Ft. Lauderdale, Florida — February 5, 2010
“Good morning and welcome to everybody to Super Bowl XLIV. We’re thrilled to have you here. I hope you all have had a good week. It was somewhat of a unique week in the NFL, by having the Pro Bowl here early in the week and then topping it off with the Super Bowl this weekend. It has been a great week for us, and we thank the people here in South Florida for their hospitality and their support. Thank you very much. And of course, congratulations to the Saints and the Colts for qualifying for Super Bowl XLIV. We have two great teams and are looking forward to a great game.
“There is no question that it has been an excellent season. We’re proud of what happened on the field, and we salute the players and the coaches and the teams that all put together a very competitive 2009 season. It was an extraordinary year for us and we’re very proud of what they did on the field and off the field. And we’re fortunate to have a great game and we’re fortunate to have the kind of popularity we have, but we certainly have many challenges going forward, and I’m sure you’re going to want to talk about some of those today.
One thing I wanted to share with all of you is really a little bit of our philosophy, which is, we always have to try to make things better. We have to innovate and try to find new ways of doing things and try to make the game better for all of our fans. And we’ve done that in a variety of different ways and we’ll continue to do that. We do that around the game, where we focused on rules to make our game safer for the players who play it and more entertaining for the people who watch it. Of course, we also focused on what we could do to make sure the game is safer. In addition, our events – Pro Bowl was a great example of it this week – what can we do to improve our Pro Bowl event so that it’s enjoyed by more people? And I think we were successful in that. We’ve seen changes in our draft recently that I think had a positive impact and we have more changes coming this spring, which hopefully will have the same kind of acceptance. And of course, there’s technology, which is a great benefit to the NFL in being able to reach more of our fans. I think the Red Zone channel was a great success this year. Some of you called it the greatest innovation in television. It allowed fans to interact with the game in a way they never could before, and we’re proud of that innovation. But, the reason we all do this is because of our fans. We try to reach more fans and to engage more fans and we’re grateful for the support that they’ve given us over this past year. It was a challenging year, and whether you were in the stadium, watching at home, or you were on NFL.com, we appreciate that support very much.
“I know we have a lot of questions out here. I’m happy to take them. Dave Goldberg I know is here but doesn’t get the first question. I think we’ll start with Barry Wilner, who does get the first question. Barry.”
My question is how the league is dealing with its three biggest headline makers off the field: concussions, a potential labor stoppage and the Supreme Court case involving American Needle?
“Barry, I said the first question, not the first three (laughter). I think that I’d put the first two in a different category for us, because I think concussions have been a major focus in the league for several years, and we need to make sure we continue to do what we can to make the game safer. And that deals with how we modify the rules and take certain techniques out of the game, how we use the better equipment to make sure that our players are safer, and what we can do to make sure that our coaches and our players understand the serious nature of these injuries, and that they get medical help as soon as an injury occurs. And that goes for all injuries, but particularly concussion injuries. We have more work to do, but we think that we’re making progress on the awareness and we’re changing the culture, and that’s what we really want to do. We want to make sure people understand that they are serious injuries, and make sure that we deal with them in a conservative and medical fashion.
Your second question on labor – the labor agreement is a very important agreement. It’s something that is important to our players. It’s certainly important to our clubs, and it’s important to our fans. We have to sit at the table and we have to get an agreement that works for everybody. And that’s what people expect. They expect solutions, and I think it’s our responsibility to sit down at that table and work out the issues. I think there’s been a lot of dialogue, but we need productivity. We need to get those solutions on the table and start getting to an agreement, because that’s what our fans want. They want solutions, and that’s what we should deliver.
The Supreme Court case – that’s something that was argued. The Supreme Court will make their decision. We were originally defendants in this case. We defended it successfully. They wanted to take it to the Supreme Court, and we agreed to take it to the Supreme Court. It primarily concerns licensing. I think it will have a very limited but important affect in that area, but I don’t have much to say beyond that.”
