Roger Goodell has engaged fans in various ways since becoming NFL commissioner in 2006. He has met hundreds of fans in fan forums, conducted chats on NFL.COM, sent fans letters and emails and conversed via Twitter (@nflcommish). Goodell, who answered fan mail as a young intern in the 1980’s, is now employing an old-fashioned, yet effective medium to reach fans – conference calls.
Beginning Wednesday night with a call with Miami Dolphins’ fans, the Commissioner is conducting a series of conference calls this spring with season ticket holders to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. Goodell has calls slated for today with the Cleveland Browns, tomorrow with the San Diego Chargers and next week with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
Below is a transcript of the wide-ranging conversation with Dolphins fans, including questions regarding the state of negotiations, potential changes to the offseason, and the personal conduct policy. He was even able to talk some real football which he gladly welcomed, saying, “I’m glad to hear an officiating question. It has been a few months since I’ve had one.”
COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL
FAN FORUM with DOLPHINS SEASON TICKET HOLDERS
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Thanks and good evening to all of the fans. I would like to thank all of you for being on and for your support of the Dolphins and, of course, the NFL in general. This call is for the fans. I enjoy hearing from you all and look forward to hearing your questions. I will do my best to answer all of those questions for you.
As you can imagine, we are all focused on the Draft coming up in a couple of weeks. I know that is of particular interest for all of the Dolphins fans. We have the most players ever attending the Draft this year. We think it will be an exciting event as it has been in the last several years, particularly since we moved it to primetime last year.
Also, we are trying to put the finishing touches on the regular-season schedule. As you know, we put the preseason schedule out yesterday. We hope to have the regular-season schedule done in advance of the Draft. I know that will also be of interest to the fans.
Of course, my main priority right now is trying to get a new collective bargaining agreement. I am leaving for Minnesota first thing in the morning to begin a new mediation process. We hope that we can get that agreement as soon as possible. I know it is important to the league, it is important to the fans and it is important to the players. We are going to do everything we can and are committed to working as hard as we can to get that agreement as soon as possible.
On the goal of mediation in Minnesota:
What we hope to get accomplished is a collective bargaining agreement. Ultimately, it is what we need to do to bring the game of football to all of our fans. We are going to work hard within the context of the mediator’s instructions. We will work whatever period of time they need to get to that agreement. We have a lot to do, but the right thing to do is to be negotiating and to be meeting with one another because that is what is going to lead to a collective bargaining agreement. We are anxious to get back to the negotiating table and hopefully will get something done.
On the status of labor negotiations:
We are hopefully going to be entering mediation to be able to reach a long-term collective bargaining agreement. That is what we are going to be doing starting tomorrow.
On the status of the NFLPA:
They decertified as of about a month ago.
On why the NFLPA decertified:
I can’t answer that question. The Players Association made that choice. I can tell you that I agree with the premise of what you are saying that these issues don’t get resolved unless you are negotiating, unless you are meeting and unless you are addressing the issues that will lead to a broad collective bargaining agreement. We have a lot of issues to resolve. I know you as fans want football. That is what we have to get done.
I am thrilled that we are getting back to the negotiating table tomorrow. It is the first time since March 11 when the players determined that they wanted to move to this litigation strategy. I am hopeful that this will be the start of a negotiation that will lead to a successful conclusion.
On problems with the current economic model despite the NFL’s popularity and financial transparency:
I would agree with you that we are more popular than ever. It is a tribute to the clubs, the players and the people who make our game great.
The (financial) disclosure that goes on within the context of our collective bargaining process is extraordinary. They know all of the revenue down to the penny. They obviously know all of our player costs. They know a significant number of our other costs, including within the stadium context. They have an extraordinary amount of information, and we have offered more information. We want them to be informed. We want to make sure they understand why we have the issues that we need to address. They have that information. I am hopeful that we will be able to negotiate because a lot of these issues are just a matter of sitting down, negotiating and having a commitment that we are going to get to an agreement.
On employing replacement players:
We have not had any discussions about using replacement players. It is not part of our strategy. Our focus is entirely on getting an agreement with the Players Association. It is the only strategy that we have been focused on.
On how the season will be restructured if games are missed and potentially cancelling the season:
Obviously, there is a point where if we don’t have a collective bargaining agreement and we are not playing games that you can’t have a credible season. We hope, obviously, to avoid that. Our intent and our complete focus is on making sure we play a full season. It is what we have been preparing for and we will continue to do that, including with the release of the schedule in the next couple of weeks.
