect dues from members, and inability to control its members’ marketing rights.  Tension continues to mount between the league and union and will likely remain for several months before the public hears the first murmurings of talks regarding a final agreement between both parties.

Let us wait and see what happens by the end of the season.  I will keep a close watch on the entire process and report any developments.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has a long road ahead. If the league and union cannot agree on a new CBA by March 2011, the following season could be cancelled. A lockout could hurt partnership values and stifle activation strategies, thus decreasing the value of future NFL sponsorship agreements. Properties earn 30-40% of their revenue from sponsorships and a locked out season has serious implications in front offices throughout the NFL.


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