Panthers Fan: “Why does [DeMaurice Smith] feel NFL players are above being treated like everybody else?”

A Carolina Panthers season-ticket holder who is also a small business owner asked Commissioner Roger Goodell about the increased costs of doing business in a down economy.  Commissioner Goodell answered that question and many others Tuesday night in a conference call with Panthers season-ticket holders.

Below is that question and answer followed by a transcript of the Commissioner’s call with Carolina fans:

Q: “In addition to being a PSL owner, I’m also a small business owner. So I have a lot of empathy for the owners that costs go up and costs change, and boy, contracts change. My question, Commissioner, is from what I’ve been able to follow, DeMaurice Smith’s position is players are not going to take any change in their pay and any change in the agreement. And my position to him and question to you is, ‘If you look at the state level, employees have to take furloughs; government employees have had to take pay cuts and furloughs; private corporations, airlines have had to take pay cuts.

“So my position is why does he feel that NFL players are above being treated like everybody else?’ And I’m curious as to why I haven’t heard the owners push that position, that a lot of people – state government and private corporations – have had salary adjustments, furloughs? And do you think there’s any validity to that argument?”

A: “I definitely think there is validity to that argument. I think the world has changed for everybody, and I think that’s the point we’re trying to make, that there are great opportunities for the NFL and everyone associated with it to continue to be successful, but we all went through a difficult economic period and we’re still going through that economic period. And we know that from our fans. We know that from our business partners. We know that from the operation of our businesses.

“It’s a challenging environment still in this marketplace, and we can’t continue to have increasing costs and expect that’s just going to be relieved by increasing ticket prices. This escalation has to stop and we need to be more responsible in the way we’re conducting our businesses and managing our costs, and managing our revenues. So, as a small business owner you appreciate what’s happening in the economy. It’s clearly something that NFL owners understand, and I believe our fans understand. We have made that case directly to the players. Some of their union leadership has indicated – and I mean this from the attorney standpoint – that the bad economy is behind us. And I’m not sure others would share that view, and I know we’re still concerned about the future and want to make sure our business model works for the future.”

COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

FAN FORUM with CAROLINA PANTHERS SEASON TICKET HOLDERS

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On the current state of the labor negotiations:

“I don’t hold a law degree either. It is right now frustrating because instead of negotiating, we’re litigating. There are all kinds of litigation going on and that’s part of the process. The players felt that that was an important step for them. I respect that decision, although I think it still has to get resolved through negotiations. There’s a series of steps that still have to take place through the courts – decisions in Minneapolis, decisions in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. There will be a hearing on June 3 on several of those issues and that is probably the most significant date still going forward.  We’re going to have to get through that hearing and decisions will be made by the court, and then we’ll adjust. But I would reinforce one more point one more time: that it’s just critically important that we negotiate rather than litigate. This is going to be resolved at the negotiating table and should be.”

On May 16 mediation:

“We go into every mediation session with the hopes that they will be fruitful. We will have our chairman Jerry Richardson, who you know very well. [He] will be with us and has provided great leadership for the NFL on this issue as well as other issues in the past with the stadium committee and in fact an important decision on selecting the Commissioner. He will be there along with three other owners and we will look to try to do everything we can to move the negotiations in a way that will hopefully conclude in a fair deal for both the players and the clubs.”

On potentially reducing preseason games from four to two:

“I think you raised a question which the fans raise to me all the time, and that’s the quality of the preseason and as season-ticket holders having to pay for that. I think it’s something that we’re trying to address. The 18-and-2 format is one way of doing that. We think it improves the quality of what we’re doing as a league, which I think is always important to your fans and to your customers. It also improves the value. Undoubtedly fans believe that games that are competitive and they’re seeing the players they want to see are critical for them, and that’s something that we’re trying to address and that’s one of the potential solutions. But if we do that, it’s important that we do it the right way and we do it with the proper consideration to player health and safety. We’ve made some steps, we’ve made some proposals on how to do that in the offseason and the training camp, and even in the regular season. And I think if we do do that, we’ll do it with the players and we’ll do it in a responsible way, and most importantly responsible to you the fans.”

