Commissioner Goodell: “Let’s find solutions”

Commissioner Roger Goodell today discussed with Titans season ticket-holders his focus in the current labor dispute. “Let’s find solutions,” the Commissioner said in his 19th conference call with NFL team season-ticket holders.

“The best and fastest solution to the differences is to negotiate,” Commissioner Goodell added. “Let’s get together and let’s solve those problems in negotiations and with a collective bargaining agreement.  We are taking the initiative to make sure that we do everything possible to create that environment and to have those meetings but frankly, litigation creates delays and creates, unfortunately, an environment where a discussion can only happen in certain forums.  I think that is a shame.  We need to sit down and figure it out.”

 Following is a transcript of the Commissioner’s conference call with Titans fans:

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

FAN FORUM with TENNESSEE TITANS SEASON TICKET HOLDERS

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thanks for having me.  I am thrilled to be with you and the Titans season ticket holders.  It is a great thing for me to have the opportunity to speak directly to our fans.

On a simplified explanation of labor status:

Unfortunately, it is caught up in litigation right now.  The union’s attorneys have pursued a litigation strategy.  That is unfortunate because it is delaying the process and avoiding what is ultimately going to be the resolution, which is a negotiated collective bargaining agreement.  The frustration that I have and I am sure the fans have is that the uncertainty continues.  The courts aren’t going to resolve our differences.  We need to resolve them at the table.  What we need to do is get back, begin the negotiations in earnest and figure out solutions to our problems. 

On confidence the 2011 season will be played:

I know that there is a commitment on behalf of the 32 clubs.  I believe the players want to play. 

If you continue through the court system, I don’t think that is going to lead to a resolution.  If we sit down and negotiate, I do think we can get our differences resolved.  We will all have to compromise, we will all have to find ways of doing things and getting what we need — not necessarily what we want — so that we can continue to play this great game and bring what the fans want, which is more football.

On the primary developments from the NFL Spring Meeting:

We continue to get ready for the 2011 season.  We passed three new rules on player safety that are going to be important in improving the safety of the game for our players.  Those new rules will have a positive impact.  We continue to focus on our plans for opening the season, both as part of our Kickoff Weekend and our 9/11 recognition.  We continue to make plans but let’s face it – this labor uncertainty has taken a lot of time and a lot of focus.  It is impacting the fans.  It is impacting the clubs.  We need to get that uncertainty out of the marketplace so we can all get focusing back on football. 

On why the owners will not provide full audited financial statements to the players:

The players certainly understand what is happening with NFL economics.  They understand that costs are rising faster than the revenues.  They understand what has happened since we entered into this agreement in 2006.  They have our revenue down to a penny.  They obviously know the player costs and they know several of our stadium costs.  It is taking more private investment not only to build the stadiums, but to operate the stadiums and to maintain those stadiums.  The economics of the NFL changed dramatically over the past 10 or 15 years.  The players understand that because of the financial disclosure they have. 

That is not going to solve this issue.  We saw it frankly in the NBA where there were so-called ‘open books’ for the last two years and a filing earlier this week with the NLRB said there was not enough financial disclosure.  Financial disclosure is not going to solve the issue.  Getting down and addressing the issues is. They understand the economics.  They understand where the problems are.  Let’s find solutions.

On money being the primary issue separating the two parties:

There are several issues involved but a lot of them do get around economics to be direct with you.  The core issues have been addressed in our March 11 proposal. There were player health and safety issues. The retired player issue needs to be addressed. There was a 60-percent increase in the pensions for the pre-1993 players. There are issues with the rookie pool system that need to be modified and we think the money should go to proven veterans not to unproven rookies coming into the league.  At the core of that, a lot of those are economic issues.  The owners made a proposal back in March to avoid the litigation, to avoid the lockout.  Their proposal was a slight increase in player compensation from 2010 to 2011 and then a 14-percent increase over the next three years.  That is pretty significant.  The owners have been responsive in putting a fair proposal on the table.  We now need the players to engage rather than to litigate and to get back to trying to solve the problems, which are, at the core, economic issues. 

On fans taking out their frustrations with the labor dispute on the NFL and not the players, litigation as the players’ only option and a need for the parties to sit down to discuss their differences:

I understand the frustration and anger of fans.  I understand what you are saying about directing it at the NFL.  All of us will bear the responsibility if we are not able to come to solutions.  I disagree that the players’ only response was to litigate.  The best and fastest solution to the differences is to negotiate.  Let’s get together and let’s solve those problems in negotiations and with a collective bargaining agreement.  We are taking the initiative to make sure that we do everything possible to create that environment and to have those meetings but frankly, litigation creates delays and creates, unfortunately, an environment where a discussion can only happen in certain forums.  I think that is a shame.  We need to sit down and figure it out. 