You’ve been all around town the last couple of weeks. What were your impressions of how South Florida handled the unique challenge of the Pro Bowl and then transitioning to the Super Bowl over these last two weeks?
“Outstanding. We saw everywhere we went, the hospitality, the support. I think people love the concept. It was a way for us to engage more of the community in Super Bowl week by having the Pro Bowl here and having our greatest players. I think it worked tremendously well for the community. It worked well for the NFL. There were obviously things that we’ll probably try to modify and do better going forward, but what I’ve heard from the leadership in the community here, from our people, and from what I observed directly, we were thrilled with the reaction.”
This past season the Jacksonville Jaguars, for most of their home games up until the last home game against the Colts, had 20-25,000 empty seats in that stadium. From the league’s perspective, do you see the 2010 season as the defining year for them to try to get this serious concern off of your plate and off of the league’s plate?
“First let me say we know what’s going on in the marketplace, and what our fans and partners are facing in terms of economic challenges. I’ve spent an awful lot of time with Wayne (Weaver) talking about what’s happening in Jacksonville and how that is impacting the attendance. I think Wayne said it very well, that despite other factors, you can’t continue to have an NFL franchise with 40,000 people in the stands. We’ve got to try to improve that. Wayne has been very aggressive in working with the business community, and we will support him in every way. We know there are millions of fans in North Florida that want to continue to see the Jaguars play the great football they did this year, and we will support that, and hopefully we’ll see better results going forward.”
It’s the union’s view that you are taking a series of steps designed more not to play football in 2011 than to play football in 2011, including negotiating provisions in your TV contracts that enable you to get paid if the games are not paid. What is your response to that?
“We want an agreement and I think every owner will say the same thing. We want an agreement that’s fair to the game, to the players and will allow us to continue to invest in the game. The idea that ownership would be anxious for a work stoppage is absolutely false. You don’t make money by shutting down your business. It’s a bad scenario for everybody. I can assure you the ownership and I believe the players—in talking to individual players—want to get an agreement and want to work to do that. We are currently committed to do that and I am right there at the forefront.”
Roger, there’s been a lot of speculation in the English media about the mounting debt on Manchester United and whether as a result, the Glazer family is under some kind of financial duress. What I’m curious about is whether that’s something that is on the league’s radar and if so, is that something that could potentially affect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
“I’ve talked to the Glazers on a regular basis and I've answered the question before and what I would say is that they are sound owners. They are terrific for the NFL. We do not see that there is any stress or any factors that would impact the way they’ll operate any of their sports teams, much less the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
Along those lines, the English Premier League has had some teams/franchises struggling financially and even possibly folding. The NFL obviously has had pretty good financial success throughout the league. How important has revenue sharing been to that and just what has the success of a salary cap been since its inception?
“I think you point out something that is extremely important and is really at the core of what we are doing here. You have to manage your business. There are a lot of risks out there – financial risks. There are a lot of challenges particularly in today’s climate. When you are in a management position, you need to manage against that. You need to make sure that you are thinking through those issues as you go forward and put yourself in the best position to succeed. I think some of the fundamental polices we have in the NFL—as you point out, revenue sharing—give everybody in the league the financial foundation to compete with the other teams. I think that has been at the core of our success, and the ownership repeatedly has looked at revenue sharing and improved on revenue sharing. I think that is something that they will continue to do as necessary. As it relates to the salary cap and labor agreement, we want to make sure we get an agreement here that will allow us to continue to invest in the game and grow the game in a way in which everyone will benefit. The players will be the biggest beneficiary. We want the players to be paid well. The owners want the players to be paid well. The issue is creating a system that will allow everyone to benefit, and to grow the pie so that everyone benefits, as we have done over this past decade where players’ compensation has essentially doubled from 2.2 billion to 4.7 billion.”
