In our darkest hour, when everyone feels as though the NFL Owners and it's players have forgotten about the fans, one team hasn't - our Denver Broncos. Thanks to you - and the power of the MHR Community - Joe Ellis, President of the Denver Broncos - took some time to talk with me - and you - about the failed CBA negotiations, where things stand with the business of the Denver Broncos and what the future holds - whether there is a quick agreement to come or will this thing drag on into the season.
I was fortunate enough to talk with Mr. Ellis for about 20 minutes on Saturday afternoon This time was valuable to me because Ellis is one of the few people that was actually in the room - and part of conference calls and meetings with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen - throughout the past 17 days of negotiations. It was clear to me that he - and Mr. Bowlen - are just as disappointed with the current state of affairs in the NFL as we all are.
Here is what we talked about:
MHR - What would you say to fans right now about what went on the past few weeks and what it means for the future?
Joe Ellis: We would say, Mr. Bowlen and the Organization would say a couple of things. We'd say, first of all, sorry it has come to this. It never should have. Number two, if you are frustrated angry and disappointed, we share the same levels of those three things as you do. Those words don't sooth the disappointment people are going through, but we do, we are not happy about where we are. We would have preferred to have a deal, or at least kept negotiating and not gone down this path of litigation.
Having said that, we as an organization, we are still runnin' and gunnin'. We've got a Draft coming up, we've got full expectation that we'll be playing games in 2011, even with what came out of yesterday, and we are going to operate that way and we are going to get ready to put the best team we can on the field in 2011 and we look forward to playing games.
MHR - That said, Friday's events do nothing to effect the 'day-to-day' operations of the football team?
Joe Ellis: No, it really doesn't. We can't slow down in preparations for the Draft. We have to be prepared in the event that cooler heads prevail and we come back and we can sit down and hammer out an agreement which is what I think both sides ultimately need, understand and want. Even though the union leadership is seemingly taking it down a different track right now - what happened yesterday unfortunately is part of the process, we've got to put up with it, go through with it, and eventually, I think, when level heads prevail and people become more reasoned we'll get back to the table and hammer out a deal.
MHR - You mentioned that 'this is part of the process.' While there are ups and downs in all negotiations, why do you think both sides should go through all of this if the desired result is to get a deal done?
Joe Ellis: I can't answer that. I know the NFL's Management Council Executive Committee was committed to collective bargaining. Whether or not the other side was, they'd have to answer that.
I don't disagree with, and Mr. Bowlen believes this, having sat in on all the meetings and various conference calls that took place over the past 17 days, let alone the past 2 years, that the union's intent was to negotiate to a final deal at this point. They clearly had a goal to go down a path of litigation. They would argue otherwise and that's fine, but I will tell you the Owners are unified in their belief that this was the union's plan all along. Frankly, I believe the owners were prepared for that, it's unfortunate, it's distasteful to the public - especially our fans - we understand that, we share the same frustration they do, but here we are and we have to deal with it. It is part of the process we have to be prepared for.
We can't slow down in preparing for the 2011 season. we believe as I said earlier that reasonable minds will gather and we can get together, hammer out a deal and play games in 2011.
MHR - What gives you the confidence to say there will be football in 2011? Is that wishful thinking or do you truly believe we'll play football?
Joe Ellis: I think today it might be wishful thinking, but as days go past and some of the issues and aspects of litigation begin to unfold in the coming weeks that the winds may change. I don't know what's going to happen, no one can predict what's going to happen in the court system, it's complicated - frankly the public is not interested in it, our fans, your readers are not interested in that - they are interested in football games in 2011, so are we, but we have to obviously, in the interest of the game and the interest of the organization, pay attention to what is going on.
The hope is, Mr. Bowlen believes this, we believe this, that as the litigation plays itself out, hopefully it will lead people to believe the best way to get this resolved and put it behind us is to get back at the table, collectively bargain and come to a new agreement and play games in 2011. That's how we are moving forward and planning to proceed right now.
MHR - We have heard a lot about 'The Books'. The owners have said we gave the union the information, the union has said it was useless. It seems the NFL made a pretty good offer yesterday - what else do you feel the union can want?
Joe Ellis: I guess it's just a level of distrust that's frankly disappointing. Here's what happened and these are facts:
The owners offered to show the union league-wide and club profitability data and they offered to have it verified by a mutually agreed upon, 3rd-party auditor - a neutral verifier. The information they are offering up to the union we can't even get that amongst ourselves.