We will have to obviously monitor that. If we are unsuccessful in getting that collective bargaining agreement, we will have to look at other alternatives. I hope that we will all be reasonable and that we will all give a little so we can all get a lot and get this agreement done.
On the enhanced season:
In the negotiations on March 11, we made a commitment to the players based on our proposal that we would play in the current 16-and-4 format for the next two seasons – 2011 and 2012. Then, together we would evaluate the 18-and-2 structure. I have heard consistently from fans that they don’t like the quality of our preseason as season ticket holders. We are looking to see what we can do to improve that.
The concept that you discussed of players only playing 16 games (in an 18-game season) has been discussed. It is something that we continue to evaluate with the players. We made a commitment in that March 11 proposal to make significant changes to offseason training, including reducing the offseason by five weeks. We would make changes during the training camp period to reduce the type of contact they had in the past and maybe even changes in the regular season that we wanted to continue to negotiate. We have to make sure player health and safety is foremost in any of the changes we make to the game. We want the quality of the game to be top notch, but we also want the safety for our players to be top notch. Your concept is one that has been discussed and it probably will get further consideration.
On quality of play being affected this year by a limited offseason:
What all of you as fans love and I love as a fan is the quality of the game and the competitiveness of the game. Obviously, there are some teams that have changed coaches and changed their system. They need that work and time in the offseason and, of course, during the preseason. It is one of the reasons why we have to remove this uncertainty as soon as possible and why we need to get to the negotiations that will be restarting tomorrow and get this agreement done. Uncertainty is not good for the quality of the game, the fans, the teams nor our partners. It is something that we have to get done quickly.
On major differences between players and owners as negotiations start again:
That is one of the things that will be important for us to determine early on in the mediation process and I’m sure that will be an objective. We have been very clear that we think the rookie compensation system needs to be adjusted. There are issues we think need to be addressed, particularly in the high round picks that are both economic and competitive, quite frankly. We think the money should be going to the proven veterans, not the untested rookies right out of the box, until you’ve proven yourself on the field. I think we have got to continue to address the overall economics of the NFL, particularly as it relates to the player costs. We proposed last month, before ending the last phase of mediation, that we would continue with a salary cap system that would be pegged at essentially the same level of 2009 and 2010, and it would grow by 14 percent over the next four years. We think that is responsible. We also think we need to address the player health and safety issues which we did in numerous respects for the players. We also offered some new programs, like an opportunity to get medical benefits for the remainder of their lives. They’d have the opportunity to buy into that. Another important issue related to that is the overall benefits to retired players. We think that needs to be addressed in the context of a collective bargaining agreement. We made a proposal that would result in a 60 percent increase in pensions for the retired players pre-1993. We think that is an important objective for us. There are a variety of things on the table.
On how Commissioner Goodell gives players a second chance and what season ticket holders can do to help the deal get done:
I’m proud of our players. They do great things both on the field and in the communities. When a guy makes a mistake, it’s important that they understand that there are consequences. They are given an opportunity to overcome that. We all make mistakes in life. They are working hard to be responsible to you as fans, to the league in general and to the people who played the game before them. As I said, I’m proud of what you do. I appreciate your comment and I hear that consistently from fans.
On your second point, as it relates to what fans can do, it’s really important that we communicate with you. It is one of the reasons we are doing this, so you understand the issues. From what I hear from fans, they want football. That is all they want. They don’t really want to get involved in the collective bargaining. They want both sides to have a fair agreement. That’s what we want. I think it has to work for the teams, it has to work for the players and it has to continue the great sport of football which I think is yours and every other fan on this call’s objective. You want to see great football that is competitive. That’s what I’m concerned about right now. I want to make sure we keep this game great. That’s what we’re committed to doing. We will work hard at it. I will tell you that patience and your continued support is probably the best thing right now.
On at what point the NFL would cancel the season:
I’m working hard to make sure that is not even an issue. We want to play the full regular season. I understand your question but it’s a hypothetical at this point, which I am going to do everything to avoid. We want to play every down in every game this season and that is what we are preparing for. We’re going to continue to do that.
