Yesterday afternoon I was fortunate enough to be part of a conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Lead Negotiator Jeff Pash and about a dozen other SBNation NFL bloggers. Here is the transcript of that conversation:
Commissioner Goodell and Jeff Pash with SB Nation
Roger Goodell: Welcome. I'm glad you guys could join us this afternoon. We're happy to take any questions you have labor or otherwise. We know how important you guys are with respect of talking to our fans and our fans are certainly at the forefront of our thoughts right now as we are going through this issue and trying to get a resolution that works for all parties. So we'll be happy to take your questions.
On Adrian Peterson's comments:
Jeff Pash: I think you have to look at those comments in the context of what Ben Dogra said right afterwards. I think he put them in context. Adrian Peterson is an outstanding player and a great contributor to this league. It's a highly emotional situation right now, so I don't think you can hold everyone to every word they say.
Goodell: Adrian Peterson was at the Draft a few years ago, was one of the first Drafts I was Commissioner at. He's an outstanding young man. I have nothing but great respect for him. Big fan of his, both as a player and an individual.
On proposed rule changes - taking the kickoff out of the game as a competitive play and on suspensions for illegal hits - will they be handled case by case or will there be a system?
RG: As you know, the major focus we have when our competition committee meets and looks at our rules is player health and safety. We also meet with our players and our players have indicated to us that this is one of those players that they think we need to address from a safety standpoint. We have been looking at this for quite some time, monitoring it and the competition committee in their study of this, in order to try to make the game as safe as possible. Looking at changes to make that play safer. We look at injury rates. We look at everything that goes into the quality of our game Including the competitive aspects of it. We want to make this game safe. We want to make it exciting. And we obviously want to make it competitive. But the rules would be the same for all 32 clubs. But we will be making the judgment on this based on the competition committee's proposal and making the game as safe as possible.
On the importance of reaching out to bloggers:
RG: It's the fans. We want the fans to understand we're doing everything we can to try to reach an agreement that's fair to the players, to the clubs and most importantly to make sure we can continue to deliver high quality football to our fans. That's our number one priority. We have to get this collective bargaining agreement addressed in a responsible fashion and we have made a proposal that we think is responsible that meets what the players are looking for and what the clubs are looking for and would ensure that we can continue on with this great game. We want the fans to understand that and understand how hard we are working to try to get something done. And the frustration they are feeling is the frustration we are feeling by not successfully coming to a conclusion through negotiations. But they have decided to pursue another strategy - litigation. We think the best thing is to be at the table negotiating. And that's what we are prepared to do.
On college talent that declared for the pros - I think they are overlooked in this whole issue:
RG: I don't think anybody has been overlooked in the context of this dispute and the negotiations. The incoming class of NFL players is important. They were all at the Combine a couple of weeks ago. Our clubs were obviously in contact with them during that period of time. And we're excited about the Draft as we are only a few weeks away from what is one of our biggest offseason events. I don't think anyone is being overlooked in this case. We know those players are going to be great NFL players and a big part of the success of the league. I can assure you nobody is being overlooked.
On Giants not making fans pay for tickets until there is an agreement and communications with clubs:
RG: One of the things the ownership did in the last several months is look to make sure we could provide as much consistency as possible with respect to policies with respect to refunds if by chance there weren't games played. All of our clubs are reaching out to their fans and making sure they are aware of the circumstances. They understand that in addition to the labor issue, we're still in a period of time where our fans are going through some very difficult challenges from an economic standpoint. Things by no stretch of the imagination have returned to normal. We are all operating under the new normal. That there are challenges in making sure our fans recognize that we're doing everything to resolve this issue and recognize that we're doing everything we can to make our attractive in the stadium as well as at home and creating as much value as possible for our fans. They are reaching out and doing everything they possibly can to address their issues and make sure they are communicating properly with our core fans.
On specific date on your schedule that the official season becomes delayed:
Lowered salary to $1 from $10 and $5 million annually, but how can you justify your salaries in a good year:
RG: We do not have a firm date. We have been focused on negotiations and trying to get resolution to this. Obviously the uncertainty of not having an agreement - we're in the midst of constructing our 2011 playing schedule. We have to try to obviously plan for flexibility on that. We are planning on a full season. We are preparing for a full season. And we certainly hope to be playing a full season.
As far as the $1, I'm not sure what the question is, but I can tell you I appreciate you reminding me of the $1 salary. I'm sure Mr. Pash does to. What it represents quite simply is these are unique times, it is a shared sacrifice, that not only the clubs and players are feeling, but we have a group of close to 1,000 employees, and then when you add on the club level 6,000 other employees that are all being impacted by this. We felt that it was important for two of the key people in the negotiations to be responsive and recognize that it is a shared sacrifice.
JP: My most important assignment was to try to get a labor agreement and I haven't accomplished that yet. So it seems only appropriate to have that kind of a salary reduction.
What can you do for SB Nation bloggers to get full media credentials for their teams?
McCarthy: Obviously you are important to us as evidenced by this call. A number of you were at the Draft with us last year. I think it will be an offline conversation with Jim to talk about this online issue with our clubs.