For example, the Denver Broncos don't know how it's competitors - the Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders - how they are operating, what their profitability is, we never see that. All this was offered up - league-wide and individual club profitability data, and the union didn't want to look at it. They'll have to answer why, but they said it just wasn't enough. They've had more financial information offered to them than they've had offered in any previous negotiation, there's labor law that dictates the level of financial transparency required in collective bargaining. We'll follow and support those principles. I think plenty was offered up. Why they didn't want to take it? Perhaps doing that, in this case, went against what their PR plan was, or their roll out plan of their litigation - they'll have to speak to that.
To say that all the information was utterly useless, or whatever the union leader said, I can't remember his exact words, I think is misguided and disingenuous.
MHR - How big of an impact did the TV-Revenue Ruling have on the negotiations?
Joe Ellis: I don't think it impacted the negotiations one bit. I think it served as a useful piece of propaganda towards the union's public relations campaign. In terms of how it affected negotiations - none. How it affected every club's position moving forward - not at all. Everybody had contingency plans to deal with, either a lockout or playing a season depending on what was going to happen anyway. So, the TV money... we're preparing for 2011 - all scenarios. That particular case, they are trumpeting that as a great victory but it really has no affect on the clubs whatsoever.
MHR - Have you been impressed, even surprised, with how John Elway has fit in with his new role as V.P. of the Broncos?
Joe Ellis: I'm not surprised at all. I think that there was this public perception that this was some kind of P.R. move on behalf of Mr. Bowlen and the team. I knew from talking with him the past several years how deeply invested he would place himself in the football side of the organization, and how excited and how eager he was to immerse himself totally into this. No one's been working harder, no one's been having more fun, nobody cares more about the Denver Broncos than John Elway. He came to Denver in 1983 and never left. He want's to help bring the Broncos back to the same level of prominence we had the year he retired.
I'm not surprised by it at all. It's been an enormous bonus for us inside our building, obviously it's had it's benefits outside the building because of the stature and aura that John carries, but I think for all those that underestimated the impact it would have inside our building, they would be pleasantly surprised at how positive it has become for us, for the Denver Broncos.
MHR - At what point does a work stoppage have an affect on the Broncos?
Joe Ellis: We're going to survive and the League is going to survive. That is not the worry here. The worry is, when does this begin to affect fans and that started Friday night. So our worry level begins. Where it really gets bad for fans is when we get to the meat of our season, that to me starts with Training Camp. We still have the Draft. When it really starts to hurt fans deeply, that comes later in the summer I think.
But hey, listen, they're hurt by yesterday(Friday). They love this game, follow it 365 days per year, we know that. We understand the passion they have for the Broncos and for them the hurt began Friday night. They are disappointed and angry and we need to get back to the business of doing right by them and that'll start with everyone getting back to the table, collectively bargaining, and coming to an agreement moving forward.
MHR - There is plenty of anger, frustration and disappointment with the fans right now. If they were sitting next to me, what would you say to them?
Joe Ellis: I would say, first of all, I agree completely. Our feelings are identical. We feel a deal should be done and it shouldn't be this hard to get a deal done. The only thing I can say is, I hope that they follow along with our belief that eventually we sort this mess out and we play football in 2011. We are preparing as if that's going to happen. We have a Draft coming up, we're evaluating our team with the effort of John Elway, John Fox, Brian Xanders, all of our scouts and all of our pro personnel people.
We are not slowing down. It is Mr. Bowlen's hope, it is the organization's hope, that we are back on the field in time for Training Camp and the start of the 2011 season. Hopefully we get this thing sorted out well in advance of that, I think that would be in the best interest of all parties - players, owners, fans, everybody - to get it back on track and that's our goal.
Believe me, that doesn't diminish what everyone is feeling today - the three words you just mentioned(anger, frustration and disappointment) - and that's how we feel. But we have a job to do, we have to get over it starting right now, move forward and get ready to play in 2011.
At the League level our hope is the owners and players will get themselves balanced and get back together, cooler heads will prevail - I know the owners are ready to do that, let's hope the players are ready to do that.
I want to thank the Denver Broncos and Mr. Ellis for taking time to speak directly to us, the fans. Here's hoping this is a door that remains open - even when labor peace returns - and Mile High Report can continue to be your direct link to the Denver Broncos. It is the power that you, the members of Broncos Country, have. MHR is just an avenue we can use.