On possibility of next year’s #1 pick going to Panthers if no 2011 season & why Panthers are not scheduled for primetime games:

“We haven’t given any consideration to a season-long work stoppage. That’s obviously not our objective and we’re going to hopefully get this resolved and not miss any part of the 2011 season. That’s our objective and that’s what we’re working towards. Although I will note that some of the litigation that has been brought by the attorneys for the union is challenging the legality and the competiveness of the draft. So, those are things that we think are important to our game going forward and we’re going to continue to fight for them. On your second point on the national games, essentially what this is, is the games that we think will be most-appealing to a national audience. Unfortunately the Panthers didn’t have their best season last year; they are making changes to correct that and I think the selection of Cam Newton is a big step in doing that. I know how committed Jerry Richardson and everybody in the organization [is]. They have a new coach with Ron Rivera, a guy who’s been in the league as a player and coach, and I think will bring a lot, along with Marty Hurney. And they’re making changes to become competitive. The great thing about the NFL is that you can go from last to first, and we have some flexibility in our scheduling which would allow us to potentially put a big game later in the season for teams that do come on and are teams that proved that they’re going to have national interest through the playing of the season. So, we have some flexibility in our schedule to get them into our greater national window, but I can tell you that we in the NFL are proud of the Panthers. We’re proud of what they do and their stadium. Every opportunity we can get to get that on national television, we’ll seize that opportunity.”

On if there will be a rookie compensation system put in place:

“It’s been a major focus. It is something we have not been able to get resolved in our bargaining and negotiations with the players. We do think the system is out of whack. We think that the money should be going to proven veterans who’ve proven on the NFL field and not just on the college field. As much as we put into evaluation of players, there’s always some question about whether they make the adjustment into the NFL game, and you want to make sure that money is going to proven veterans. So, it’s an area we haven’t gotten an agreement on, but I know it is something the clubs are intent to get fixed.”

On why it took so long for the owners to make a proposal to the players:

“It didn’t. The owners made the initial proposal back to the players in November 2009. And there were several discussions, several meetings, several negotiations where different proposals were shared. What happened at the end of mediation was an attempt to make sure that all of the things that we had discussed, all of the things that we had proposed were clear and that we wanted to make sure that they understood exactly what was on the table. And that was the attempt on March 11, and that was what was sent to the players and generally the public is all aware of it because the owners believe it was a fair proposal that represented lots and lots of negotiations and we thought solutions to a lot of the issues that had been raised in those negotiations.”

On the need for unions in football:

“The issue is what’s happening by decertifying and saying they’re not a union and abandoning their collective bargaining rights, that itself is one issue. But what they’re doing is they’re combining that with suing the NFL under antitrust laws and saying a lot of the rules that are in place are violations of antitrust, and that is problematic. They’re challenging as I mentioned earlier the draft itself as being anti-competitive and illegal. Restrictions on free agency. There are a number of issues which we think are fundamental to continuing to produce the kind of highly competitive, high-quality football that I think is what fans have come to expect from the NFL. We’re going to continue to obviously defend that because we think the game of football is terrific, people love it and we should continue on with some of those basic system issues that have made our game so successful.”

On how a small window of free agency might affect each team:

“That’s one of the problems with the uncertainty and one of the reasons why we felt this should have been resolved back in early March at the negotiating table. We should not have left mediation. We should not have left negotiations. We should have continued to bargain because that’s the fastest and best way to get to a solution. And once we get to that solution, then you can have a free agency period which would be good for the players and good for the clubs, and obviously good for the fans. So, I think that uncertainty is something why we need to have urgency to the discussions and get this resolved so we can get into that free agency period, the teams can continue to make their plans for the 2011 season, and of course the players and fans want to get to that point.”

