Commissioner Goodell holds conference call with 49ers fans

Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with San Francisco 49ers season-ticket holders last night in the second of his two conference calls with fans yesterday.

Among the topics was the impact of the economy on fans and labor negotiations.

Asked one fan, “I want to make sure that you guys don’t give in to these players and then you turn around and punish and pass the price on to the season-ticket holders. Because obviously if you have to pay them extra money, the money has to come from somewhere. So has there has been any talk about this economy and passing the cost on to the season-ticket holders?”

“It’s been a big source of our discussions,” Commissioner Goodell replied. “Everybody has been impacted by this economy and most importantly, our fans and we know that. We hear that from the fans directly, we hear that through our clubs and we recognize that’s happening and that’s one of the things that we have to address here. We cannot continue to push the rising costs of either player costs or the other costs that we have to our fans. There’s a limit to what you can do there and that’s one of the things we’re trying to address because our costs have risen more than our revenues and that’s obviously an unsustainable model. And we recognize that we have to be responsive to what our fans our going through.

“It’s one of the reasons that we’re trying to slow the growth of player costs so that we can continue to deliver our high-quality product,” the Commissioner continued. “The proposal we made on March 11 had the players’ salaries in 2011 slightly higher than last year’s and at the same level as 2009; and growing 14% over the next four years. I think that as you are pointing out, I think that’s a pretty healthy increase. I know a lot of our fans and a lot of us would be pleased with, so that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work with, with our players.”

Following is the transcript of the Commissioner’s conference call with 49ers fans:

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

FAN FORUM with SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS SEASON TICKET HOLDERS

April 20, 2011

Commissioner Roger Goodell: It’s fun to be with you, the 49er fans tonight and take your questions. I look forward to hearing what’s on your mind and answering some of your questions. We’ve obviously been busy in the offseason on a number of matters, including obviously trying to secure a new collective bargaining agreement. I’m happy to take your questions on that, but I just returned from Minneapolis this afternoon and another mediation session, so we’re continuing to work at it and negotiate and hopefully, we’ll get to a successful resolution soon. We also released our schedule yesterday and hopefully all the 49er fans got that. We’re preparing for the 2011 season and we’re excited about the schedule and think it’s going to be great for the fans and all of our clubs. And of course, we’re just a little bit over a week from our NFL Draft, which is always a highlight of the offseason. I look forward to hearing from all of you and taking your questions.

I know we’ve been talking about an 18-game schedule. Is that something that the league would be willing to back off of, or it that a must have?

It’s a good question. I think what we’ve said all along is that if we can’t do it right, we’re not going to do it. What does right mean? It’s got to obviously improve the quality of what we do as a league. We have to make sure that it can be done with the proper considerations to player health and safety. In the negotiations and the proposals we made on March 11, we said that we would implement changes to the offseason that are significant. Also changes to training camp and even during the regular season that would improve player health and safety. That would limit the kind of contact that the players are concerned about and that we would like to eliminate from the game. And implementing that now would give us a couple of years to study it. And after two years, we would make a decision together – the league and the players – as to whether it is appropriate for us to pursue the 18-game schedule. The answer is that we’re going to do it responsibly and we’re going to do it together, if at all.

I know the 18-game schedule has been discussed, but has the thought of actually expanding the playoffs by two more teams, as opposed to the 18-game schedule come up?

Yes, expanded playoffs has been discussed. It will continue to be evaluated. We like the structure right now that we have as far as qualifying for the postseason. We think it’s special. It makes the regular season special. It makes every game count in the regular season. So we like that format, but it’s certainly under consideration and it’s one of the things we’ll continue to evaluate with the players.

Has there been any discussion about operating under the old CBA until the new one is agreed on?

We have discussed that, but the concern that all of us have in the NFL is that there are a number of pressing issues that need to be addressed responsibly. Including obviously many aspects of the economics of the NFL. We think the rookie pool needs to be addressed properly and it needs to be adjusted to reward the veteran players that have proven themselves on an NFL field. We think significant changes in the player health and safety issue need to be addressed now. Retired player benefits need to be addressed now. All of these need to be done, and in fact, you know we worked under an uncapped system last year, so I think we need the pressure to get a new agreement, to address these issues in a fair and responsible fashion.