I wanted to show you that Parade Magazine—I’m sure you saw it—put out a great article about you and it said “How He’s Changing the NFL.” One of the things I wanted to ask you is about the changes—and we talked about it before—when it comes to overtime. I asked you before, could there be a change in that rule whereas the referee makes a statement and says to the people, “The team who scores the first touchdown wins the game and not the team who makes the first (field) goal.” Now I’m proud of the New Orleans Saints and Mr. Benson will tell you—I told him we should have the Super Bowl in the Superdome; We don’t need to run all over the world. Anyway, I was hoping that next time, after Sunday and this game, there will be a rule that says “the team that scores the first touchdown wins the game.”
“I understand your question. We spent an awful lot of time looking at overtime rules, tweaking them and trying to come up with something we thought was better. Frankly, in discussions with the players and coaches and all of our clubs, we haven't been able to find a better solution. We actually think the rule is designed to win games in regulation and that the players and the coaches all support the system, and I think that’s an important part of this. We saw overtime twice in the postseason this year and they were maybe two of the most exciting games we’ve had. I think the overtime rules have served the league well. We’ll continue to look to see if there’s a better solution. But, I wouldn’t hold your breath on that solution.”
It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying the city, and I guess a lot of people want to know when will the Super Bowl be coming back to South Florida and the Miami area?
“South Florida is one of the cities bidding when we award the next Super Bowl later this spring. And as you know, this is our 10th Super Bowl here, and we’ve had a great experience and great history here, and we look forward to coming back. It is a competitive process as I have stated before. You have some great cities out there that want to host this event. And, I think South Florida did itself very proud this week, and I hope they’ll continue to pursue these Super Bowls because we’d love to be back here.”
I’ve got my annual Los Angeles question, but it takes a new import this year because there is a group in Los Angeles, as you know, that’s guaranteed that a team will be in L.A. in the next couple of years, and I wonder what role the Collective Bargaining Agreement plays in that? What stake do you believe players should have in paying for these stadiums when they aren’t getting a cut of a team that is originally purchased at $100 million and sold at $1 billion? Specifically, in the case of Los Angeles, what role does the CBA have, and is it realistic to guarantee that a team will be there?
“Let me start with your final question. I don’t think we can guarantee a team will be there. I think we are working hard to get a team back into the Los Angeles market because we know there are millions of fans that would love to see NFL football as part of their community, and I think progress is being made, (Los Angeles Times Columnist) Sam (Farmer).
“The good news I think is that at least clearance has been given to getting a stadium built, but you point out the key issue, which is the challenge of financing a facility in this kind of an environment. And with the labor agreement that we have, the cost of building that stadium is almost entirely on the ownership, and that is a big burden to pay, particularly in this kind of environment.
“But, that’s exactly the kind of investment that if we work together between the Players Association and the clubs, that we can develop a relationship that will allow us to invest in those kinds of facilities. It will generate new revenue. It will allow the game to grow, allow us to get back and engage millions of fans in Southern California, and that would be good for us, and that would be good for the players. And so it’s one of the key issues of how we get us our system that will allow us to invest in that game and grow the pie so that we can all benefit.”
If there is a protracted labor dispute in 2011, what contingency plans do you have for the 2012 Super Bowl? If there is no Super Bowl that year, have you considered pushing the list of cities back a year, and have you discussed any of these contingency plans with leaders from Indianapolis?
“We have not. Our focus is on trying to get an agreement as soon as we possibly can. Before there is any kind of a work stoppage or any of the scenarios that you are talking about, we still have a lot of time and a lot of important opportunities here to structure something that makes sense for everybody. And, as I said, we’re committed and we’re determined to do that. Our focus is on the immediate future. In the next 30 days or so, we’ll be going into an uncapped year if we are not successful. A lot of players will be affected by that. We’d like to see if something can get done.”
(St. Louis Owner/Chairman) Chip Rosenbloom and the current ownership group in St. Louis have tried to improve the team, the product on the field and tried to be active in the community, and I think St. Louis appreciates that, but because of financial issues, they may have to sell the team. My question to you is: Is the League committed to keeping a team in St. Louis, and if there’s a new ownership group, is it important that the ownership group wants to keep the team in St. Louis?