On why some of these issues could not have been worked out under the existing CBA:

“I don’t think they are minor issues. They are very significant issues. We had a contract expire; both the players and the owners had options to terminate the deal early to get them addressed. I think one of the things that’s made the NFL successful is – forgive the term – not ‘kicking the can down the road.’ It is that you address issues that are affecting the game and the success of the game long-term by making sure there’s a sustainable business model. That we address issues that you’ve raised – the rookie pool issue, retired players, player health and safety issues – all of those issues are very significant issues to the future of the game. They need to be addressed sooner rather than later. We’ve all known this is coming and we were in negotiations, and the sooner we get back to those negotiations the sooner we’ll get those resolved.”

On the NFL Draft and how it seemed everyone had fun:

“I think that’s true. The draft is always a great event for us because it represents the hopes and dreams of these young men that are entering the NFL, but also every club and every fan. And I think this year was no different. Thankfully, I think everyone was able to put away the labor dispute and allow these young men and their families to enjoy this great day. I can tell you from my standpoint, it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of that day. It’s truly emotional for them and frankly for me. It’s just a fun part to be a part of and I think it’s a great day for the fans. So, it did go off without a hitch and we had over 40 million watching and we’ll continue to try to make that event bigger and better.”

“In addition to being a PSL owner, I’m also a small business owner. So I have a lot of empathy for the owners that costs go up and costs change, and boy, contracts change. My question Commissioner is from what I’ve been able to follow, DeMaurice Smith’s position is players are not going to take any change in their pay and any change in the agreement. And my position to him and question to you is ‘If you look at the state-level, employees have to take furloughs; government employees have had to take pay cuts and furloughs; private corporations, airlines have had to take pay cuts.

“So my position is why does he feel that NFL players are above being treated like everybody else?’ And I’m curious as to why I haven’t heard the owners push that position, you really push that position that a lot of people – state government and private corporations – have had salary adjustments, furloughs? And do you think there’s any validity to that argument?”

“I definitely think there is validity to that argument. I think the world has changed for everybody, and I think that’s what we’re trying to make the point of. Is that there are great opportunities so that the NFL can continue to be successful and everyone associated with that, but we all went through a difficult economic period and we’re still going through that economic period. And we know that from our fans. We know that from our business partners. We know that from the operation of our businesses.

“It’s a challenging environment still in this marketplace, and we can’t continue to have the increasing costs and expect that that’s just going to be relieved by increasing ticket prices. This escalation has to stop and we need to be more responsible in the way we’re conducting our businesses and managing our costs, and managing our revenues. So, as a small business owner you appreciate what’s happening in the economy. It’s clearly something that NFL owners understand, and I believe our fans understand. We have made that case directly to the players. Some of their union leadership has indicated – and I mean this from the attorney standpoint – that the bad economy is behind us. And I’m not sure others would share that view, and I know we’re still concerned about the future and want to make sure our business model works for the future.”

On arguing over money in this economy and how Charlotte can get a Super Bowl:

“You have to have a sustainable business model, particularly in the environment we’re in. It’s a difficult environment as you referenced and we’ve got to make sure that we make smart decisions for the long-term future of the game. That means continuing to invest in the game, like Mr. Richardson has done in Carolina with that great new stadium. That has meant so much to the community; it’s meant so much to the NFL and clearly to the Carolina Panthers. Those are the types of investments, including making sure that we not only maintain that stadium, but that we continue to make it a state-of-the-art stadium, which leads into the second part of your question which is Super Bowls. The Super Bowl has become such a huge event and it requires so much infrastructure on behalf of the host committee – not only a great stadium, which is our stage which you all have, but it’s also an infrastructure. I think we’re to a minimum of 30,000 hotel rooms to host a Super Bowl. Convention facilities. So it’s something that the community has to make a decision on whether they have the infrastructure needs, and then it’s a competitive bid process because there’s a lot of great communities, a lot of great stadiums that are competing for this event.”

