NFL and union extend labor talks by 24 hours

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The NFL and the union representing its players agreed to a 24-hour extension in labor talks as a deadline to reach a deal and avoid a lockout closed in, the league-owned NFL Network said Thursday.

The TV station said both sides agreed to an extension that allows talks on a new collective bargaining agreement to extend beyond Thursday’s 11:59 p.m. EST deadline, avoiding, for now, the threat of a lockout and potential lawsuits.

The sides have been in negotiations with a federal mediator over the past week after months of largely fruitless talks over how to divide the NFL’s $9 billion annual revenue.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he believes players’ salaries are rising faster than the league’s revenues and that the business model must be changed to grow the sport.

The players are largely satisfied with the status quo, but owners want a bigger slice of revenues.

Other key issues include the possible move to an 18-game regular season, a rookie wage scale and pensions for former players.

The announcement of an extension of talks came after U.S. President Barack Obama said he was reluctant to get involved in the dispute and urged the two sides to reach a deal.

“We’ve got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars. You’ve got players who are making millions of dollars,” he told a press conference at the White House.

“My working assumption at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and pay for their kids’ college educations is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the President of the United States intervening.”

Currently the owners take $1 billion out of the $9 billion revenue to cover their costs before dividing the rest, with the players’ share of the remaining $8 billion set at just under 60 percent.

Owners have said they would be willing to leave the split as agreed in 2006, but want at least another billion dollars put on their side of the ledger before the share taking — which could cost the players more than $500 million a year.

The last work stoppage in the NFL was in 1987.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)