“I agree with you. The changes that Chip and his sister (St. Louis Owner/Partner/Chairman of the Rams Foundation/Community Outreach Lucia Rodriguez) have made, I think, are very positive, (St. Louis Post Dispatch Beat Writer) Jim (Thomas). I think they’re committed to trying to put this organization on the right path in St. Louis, and we think that’s a positive. We have a lease there. We will respect that lease. We would like the team to be successful in St. Louis over the long term. If Chip and Lucia decide to sell the team, we will work with the future ownership to make sure that that team can continue to be there and be successful.
“I point out two things: There are two different processes. Ownership transfer is an important issue for us. We take a lot of time going through that with our committees and with the full membership. And then, if there is any kind of potential relocation, that’s a separate process. Fortunately, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about potentially just an ownership change, and we will work closely with Chip and Lucia to make sure that’s done properly if they decide to sell the team.
“But we want to be in St. Louis, Jim.”
You talk about growing your pie. You haven’t gotten into any specifics. The (players) union is claiming that your proposal is for an 18-percent reduction in their share of the pie. Is that accurate, and how would you characterize it?
“I think it’s difficult to negotiate these things in these kinds of forums. I will tell you that what we’ve asked for very clearly is 18-percent cost recognition so that when investments are made to grow the game and generate revenue, they’re given recognition. And, that will encourage further investment. It will, hopefully, grow that pie. You’ve heard one example right here: Los Angeles. By investing in a new stadium in Los Angeles that will generate more revenue, the players would share it. That’s a positive.
“We’ve talked about a restructured season as another way to generate new revenue by improving the quality of what we’re doing. That’s another way to do it. We’ve talked about international before. There are ways in which we can invest in our game. There are, literally, billions of fans that we think will love the game of football if they’re exposed to it, but that takes an investment. And we have to invest in the game so that we can take that money and share it with everybody.
“It’s not a point in time here where we’re going to get specific in a negotiation. But, if we sit down at the table, I think we can recognize that with a proper system that recognizes the investment it takes that ultimately, we can get to a system that will allow all of the benefits to be shared by the players and by the owners and by the fans.”
Roger, you’ve been working hard on a lot of issues regarding retired players, but recently [Saints QB] Drew Brees was quoted as saying ‘A lot of retired players have been making bad choices both financially personally and now they are coming to us,’ quoting him, ‘to make up for that bad judgment.’ In your opinion how valid is that point that Drew Brees has made and did you talk to him and do you talk to other players about that point?
“I have great respect for Drew. I had the good fortune of going on a USO Tour and spending a week with him. He’s a tremendous young man and I don’t know all the specifics of his comments, but I will say when it comes to retired players, we all have to do more for our retired players. There’s just no two ways about it. We know the kind of issues that they are facing. Some have financial challenges. Some have other challenges. The idea here is, and we are fortunate now that there’s new leadership with the NFL alumni in George Martin, to identify those issues and identify solutions to be able to get to these players and try to figure out how to help them. I’m convinced that the players, particularly someone like Drew Brees, want to reach out and help and do what we can. All of these players will be retired players someday, but these are the men that helped us build this great game and we need to make sure we are doing the right thing for them.”
There’s obviously a lot of shenanigans with players going on, on and off the field. Talk a little bit about the uniform fine rule, your decision process in that and are there any alternatives for you fining the players besides cash?
“Chris I couldn’t hear the last part.”
I said and maybe a spanking?
“Nobody likes to get into the issues of fines or any kind of discipline as far as suspensions, but we do believe very firmly that there are rules in the NFL. Whether it’s an on-field rule with the uniforms, we are a team game and we represent our teams and we should represent them in a professional and standard fashion. We’ve worked very closely with the [NFL] Players Association for years to make sure that we maintain that standard and we will continue to do that. Off the field, I think there are important issues also because it’s your brand too. You’re represented as an NFL player and I believe that our players do so many great things on and off the field and I believe with my heart that they are good people and they demonstrate that on a daily basis. We need to make sure people are focused on that, not on the people that are making mistakes. Virtually all players in the NFL, as you know, are good people and they are making good decisions and we have to remember that they are young men. They are going to make some mistakes. But we’ve got to create the kind of system where we know they are going to be held accountable and where they know what’s expected of them. When they make a mistake, make them be accountable for it, but try to help them back. We need more success stories and we have a lot of them. And, I think what we’ve done over the last couple of years in concert with the players, because they were a big part of making the changes to the personal conduct policy, has been very beneficial to the league in general.”
