Vikings proceed as labor issues loom

The Vikings are preparing for "business as usual" in 2011, despite the threat of a work stoppage and the potential for lost games. The ticket sales process is moving forward even if labor talks are stalling.

The 2011 NFL season may be threatened, but the Vikings are proceeding with a "business as usual" road map, according to Steve LaCroix, vice president of sales and marketing.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association met on Wednesday again after meetings between the two sides over Super Bowl weekend were termed "beneficial" by league commissioner Roger Goodell. Things apparently didn't go as well on Wednesday, as a second day of talks scheduled for Thursday were cancelled, according to numerous reports, and talks next week have also been called off, according to ESPN.

The new league year is scheduled to start March 4, which would kick off free agency for 2011, but no trades or free-agent activity will happen until the league and the players association can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. Owners opted out of the current CBA in 2008, citing the need to put more of the revenues toward stadium payments and growing league initiatives.

Despite the uncertainty, the Vikings sent a letter to season-ticket owners expressing confidence that a deal will be reached before games are affected.

As a league, we believe that we can, and will, reach an agreement that is best for the game and best for our fans," stated the letter signed by owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. "It is the hope of the Minnesota Vikings and the National Football League that no games will be cancelled, but in the event that any are, the NFL has announced a new league-wide policy for refunding ticket payments."

If games are cancelled, season-ticket owners will be refunded for any cancelled preseason and regular-season games, or can receive credit for those payments toward future games. Refunds would be paid no later than 30 days after "the final determination of how many games will actually be played during the 2011 NFL season."

Several key issues are on the table to solving the labor dispute: The owners want to have another 18 percent cut out of the defined gross revenues from which player salaries are calculated. The last salary cap in 2009 – there wasn't a cap or floor in 2010 because it was the final year of the CBA – called for close to 60 percent of the defined gross revenues to go to player salaries.

Another salary sticking point is how much money highly drafted rookies are paid. Last year's top draft pick, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, signed a five-year contract worth a reported $60 million with $40 million of that guaranteed. While Suh proved to be a highly productive player as the Associated Press' defensive rookie of the year, not every high draft pick works out, and the escalating salaries can set a franchise back when a high draft pick goes bust but is guaranteed tens of millions of dollars. The question the union wants answered is where the recouped revenue would be redirected if a cap was put on rookie contracts. The union would want that money directed to veteran players while there has been some talk of a portion of it going to retired player benefits.

The length of the regular season is another issue on the bargaining table. The league would like to expand to an 18-game schedule that would likely eliminate two of the four preseason games. The idea would be that season-ticket owners, who already pay full price for the two home preseason games, would be getting better value because regular-season games mean more, but that would also mean more stress on starters who would be playing full games instead of playing a more limited number of snaps usually associated with starters in preseason games.

The NFL generates about $9 billion a year, but the league estimates that revenues would drop sharply if an agreement isn't reach by March 4.

"The league estimates there would be a cut in gross revenues of $120 million without a new agreement by early March; $350 million if there's no CBA by August, before the preseason starts; $1 billion if no new contract is in place until September," according to "And if regular-season games are lost, the NFL figures the revenue losses would amount to about $400 million per week."

While a dire picture is being painted now, the Vikings are moving forward the only way that makes sense – as if it will all be solved in the coming months and a contingency plan if it isn't.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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