On concerns for the players’ health and safety should the training schedule become shortened due to the lockout:

“You raise another good point of why we need to remove the uncertainty. It’s also true as it relates to making sure that when you do come back to play that there’s appropriate time for the players to get properly and physically prepared for the season. That’s why we need to get to that point sooner rather than later. Interestingly enough, this has been part of our negotiations and it’s something that we’ve discussed, and one of the things the players are seeking in these negotiations is a longer offseason and less work in the offseason. Which I support to a certain extent because I think they need time away from the game, they need their bodies to recover, but they also need time to focus on their families, their futures beyond football. But I think there’s a balance in there. So you want them physically ready for the season but you also want to make sure that you’re not doing anything that would increase the wear and tear on players. So, I hope we’ve come up with some responsible changes to the player health and safety issue. We’ll continue to work with the players to do that.”

On if he believes things will go well when the two sides resume negotiations, or will there be a rift based on the language of the brief submitted to the appellate court:

“I think anytime you have a negotiation, you obviously are going to take positions that sometimes are difficult to square. I think you have just have to recognize that they are negotiations and that everyone’s interest is in doing what’s in the best interest of the parties, but hopefully also the best interest of the game. There have been some strong positions taken, mainly by the attorneys in the briefs – and I give you credit for reading them. We feel strongly about those positions as they relate to the law and they relate to the game of the football and the future of our game. We’re going to continue to do what’s best for the game and I believe that when we reach that agreement – which will happen – people will recognize that we got a fair agreement and it’s in the best interest of everybody.”

On if the league has any plans for expansion

“Right now it is not on the front-burner, it is not something that is actively under consideration. We think the 32-team format is quite successful from a scheduling standpoint and the distribution of talent. We’ve been very successful as a league in expanding over the last couple of decades, including at Carolina, and they’ve been great additions for the NFL. Right now, we’re continuing to focus on how we improve the quality of what we have now, particularly as it relates to as an example the 18-game schedule. Can we improve on the quality of the season? Can we improve on the value of what we’re offering our fans? That’s the kind of expansion that we’re sort of focused on right now rather than the addition of additional teams.”

On the thought that unions have out-lived their usefulness, and what do the players do to get proper representation without a union

“Let me address the second part of your question, just because I think there are several benefits to the players by having a union. I oftentimes seek the input of players, obviously coaches, fans, in the quality of our game and the safety of our game, and what we can do to try to improve every aspect of the NFL. And I think it’s important to hear from the players on that front, and the union can serve a useful purpose on that. There are obviously other benefits to the players of having a union. There’s an example of minimum salaries – minimum team salaries, minimum individual salaries – all of the benefits that you get by playing in the NFL that are collectively bargained. So I’m certain that we’re going to get back to a collective bargaining process and negotiation, and those are things that I hope we will do.”

On if there will be any point where the owners get rid of a salary cap and turn the NFL into a system like the MLB

“I think the salary cap has been good for football, it’s been good for the system to allow each of our teams to be successful. We talked before about competitive balance and we’ve seen it in the league, whether you’re a large market or small market, you have a chance to win in this league. And every team comes into the season with a chance to win. I think you saw it in the Super Bowl this past year, and you saw it the year before. Seeing the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers; or Indianapolis and New Orleans. That’s the beauty of our system. It’s not only the salary cap; it’s also the way NFL clubs share revenue amongst themselves. We share the TV revenue equally, and that gives every team the financial ability to be successful and competitive. And I think when you combine that with the system we have among the 32 in presenting football – whether it’s the draft, whether it’s the salary cap, whether it’s free agency – all of those I think combine to make our game great and competitive, and why I believe every team comes into the season with hope. We’ve had great success of teams going from last to first, and I know that’s on a lot of the Carolina Panthers’ minds and I know that’s what the organization is working towards. That’s our system and what we try to promote.”

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