Two local issues Roger. One, what are the logistics of the reinstatement of [Former Cleveland Browns WR] Donte’ Stallworth. Will it be automatic next week or what happens? Also, there’s a dispute with the Browns and a former general manager. Can you update with where does that stand in arbitration hearing involving George Kokinis.
“The second point, with regard to George, I believe that’s going through our process. I’d be happy to get to you with the details on that. I don’t know where that stands, but I believe there is a dispute ongoing about that. The first issue that you raised was with respect to Donte’. I met with him when I was down here in South Florida approximately a month ago for the last regular season game with the Dolphins. Donte’ and I spent about 45 minutes to an hour together. I wanted to see how he was doing, what he had been focused on during his time away from the game and I think he’s in a better place than he was. I think he recognizes what he did and the horrific nature and the unfortunate outcome and I think he’s prepared himself to get back in and play. So he will be reinstated after the Super Bowl on Sunday.”
It’s been four years since the last regular season game in Mexico City, so just so the Mexican fans can understand, what are the advantages of having the games in London for now, consecutive games, what are the advantages in London over Mexico City?
“I don’t think there are advantages of London over Mexico. We would love to get back to Mexico. And what has to happen is you have to develop the right formula, where it’s good for our partners in Mexico, it’s good for the NFL, and we can continue to grow the game in Mexico. We know that there are millions of fans not only in Mexico, but the Hispanic fans we have here in the states, it continues to grow rapidly. We would love to get back there. We are not making a choice though of London over Mexico. We think we can do both and we’d love to do both.”
The Pro Bowl this year was a huge success and had its largest crowd since 1959, yet, it’s still going back to Hawaii. Does that concern you that you’ll get the numbers as you did this year, or are you thinking about bringing it back to the mainland.
“I agree with you, we did have a huge success this year. It goes back to the point of innovation and trying to find better ways of doing things and to grow our game. And it gave our players a great platform this year to be on the stage here in South Florida. But we made two really significant changes. It was not only moving the game to the mainland and being a part of Super Bowl week, but it was also moving it in advance of the Super Bowl. And I was really struck, a player told me just the other day that he had a great experience and that it was a great event, he said to me, ‘You know, Hawaii is a game that is great for the players and it’s great to be there and there’s a place for that in our rotation, but this was also great for the fans to be here and a part of the Super Bowl.’ And I think we have to keep that in mind. I think we can accomplish that in Hawaii also. There are great fans out there. We’re back there for two more years. We want to continue to build on the successes that we’ve had here and make the game better.”
I want to ask a labor question. In other leagues where the leagues have been asking the players to make concessions historically they’ve shown their profit and loss statements. The NHL did it, Commissioner Stern is doing it now. Why are you so opposed to it? And then secondly, have you told the players what the return on their investment would be if they agreed to your proposal
“Well let me start because we were all for transparency. Our players have a tremendous amount of the economic data. We have shared that data with them and we will continue to share that data with them. And you point out that other leagues have opened their books. Unfortunately that is not the Holy Grail. Both those leagues went into lockouts and extended lockouts. So it doesn’t mean they’re not going to dispute how much they are spending in marketing and how much they’re spending on coaches’ salaries, which has been raised with us before, that we’re spending too much on coaches’ salaries. You’re not going to get an agreement there. What is important is for them to understand, and we have shared with them the basic economic data to say the system isn’t working. Right now, the important number to focus on is since the 2006 agreement was struck, we have generated $3.6 billion in incremental revenue, additional revenue. $2.6 of that has gone to the players. The owners are actually $200 million worse off than they were in 2006. So the system is not working for at least one side of the equation. And that’s the point. You have to have a system that works for everybody here. And so, we will continue to make sure the players understand the economics of the league, that they have acknowledged in our meetings which I was in, that the owners and the clubs are being squeezed. The costs have risen dramatically. Not only in player costs but also outside of that and that the economics really aren’t working. And I think we’ve been very open with them. We will continue to be transparent. They have a tremendous amount of information and I hope that will be successful in trying to get us to sit down and try to figure out how to reach a fair agreement that everyone will benefit from.”