The players are asking the owners to open up their books. And the owners of course aren’t doing this. Can you explain why you don’t open up your books? It sounds reasonable to an outsider, it sounds like a reasonable request.

We actually provide an extraordinary amount of financial information to the players. They know all of our revenues to a penny because they share in those revenues and have audit rights to those revenues. They obviously know all our player costs and they participate in many of our costs, including many of our stadiums across the country and other aspects of league operations and they have audit rights to those also. And we have offered to share additional information with them of our costs of the operation. And in fact, in mediation this was a big source of issues and the owners agreed to share financials with the players, on a confidential basis of course. In fact, the information was so detailed that it’s information we don’t even share between the 32 clubs. They have more than sufficient information to be able to make the decisions that they need to make. It is a fair request, I have sympathy for that part of it, and we’ve been responsive to that to help them make the right kind of decisions.

I want to make sure that you guys don’t give in to these players and then you turn around and punish and pass the price on to the season-ticket holders. Because obviously if you have to pay them extra money, the money has to come from somewhere. So has there has been any talk about this economy and passing the cost on to the season-ticket holders?

It’s been a big source of our discussions. Everybody has been impacted by this economy and most importantly, our fans and we know that. We hear that from the fans directly, we hear that through our clubs and we recognize that’s happening and that’s one of the things that we have to address here. We cannot continue to push the rising costs of either player costs or the other costs that we have to our fans. There’s a limit to what you can do there and that’s one of the things we’re trying to address because our costs have risen more than our revenues and that’s obviously an unsustainable model. And we recognize that we have to be responsive to what our fans our going through. It’s one of the reasons that we’re trying to slow the growth of player costs so that we can continue to deliver our high-quality product. The proposal we made on March 11 had the players’ salaries in 2011 slightly higher than last year’s and at the same level as 2009; and growing 14% over the next four years. I think that as you are pointing out, I think that’s a pretty healthy increase. I know a lot of our fans and a lot of us would be pleased with, so that’s something that we’ve got to continue to work with, with our players.

What percentage of revenue to the players get today, net revenue, everything combined, opposed to what the owners are proposing for the new CBA?

We have a negotiated agreement with what’s called total revenue that’s part of our Collective Bargaining Agreement and that has been close to a 60 percent number that the players get. It’s a defined term in our Collective Bargaining Agreement and that essentially is what the players get a percentage of. There are some costs of the operation that have been agreed to between the players and management as part of that Collective Bargaining Agreement that are taken off before the total revenue figure is addressed, but it’s essentially close to 60 percent of that defined term of total revenue.

What are the chances the owners lift the lockout and continue negotiations for one more year, one more season?  

I would tell you that we’ve been negotiating for over two years to try to get this agreement. We’ve gone through an uncapped year and we feel like we need to get these issues addressed. In any labor dispute you can have a strike and a lockout. Nobody likes either consequences because they’re painful for everybody. We need to get this addressed immediately. I think there’s plenty of time still to get that done and make sure we play our full season. That’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re planning for and that’s what we’re preparing for. I can tell you that on behalf of the 32 teams or clubs, that I know that we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we play our full season this year.

It seems like, I think this has happened before, where it comes right down to the last minute and now it seems like the negotiations aren’t really taking place in earnest until it runs out. Why does it take so long to get this done?

It’s not uncommon, particularly in labor negotiations, but probably in many negotiations that you go down to the wire. I think that’s unfortunate because I think the uncertainty has a negative impact for everybody, including our fans. That is the unfortunate position that we’ve found ourselves in, but we were at the negotiating table and with a federal mediator in Washington for 17 straight days. Instead of continuing the negotiations, the union decided to push away and decertify as a union and unfortunately, that’s led to a litigation strategy, rather than negotiations. I’ve always said that I think this is going to be resolved though negotiations, not through litigation or any other strategy and the sooner we get down to serious negotiations with a commitment to finding solutions and reaching a fair agreement, the sooner we’ll get this resolved.