RG: It's fairly recognized that both of those franchise as well as the San Diego Chargers, all three of our teams in California, are faced with stadium challenges that need to be addressed. We obviously recognize that there are challenges in each of those markets from a pure economy standpoint. But it also goes back to the collective bargaining agreement. It's not a surprise that there has not been a new stadium built since that agreement was structured in 2006. The stadiums that were completed was started prior to this deal being completed - Dallas, New York and Kansas City and maybe Indianapolis. There have been no projects that have been drawn up, approved and financed under this agreement. Part of what we need to do in getting this agreement done, is to get an agreement in place that allows us to finance these projects which are more and more challenging in today's environment. Certainly having two teams in one stadium does help address the economics as proven here in NY with the Jets and the Giants, but it is still filled with many challenges. I think the teams are willing to look at joint solutions, work towards joint solutions, but we have a long ways to go before we are going to settle on any of those.
On Minnesota stadium update and a new GIII:
RG: Having the Vikings in Minnesota is very important to the league. They are a big part of our tradition and our history. I know not only the NFL, but the Wilf family believes very strongly that the Vikings belong in Minnesota. We are working with the authorities there to come up with a solution that works for the community and the team. There are obviously several challenges, but we hope in the context of a new collective bargaining agreement we will be able to find a business model that allows us to take the financial risk of building stadiums and make them reasonable investments, not only for the team but for the league and for the community. Our hope is that we can structure something that will give us a basis to continue our support of stadiums and the construction of stadiums, because they are good for everybody - the players, the clubs and the communities.
JP: I don't know if it will be exactly like the G-III program, but we've had a lot of conversations with the union on how something like that would be structured and how it would be a benefit for the players as well. We are quite hopeful that when we get an agreement done, it will support construction in Minneapolis and in other places.
How can you expect fans to believe the financial model is broken if you won't open the books?
JP: There's been a tremendous amount of financial information disclosed to the union in the course of bargaining. And the union knows, as do people like you who follow the game, when stadiums were built in the last couple of decades they were largely being built with public money. Now they are being built heavily with private money. Here in the Meadowlands, for example, the Jets and the Giants each have about $650 million debt to service, plus $45 million a year in operating costs, plus they have all the costs of upkeep, capital improvements, and things like that. If a stadium gets built out in the Bay Area or in Minnesota, there are going to be very substantial costs imposed and the current structure of the collective bargaining agreement doesn't recognize those costs nearly to the extent it needs to be to encourage the investments to be made. It's not a question of popularity or of revenue. It's a question of having enough of a return and enough of a proportionate sharing of the financial risk in the sport that the game can continue to grow and benefit fans and players.
RG: To your point, the NFL brand is extremely popular and you've seen the ratings numbers. All of that is because the owners and players have worked together to try to create not only a business model but a quality product that everyone can enjoy. And they have derived benefits from many different directions. You don't rest on your laurels for one. Two is you have to make sure you are looking towards future and not at the past. And seizing opportunities to make sure you have the right business model for the period of time and the challenges that you are facing. And the league is no different than any other business. Our consumers and fans are impacted by what's going on in the economy. We have challenges getting people into the stadiums. It's costing more money to build those stadiums, maintain those stadiums, operate those stadiums. It's costing more money to get those fans into the stadium, and quite frankly we're very concerned about what the cost of attending our events is. It cannot continue to escalate at the rates it has. We have to be responsible in recognizing that we have to not only put out a great product but also create great value for our fans. That's what we're trying to address here, not only in our collective bargaining but also in our operations.
On Mike Brown's statement after the lockout began that players are only concerned about money:
JP: I don't know if that's what many owners around the league feel, but I think Mike was reflecting what he heard in the mediation session late Friday afternoon where in responding to the comprehensive proposal we had made to them, they didn't want to talk about anything other than what the cap numbers were. They didn't want to talk about the health and safety improvements, they didn't want to talk about benefits, they didn't want to talk about improved pensions for retired players, they didn't want to talk about the drug program or the steroid program, they didn't want to talk about disciplinary matters. The only thing they wanted to talk about was the cap number. I think Mike was reflecting what he heard from the players.
On improved relations and access between the fans and players and teams:
RG: The first part is very important. We have been focused on this for the last several years trying to create greater dialogue between our fans, the clubs and the league. Technology has obviously helped us. This call is evidence of that by being able to talk directly to you all as bloggers who can talk directly to the fans and hear from the fans. One of the things I like best is when we do fan forums where I'm able to meet with several fans at once and hear from them, that kind of input is helpful. Clubs have participated with me in that. We are doing more fan forums, we're doing more fan chats, we are doing more to communicate with our fans. All of that is important whether you are facing labor disputes or whether you are just operating in a much more challenging environment which is what we're doing. I think there are benefits to communicating closer with our fans. They have a tremendously important perspective, and I have great respect for it and I know our clubs do. And I think the more we can do that, the more we are going to understand how important and how passionate our fans are and how we can create greater value for them.