For owners and players, are there lessons to be learned from Major League Baseball’s experience when a World Series was lost and the game was damaged?
“I don’t think anybody wants to see a work stoppage. I think you point out exactly that. Our clubs are well aware of that. There are no benefits to that. It is a negative. It is a negative for our fans and frankly if it comes to anything like that, we would all have failed and I think we have to work. That is why we are determined and committed to be able to reach a fair agreement. The players should be paid fairly and they should be paid well. We should do everything we can to continue to find ways to invest in the game and hopefully make it beneficial to everybody.”
Can you characterize your level of support for potential Super Bowl in the New York area with the new stadium the Giants and Jets are building? The Super Bowl I guess would be in 2014, but the vote comes up later this year.
“Well as you know, I have to remain neutral on many issues. But this was something that was brought to our committee – our Super Bowl advisory committee – because for the New York Super Bowl bid to move forward, they had to make an exception to our weather issue. I sat in on that conversation and participated with them and I think there are real benefits to the league considering this as an option. I think the idea of playing in the elements is central to the way the game of football is played. I think being able to do that and celebrate the game of football in the number one market could have tremendous benefits to the league going forward. I think you will see that – I think our two co-chairmen are here, Woody Johnson and Jon Tisch – they will put together a very aggressive bid, one that will demonstrate the value of playing in New York and they will be competing against some great cities also. It will be an interesting vote, but I will stand on the sidelines and watch.”
Earlier this season, the Saints and Cowboys played a Saturday night game, the Saints were undefeated and it was carried on NFL Network. Obviously Lake Charles is far away from New Orleans, not in the home market, so that game was only available in Southwest Louisiana on satellite TV. Is the NFL going to take any steps to try to improve the availability of NFL Network on cable to markets outside of home markets in states of NFL teams?
“We are working on that issue daily. We believe that the NFL Network has been an extraordinary success. When you talk to fans, they love the Network. They love talking about football 365 days a year, they love the insight that is provided by our great talent and I think what you are going to see is that the fans are going to win on that. Consumers are going to get their product. We have had resistance, obviously, with a few cable operators. We continue to have dialogue. We continue to structure something that makes sense for them but the consumers want it and ultimately they are going to get it. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they do get it. We love to be fully distributed in every household.”
I have a question in regards to international expansion of the National Football League, in regards to the Asian market in the traditionally important Japanese market and the emerging Chinese market. Recent trends to me seem that your expansion is more toward (Europe) and also Mexico with regular season games. You have been kind of absent from Japan and you tried to bring in Chinese kickers I guess a couple of years ago and it didn’t really work out. What your vision toward the Japanese market and also the Chinese market?
“I spent quite a few years in Japan with the American Bowl Series and our partners trying to develop the game. We have some great fans over there who really understand the game of football. I think it is important for us to continue to be there. We have determined though, in the short term, where our focus needs to be as far as regular season games. There are some unique challenges in playing a regular season game in the Far East. They are unique challenges but we think we can address them. But what we are trying to do with each step is be successful and I think we are showing that it can be very successful by our first game in Mexico, a regular season game, and our series in the UK. At some point in time we would love to be back in Japan and to the Far East. It is an important market for us and we want to be there. In the meantime, we are going to focus on what we can do to get there with media because media is giving us more of an opportunity to reach those fans directly and we can get them engaged in the game that way.”
Yesterday was a great show at the NFLPA and I think the great journalist Ochocinco asked DeMaurice Smith about the likelihood of a lockout. He said a 14 on the scale of 1-10. Just wondering where you would put that?