On if games are close to being lost:

Losing games is something that we are obviously trying to avoid.  Our intention is to play a full 2011 season.  We do not want to lose any games.  Just earlier this week, we had to cancel our Rookie Symposium because the uncertainty continues.  That is why we need to get this resolved.  We are getting dangerously close to the start of training camps.  We should be in the minicamp period right now.  We do not want to risk losing any games.  I do not think it is good for the players, I do not think it is not good for the clubs, and I know it is not good for the fans.  We do not have a drop-dead date, but we are going to work to try to get this done and try to avoid having lost anything more of the NFL than we have already lost. 

On Coaches Association supporting the players:

The Coaches Association is housed in the NFLPA building.  They are funded by the NFLPA.  So I think you can guess why they extended an amicus brief in the case.  I do not believe that is the view of coaches.  That association has a very clear and very close relationship with the NFLPA. 

On if the Brady suit, which threatens free agency and the draft, is a negotiating ploy:

Their antitrust case very clearly points out, and the attorneys for the union have very clearly stated, that they believe that the draft, as an example, is illegal and anti-competitive, and they are attacking that and other restrictions in free agency, the salary cap and many of the systems that have allowed us to have a great quality product, a competitive product, and allowed teams in markets like Nashville to be competitive.  For you as fans to come into the season saying that the Titans have an opportunity to win the Super Bowl this year.  What makes the NFL unique is that every market has an opportunity.  You have seen it in the last two Super Bowls – all four teams are small markets.  But they had the chance to compete.   These rules are part of that effort to keep the game competitive.  I do not believe the players feel that way, but I believe their attorneys are attacking the game and seeking leverage in a negotiation.  I understand that, but we are going to defend the quality of our game and the things that have made the game special for our fans.

On enhanced season:

We do think it is attractive to season-ticket holders.  I hear that all of the time from our season-ticket holders.  We have not abandoned our position on that.  We do think it is the right thing for the game.  It improves the quality of what we do, and it improves the value for you as season-ticket holders.  What we agreed to do in the proposal was to implement the changes in the health and safety aspects of our game:  eliminating the contact in offseason training, particularly the minicamps and OTAs; to limit the same kind of contact during the training camp period and even into the regular season, so that we could address what I think is a very legitimate issue for the players, the health and safety and the wear and tear.  We implement that now, we evaluate that over the next year or two, and then we sit down together and figure out the right way to do the 18-game schedule.  We do think it is a benefit for everybody, but we want to do it the right way, and we want to do it responsibly.  That includes the players’ perspective. 

On who determines illegal hits:

The rules are generally evaluated and proposed by the competition committee, which has former players as well as general managers and coaches on it – Jeff Fisher was a co-chair of that committee.  They make the proposal, and then it is approved by the 32 clubs. In the process of developing those proposals, we meet with the players. Second, when there is a determination of a foul, that’s obviously made by the officials on the field. If there is a determination of a fine or some type of discipline from there, it’s made by a retired player, Merton Hanks. If the player decides to appeal that it goes to another former player Hall of Famer Art Shell or a retired coach (Ted Cottrell) to review the tapes and make the determination on the appeal. I think you’d find that we have tremendous input from the players throughout the process. We also have a committee that John Madden heads for us on player safety and that has Ronnie Lott as a co-chair. It has several former players that give us their perspective. We always seek the players’ input.

On whether or not last year’s rules could be reinstituted while both sides keep negotiating:

It’s a very fair point, and it’s one that several fans have raised with me and I certainly understand it. We’ve known when the owners opted out of our collective bargaining agreement back in 2008 that we were going to have to negotiate an extension when it expired. We went to an uncapped year, which is hopefully avoided because there is a different system in place. That’s designed to get to an agreement before you reach the uncapped year. We obviously played through that last year and the agreement expired. This is what labor disputes are. They get resolved. The players struck twice in the ’80s. Lockouts are a tool to force negotiation, to force pressure on all parties so there is a negotiation. This is not good for anybody. It’s not good for the clubs. It’s not good for the players. It’s certainly not good for the fans. But this is the time to address this. These are serious issues that need to be addressed. This is the time to do it, not kick the can down the street. We need to get these issues resolved and addressed now.

On the NFL not being so successful without fan support:

I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that’s the risk that all of us have as clubs, as players, as a league. We have to recognize that fans love the NFL for the quality, for the value, and the fact that it’s great entertainment. It allows them to get away from their everyday troubles. That’s what we should continue to focus on and allow fans to enjoy. Unfortunately when you have labor disputes like you have now, fans don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know about this side’s issue, or that side’s issue. I don’t think there is sympathy for either side. I think they just want to see more football. That’s our job. I think all of us, I know the 32 clubs are aware of it and I believe the players are aware of it, that this hurts the game. And if this hurts the game, ultimately it could hurt fan support, which is going to obviously be negative for everybody. The 32 clubs over the years have managed this business I think in a responsible way, and they are fully aware of the risk involved and will want to avoid that and get an agreement that works for everybody.