On if the majority of the owners today are in it to make money with the NFL as their main business:
I will tell you that it’s clearly a big business and a popular business. I think we all know the tremendous following the NFL has so it’s an extraordinary opportunity and a privilege to own one of these franchises. I will tell you that I believe the owners own franchises in the NFL because they love the game. It’s a unique opportunity to have a team in a community that represents that community, to make a difference in the community. I think that is why owners are in it. Of course, they want the business to work. Of course, they want to make sure that the business model makes sense. They have to make investments in the game. We all have to oversee the future of this game and what we want is a collective bargaining agreement that’s going to work for the teams and the players and allow us to continue to keep this game great. That takes an investment whether it’s in a stadium or in the future of the game. We have to make sure that we have the kind of system that is going to encourage that going forward.
On fans’ ability to help the game and negotiations:
I think the fans do have a say. I think they have a big say. I think that’s one of the reasons I am on this call – to hear from you. I have done fan forums before. This is the first time we’ve had a conference call with this many people. It is important to me to hear the perspective of the fans because you have a very important perspective of the game. It affects the types of things that I do and the things we try to bring to the game The teams also try to listen to their fans. My hats off to (Dolphins Chairman/Managing General Partner) Steve Ross and (Dolphins CEO) Mike Dee for having this type of call so that we can continue that communication.
On NFL officiating:
I’m glad to hear an officiating question. It has been a few months since I’ve had one. I would tell you that there are consequences to officials when they make mistakes. They are graded every single play of every single game. It is reviewed and graded from an officiating perspective on video tape in the week after the game. Those are used to determine a grade whether you qualify for the post-season- playoffs and ultimately, whether you continue to be an NFL official. If you don’t make the grade, ultimately, you won’t be an NFL game official. Our men do a fantastic job. Obviously, they’re going to make mistakes, but it’s a fast game. The game has changed when you see the quality of high definition TV and super slow-mo replay. You’re seeing a lot more as a fan than you’ve ever seen before, and virtually every time, it confirms that the official is correct. My hat’s off to our officials.
On eliminating two preseason games and keeping 16 regular-season games:
It also has been discussed and is under consideration but right now essentially we play a 20-game format, which is 16 regular and four preseason games. That all goes up to create the revenue, which the players share in. If two of those games were removed, it would end up being a reduction in players’ salaries. That is something that we’ve talked to them about and said ‘Listen, you have to understand if we remove two preseason games or one preseason game, it has a financial impact on the business and what you get paid.’ That’s why we have agreed that we would talk about this together or we proposed that we would talk about this together and make sure that they understand the ramifications to players’ salaries and to the teams. We make a joint decision that is responsible not only from a business plan standpoint but also from the player health and safety perspective and the quality of the product that we put out to you.
On improving health care for current and former players:
The owners have done some work on this in the last couple of years outside of the context of the collective bargaining agreement by creating a Player Care Foundation. That has provided a number of benefits, some of which we did in the last collective bargaining agreement. There is a program called the 88 Plan, named after John Mackey, that we created with Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA, which provides care for players and their families that have dementia or ALS. This is something that we continue to look at. We have a program for former players that need joint replacements where they can go to 13 hospitals across the country. If they can’t afford it, we’ll pay to provide a knee replacement or other kinds of injuries that they may have had. We have provided cardiovascular screening, and prostate screening, all of which are designed to address the types of medical issues that affect the population of our former players. These men helped build the game and they deserve that kind of respect and they deserve that kind of treatment. We’re continually looking and working with the NFL Alumni and George Martin to identify the issues where we can do better on a medical standpoint as well as a financial standpoint in providing opportunities for the former players.
On financial transparency:
We’ve had collective bargaining agreements over several decades and the financial disclosure has only increased over that period of time. We offered information in the last mediation process where financial information would be disclosed that has never been disclosed before and in fact, we don’t even share among the 32 teams. I think that is not the issue. The issue is sitting down and addressing the core issues that I talked about earlier today that are important to the game and the future of the game.
On the future of the NFL if the 2011 season is cancelled:
Our focus is on getting to the negotiating table. I’m confident that if we all come to the table with a commitment to getting something done and be reasonable, we can get that done. The good news is the way labor and negotiations work, it hurts every side if you’re not playing football. Most importantly, it hurts our fans. The impact will be dramatic on everybody’s side that it will force us all to get to an agreement. That’s where we feel we should be. We should be negotiating this and reaching an agreement that works for everybody because the consequences are too great, quite frankly. We know the responsibility that we have to keep this game great and to get this done so that you can continue to enjoy football.