“I couldn’t make that prediction and I sure hope he’s wrong and I sure hope it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Right now, we don’t need a lot of focus on that. We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have right now to structure an agreement and sit down and negotiate. That’s how this is going to get done and we will have an agreement. It’s just a matter of when but talking about options like work stoppages is not going to get us there. We need to sit down and make those deals and figure out how to structure something that makes sense. I told, mentioned it before, a work stoppage is not a positive outcome for anybody for any side. Both sides lose money and the fans, most importantly, will lose football so we’ve got to avoid that. And our commitment and our determination is to work hard to do that.”
He’s obviously taken, I speak of DeMaurice, he’s taken it very public and he’s very smooth. You talked about there’s been a lot of talk but not a lot of productivity I think earlier. Could you speak to that and what needs to happen for there to be productivity between the two sides?
“Well you know just meeting isn’t good enough. If our objective is to meet, we probably have met that. What you need to do is address the serious concerns that have been raised. In 2006, the ownership addressed the concerns that were raised by the union. They did a deal, there are things that they wish they probably hadn’t done back then. Issues have now been raised by the clubs about what needs to be restructured in this agreement and we all have to sit down and address those. And so, I think they have to understand the issues, they have to address them, and try to work to try to get something done, and I’m not much on rhetoric. I like to get down and get something done. People want solutions, most importantly our fans.”
I’ve spoken to a lot of minority coaches who despite the gains of the Rooney Rule still remain frustrated with the opportunities for advancement. What’s your response to their concerns especially given the perception of what happened with Seattle and with the Washington Redskins?
“First off I disagree about your reference to Seattle and Washington, but I think significant progress is being made. Anytime you’re making progress some people aren’t happy with the pace of that progress. I’m usually at the head of that list and I would like to see more rapid progress. And there are going to be a lot of coaches in the NFL, black, white, Hispanic that are going to be frustrated because there’s only 32 opportunities out there as head coach. But we have made progress and I think we’ll sit down at the end of this hiring season, and we’ll work with the Fritz Pollard alliance and others, figure out what it is we can do to evolve the rule itself, or maybe other modifications that can continue to ensure that we have the right kind of processes in place so that people get the opportunity. There are a lot of great coaches out there. They deserve an opportunity to coach in the NFL and it is a unique position, and we have to make sure that we provide that opportunity to everybody to get the best people on our field and off the field. We have implemented in the NFL office the Rooney Rule across all of our positions. It’s been seen as a rule that’s had tremendous benefits not just in football but in all industries, and I get letters about it when they implement it in other industries. Absolutely. I think it’s become a model success.”
In a lawsuit filed in this area, it’s alleged that Michael Irvin committed a rape. What affect, if any, does that have on his status with the NFL Network?
“I haven’t heard any of the charges or any of the information, but we’ll obviously take it seriously and make sure we understand the facts and then take the appropriate steps.”
I realize you weren’t the commissioner at the time, but could you tell me about the steps the NFL did [took] to keep the NFL in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I know that you’re impartial, but do you take any gratification, do you feel good that after 43 years they’re here as the New Orleans Saints and not another city?
“I feel good for the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. They’ve got a great team. They’ve got a team that they identify with. It starts with the top with the leadership, with the Benson Family, and Rita, and Sean Payton, Drew Brees. All the way down the list, that team has taken their role in that community to a whole new level, which is more than great for the Gulf Coast, it’s been great for the NFL. We’re proud of that relationship. I’m very familiar with the steps that were made, because I was involved with it. I was the Chief Operating Officer at the time, and it was one of my primary responsibilities at the time. We worked hard with the partners in Louisiana. We worked hard to get that dome rebuilt, to structure an agreement that made sense with the community and for the team. We’ve now extended that lease, and we’ve awarded the Super Bowl to the community. It’s a great success story for us, and while I can’t root for a team, I’m really proud of what happened there and I’m thrilled for the people of the Gulf Coast.”