On whether or not he’s talked to players and what they’ve had to say:

I do talk to players frequently. I think they have similar concerns that the owners have, which are frustrations with the litigation – that it’s slow and it’s not going to resolve the issues that need to get done in collective bargaining. So I think there’s a frustration on all sides, including with the fans. I hope that will lead everyone back to the negotiating table. Players are going to have to participate in getting a resolution as well as the clubs. That will be in the best interest of the players and the clubs.

On the scheduling of primetime games:

We try to obviously create as much as we can as far as fan viewership by putting games that are most attractive on a national basis. We’re the only league that keeps our games on free television in the home markets and we try to bring as many of our clubs as possible as much exposure in the hopes of making the league more popular and growing it. We’ve done that. Ratings continue to climb, and it’s because we’ve done an excellent job of balancing exposure through our broadcasts with the competitive aspects. While not every team gets a Monday-night game, we try to get every team some kind of national exposure and have some type of flexibility late in the season with what we call flex scheduling on Sunday night. We also move several games from the 1:00 window, at least on the east coast, to the 4:00 window. The 4:00 window again has tremendous national exposure. You try to balance all that and come up with a schedule that works for everybody.

On player safety and the 18-game schedule:

On the 18-game schedule, I think your point was that the focus on player safety and rule changes was done specifically for the 18-game schedule. That’s not true. It was to make our game as safe as possible whether you play 14 games, 16 games or 18 games. There are techniques that evolve in our game, just as they have over the last several decades. As a long-time fan, you will remember the head slap and other things that have been removed from the game that are just not necessary for the competitiveness of our game or the safety of our game. We need to make sure we are doing everything possible to make the game as safe as possible.

On possible expansion to Los Angeles:

LA is obviously a market where we know we have millions of fans. We want to get back there. You’ve got to find a solution to get a new stadium built and it’s obviously got to work for the community and it’s got to work for a team. Then we have to find a way to get a team there. All of those are challenges, particularly in the kind of economic climate we’re dealing with right now. The challenge of building a billion-dollar stadium is part of what we’re trying to address in the collective bargaining agreement. More and more of it requires private investment, not only to build a stadium, but obviously to maintain the stadium and then to keep it up. And that’s one of the economic changes that has happened over the last 10 or 15 years that needs to be addressed in the collective bargaining agreement.

On a rookie wage system:

It’s another major issue in our negotiations. We believe that a new rookie compensation system has to be implemented. I agree with your premise that the money should go to proven veterans, proven on the NFL field. For unproven rookies, while they should be compensated well, that money should be going to the guys who have already proven it on the NFL field. That is a core issue that we have not been able to reach an agreement on with the union.  

On what he’s telling businesses impacted by the NFL:

Uncertainty is not good for anybody. It’s in our best interests to find solutions and get back to playing football. That’s what fans want. That’s what our business partners want, whether it’s our broadcast networks or fantasy football players. People want football. That’s what we’re supposed to do. They want solutions and that’s what we should be working diligently to develop. I would tell them the same thing I would tell you, which is that I’m frustrated also but I’m not going to quit working until we find those solutions. And I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

On who sets ticket prices:

Ticket prices are established with each team. They determine the prices and the different categories. And they market their teams and sell their tickets. The only prices that the NFL is involved with are for postseason games. One other thing I would tell you as it relates to the ticket pricing and the policies, we did set a league-wide policy that if any games are missed due to this labor dispute, there has to be refunds to the fans.

On where fans can find information for both sides on the dispute and what each side is offering:

You can go on to NFL.com and NFLlabor.com that will have the proposal from the clubs from March 11. I believe that the NFLPA has information about their position on their site. But the dispute is what we’ve talked about here. It’s based a lot on economics and the future growth of player compensation.

On if he thinks there will be a season this year:

I hope so because I believe that the players want to play, the clubs want to play and it’s in the best interest of the game. There are obviously issues that we disagree on but there are certainly solutions to those disagreements. It’s going to come down to everyone realizing that we’re better off working together to find solutions than fighting. That’s in the best interests of growing the game and it will be in the best interests of all parties going forward. I’m certainly going to continue to work as hard as I can to find those solutions and get this resolved as quickly as possible.

On the questions Titans season-ticket holders asked him:

I love the idea that they’re very direct with their questions. You can hear the passion of the fans when they do ask the questions. They’re very well-informed. They ask great questions. I just want every one of the fans to understand how important they are to us and how grateful we are for their support. We understand their frustration and the anxiety that they’re feeling right now. We’re not going to let a moment go without working to try and find solutions for it.

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