What are your plans as far as a salary cap for incoming rookies?

It is very much a big part of the negotiations with the union. The clubs and I in particular feel very strongly that the rookie compensation system is out of whack and needs to be adjusted. We think the money should go to veterans that have proven themselves on the NFL field. I believe the veterans also want that. For unproven rookies to be getting the kind of guaranteed money and if they’re not successful and go out of the system, it does not benefit anybody. It needs to be adjusted and it needs to be done within the context of the salary cap system. And it is something that we’re intent on fixing as part of this collective bargaining agreement.

I was wondering if the NFL is addressing health and safety problems for players when they are injured and can no longer play. Is there an insurance set up for them? How do they get insurance when they are injured and can no longer play?

It is a very important issue and it is an issue that we continue to address. In fact, on the March 11 proposal, for the first time ever, the owners offered players the opportunity to buy into a medical insurance program for them for the remainder of their life, which is obviously a tremendous benefit. There are also several other programs that address these issues, particularly as they relate to players and their population. As an example, veterans that may need joint replacements down the road, there’s a program that would allow them to do that at 13 tremendous hospitals around the country. And if a player can’t afford it, the owners pay for it. So there’s variety of programs that I think are responsive to the players and their families that we will continue to focus on and continue to make improvements on. There are proposals even currently in our Collective Bargaining Agreement to improve those programs right now.

If the judge does rule in the players’ favor and the owners decide to appeal, will that throw a wrench in free agency?

It goes to the point that I mentioned earlier that litigation is not going to resolve this issue. I assume whoever loses in this first phase of litigation will appeal it. And there will continue to be this uncertainty and that’s why it needs to be resolved through negotiations. And the sooner we commit ourselves to that and realize that’s how we’re going to solve our issues and find solutions, the faster we can get an agreement and then, as you point out, start free agency. The longer this goes, the less time there would be for free agency before the season starts because we’ll all want to get back onto the field as quickly as possible. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve stressed over and over again to the union that this is in the best interests of their players and our players to get an agreement sooner rather than later.

Why the NFL isn’t putting more emphasis on women playing football?

From my perspective as Commissioner, I agree, we haven’t done enough. I think we can always do more. Interestingly enough, our fan base is close to 45% women. They’re great fans, they’re fans that really understand the game and all of our efforts to reach out and bring more fans back into our game. That includes women. That includes other demographics. I think that’s why you’ve seen the popularity of our game grow. It is appealing to everyone if we can get them exposed to the game, so I’d love to hear your ideas on what you think we can do differently and what we can do more of, because I think it’s an important initiative for us. Maybe you can contact the 49ers and we’ll get the right people at the league office to help.

First, thanks for your enforcement of player policy. Secondly, on the 2011 season, how positive are you that football will be played?

Thanks for your comment about the personal conduct policy. I assume that’s what you were referring to. I think anyone association with the NFL has a responsibility to the game and to our fans and to the people who came before us. I’m very proud of what our players and coaches and other personnel do in their communities both on the field and off the field. I think we owe that to you, so I’m proud of what we’re doing on that front. On the other front, I assume that your question is along the lines of making sure that we do everything possible to have a full 2011 season and I think it’s fair to say that from the York family to every other club in the NFL, that is certainly the intention of all of us in the NFL. It is not good for any of us. Most importantly to the 49er faithful and NFL fans across the globe. We want to have a full season and continue to have the great competitive football that we’ve had in the past.

Goodell: I just want to thank you Jed and the 49er faithful for having me tonight. I think what Jed has brought to the NFL and to the 49ers is a tremendous passion and an interest in hearing from the fans and I think that’s a great thing. I feel the same way and having these kinds of forums gives us a chance to understand what’s on the mind of our fans, hopefully share with you our views and I just want you to know that we appreciate your support and we’re going to work our tails off to make sure we continue to bring you great football.

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