After a 16-month search, the NFL Players Association elected Lloyd Howell Jr. as its new executive director. He is the fourth player since the 1970 league merger to replace DeMaurice Smith.
The players’ union’s player representatives went through a deliberately opaque process for one of the most powerful positions in the sport, most recently electing Howell, chief financial officer of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Like his predecessor, Howell came to the position with no experience in labor relations or professional sports. Smith was a veteran lawyer before joining the union, but Howell has worked as a management consultant for more than 30 years and said one of his greatest assets is his ability to bring groups together.
“Throughout my career, not everyone agrees, not everyone is on the same page,” Howell said at his inaugural press conference Wednesday afternoon. “I’m really an agent to serve the players, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them, getting to know their interests and priorities, and building a stronger team.”
Mr. Howell, who will take over a union that has operated during a time of relative peace, has sought to impose safety issues, disciplinary procedures and enhanced benefits for retired players on NFL team owners. He declined to give his specific thoughts on these priorities.
Collective bargaining agreements between the league and unions will not expire for seven more seasons, and team owners and players alike are getting richer thanks to media deals worth more than $100 billion.
Smith led the union for 14 years, but collective bargaining negotiations in 2019 and 2020 put his leadership to the test, controversially, and adding 17 games to the NFL’s regular season starting in 2021. It was decided. Under the current CBA, the player’s share of league revenue has risen to 48-48.5 percent, which is lower than the split in the 2006 agreement. NFL team values are also growing much faster than player salaries.
“Mr. De demonstrated the level of strategic thinking that is expected of a lawyer,” said Brad Thorn, who sued the NFL on behalf of the players and also sought the executive director position. “I may not have always agreed with his vision, but it is clear that he was a highly trained and skilled litigator who brought it to the table.”
Smith, who was seeking a new term in 2021, survived a vote equivalent to a no-confidence vote to retain the executive directorship. That prompted a search for his replacement.
It’s unclear if Howell will steer the union in a different direction. He spent 34 years at Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest management consultancies, before stepping down as the company’s chief financial officer last year.
With a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard University, Mr. Howell initially joined Booz Allen Hamilton to support the Department of Defense’s programs. He then worked at Goldman Sachs, returning to the company in 1995.
By hiring executives with deep business backgrounds rather than former players or Labor leaders, union leaders showed an interest in maximizing profit opportunities. As the NFL’s business becomes more complex, expanding into sports betting and emerging media platforms, the association’s commercial marketing arm seeks to profit from player images and likenesses.
“I’m not surprised that this election is so outlandish,” said Robert Borland, a former athlete agent who teaches sports law at Seton Hall College. “If you think about what the challenge is for unions that have signed a 10-year CBA and sought revenue from games, that’s probably the key.”
The association’s board of directors kept the search confidential and limited the review process to the 11-member NFLPA Executive Committee, made up of current and former players. The association’s player representatives learned the names of the finalists in recent days before Wednesday’s vote, but only 48 out of 128 voted.
Several former players, including Matt Schaub and Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., said their applications were rejected by a search committee months ago.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the association’s president, JC Tretter, said in response to the previous election that the leading candidate could not apply because the candidate’s name was leaked, the athletes’ representatives unanimously agreed with the executive committee. He said he voted in favor of having the agency conduct a closed-door search. This task complicated the commission’s investigation.
“We are proud that our players’ leadership has conducted a professional and confidential player search by our players.” tretter said. “I know Lloyd will guide our union well into the future.”
This search was in stark contrast to Mr Smith’s first election as Executive Director in 2009, a period of deep turmoil for the union. Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and union secretary for a quarter century, died in August 2008, just days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In May 2008, the team owners withdrew from the two-year labor agreement, feeling that the players were giving too much of the league’s revenue.
Three NFL insiders, including union president Troy Vincent, publicly lobbied to fill Upshaw’s seat before Smith took office. Elected March 2009.
Smith, a former Washington, D.C. prosecutor and litigator, needed to mobilize a negotiating team before the deal expired in March 2011.
If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the deadline, the owners lock out the players. The union countered by revoking the accreditation and filing an antitrust suit against the league, an operation that failed in court.
Just before training camp began, the two sides agreed to a new contract that would reduce the player’s share of earnings by a few percentage points. The deal was for 10 years instead of the usual five, giving owners the stability they wanted when negotiating similar long-term TV deals.
In 2019, the owners again called for an 18-game schedule, but Smith and the big name publicly opposed it. But just weeks before his contract expired, Smith made a proposal that included extending the regular season by one more game to 17 in exchange for players getting an additional percentage of the league’s shared revenue. clarified. Many players were outraged by what seemed to be a turnaround, and the pact was approved by just 60 votes.