NFL labor fight makes sponsors nervous

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Right now, the National Football League is in the middle of what looks like a very profitable season, with television ratings doing very well. But behind closed doors, there's trouble brewing. A fight between the league's owners and players' union. One that today's Wall Street Journal reports could get ugly, really fast. They're battling over how to split up the big money the NFL takes in. At stake is a lost season and a lot of lost revenue. Matthew Futterman wrote this morning's story for the Journal and he's with us live from New York. Good morning, sir.

MATTHEW FUTTERMAN: How are you?

CHIOTAKIS: I'm doing well. Where are the negotiations right now?

FUTTERMAN: They've pretty much stalled at the moment. There's not a lot of progress on either side. The owners haven't backed off their demands for, essentially, an 18 percent rollback in player pay and the players haven't backed off their staunch opposition to any cut in salary.

CHIOTAKIS: So not budging there. The NFL, though, Matthew, doesn't need a collective bargaining agreement, right, until March?

FUTTERMAN: That is when it expires, yeah.

CHIOTAKIS: Why are they so concerned about it right now?

FUTTERMAN: Well, one big reason they're concerned is because the sponsors who plan their marketing budgets 6, 12, 18 months in advance are getting nervous about whether there's going to be a season next year or whether they want to be associated with a league that is having much labor strife. There's going to be a Pro Bowl, which is their all-star game, later on at the end of the postseason. And that's a typical kind of event that you'd want to get sponsors for and there's a question -- Are players going to even show up to the Pro Bowl? Are there going to be protests there? If you're a Fortune 500 company, is that something you want to associate your brand with?

CHIOTAKIS: And is it possible, Matthew, that there could be no season next year?

FUTTERMAN: Oh sure. Absolutely. I mean, I don't think they're going to miss an entire season, but there could be some missed games. I mean, the owners are dug in, in terms of their desire to make some fundamental changes in the compensation system in football and the players are risking their lives. They don't have guaranteed contracts and they don't see why they should have to pay to increase the profits of the owners when the teams are profitable already.

CHIOTAKIS: We're talking about a history lesson too because we've seen this before, right?

FUTTERMAN: Well we haven't seen it happen in a long time. The NFL has had labor piece ever since the framework of the current collective bargaining agreement was worked out in the early 90s. But yes, back in the 80s there were a couple work stoppages with the NFL.

CHIOTAKIS: Matthew Futterman with the Wall Street Journal. Thank you.

FUTTERMAN: Thanks very much.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. I enjoyed the conversation.

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