I know you talked about the Jacksonville situation and I’m not sure how far along the Minnesota stadium situation is, but is it possible the San Diego Chargers could be a likely candidate to go to Southern California since they’re based in Southern California - as well as the other two candidates?
“I know the Chargers are working very hard to get something done in the San Diego community. They have worked for, I believe it’s eight years now, to try to address their stadium issue. Baseball has been addressed in that community in the meantime, and that stadium does need to be fixed for the NFL, which means a new stadium. They have had a lot of work done over the years on that. Unfortunately, it hasn’t produced a solution. That has disappointed everybody. I know they continue to focus on that, try to figure out how to get it done, but it is a priority for the Chargers and for the NFL.”
What can you tell us about the length of the season, the idea of getting one, or perhaps two more games, and will this help in the negotiation of the new labor agreements?
“The restructured season is something that we give a lot of consideration, for a variety of reasons. One is the quality of what we do. I consistently hear from player and fans that the quality of our preseason is not up to NFL standards and that we need to fix that, we need to address that. This is one way of doing that, and what I believe is an effective way. Overall, it is consistent with the scene that I tried to present earlier, which is: focus on the quality of what you do, improve that, and create opportunities for everybody that everyone can share in. I think that we’re staying within a 20-game format. We improve the quality of what we’re offering our fans, and what we’re asking our fans to pay for. I think there’s a real strong logic behind all of that that needs further consideration. We spend a great deal of time talking with our partners about it, including the players, and it’s something that we’ll be discussing in the context of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
Yesterday DeMaurice Smith said that it would be virtually impossible to go back to having a salary cap after you get to the uncapped year in about a month. First can you comment on the validity of that and second, how much damage would it do to the league if there was no salary cap and how would it change the climate for the 32 teams as a whole?
“I’m not going to make any proclamations of what’s going to happen and what’s not. There has been a lot of discussion in the public including by DeMaurice that salary cap has been good for the players, it’s been good for the game. I would hope that he doesn’t take things off the table that are good for the game and that we all sit down and try to be reasonable and try to be fair. As it relates to an uncapped system, there are a lot of factors that are negotiated in there with the Players Association to make sure that the game remains competitive. It’s not the only way to keep the game competitive, with a salary cap. There are a lot of restrictions on free agency that are negotiated, things that can be done to make sure our games stay strong and I think the uncapped year, if we get there, will continue to be great football. Again, though, our focus would be, let’s try to get a labor agreement as early as possible, as quickly as possible and let’s not stake a lot of positions out in the public.”
Why did ownership vote 30-2 in March of 2006 for a CBA that they knew and quickly decided wasn’t going to work for them? Also, do you agree with DeMaurice Smith that the NFL players are blue collar workers?
“I guess the answer to your second question is no, I don’t. On the first one, I think there are a lot of owners asking the same question. Why did I vote for this agreement? I think it demonstrated that they were looking to try to extend the relationship with the players, continue what has been a very successful model, but they made some significant changes in that agreement that I think a lot of owners regret and have to get fixed. I think that’s exactly what their message is. There are things that we agreed to that we shouldn’t have. We need to go back and get that fixed. There are a lot of changes in the NFL economics over the years. Most specifically, the investments they are making in stadiums and operating those stadiums and the capital improvements required for those stadiums. That takes a significant investment that we didn’t have 20 years ago and our system has to recognize that.”
On the concussion issue, do you feel the steps you have taken so far are sufficient to address the issues involved? Also, has John Madden’s committee made its recommendations to you? Do you anticipate further steps such as further restricting the number of offseason workouts and practices and also limiting the amount of contact in practices in training camp or the regular season?
“Well all of those things are under consideration as far as the offseason training. I think we need to look at this holistically. What is it that the league can do to try to make the game safer for our players and that includes rules, equipment, and offseason training. How do we make sure our players are prepared for this game and have the best resources to be successful? And I think there are some things in my meetings with Tony Dungy and the players, which we had three of them now, that have been very productive. We focus an awful lot on that offseason issue. It’s not only the wear and tear for them, it’s really the other issues, focus on family, focus on their futures a little bit in the offseason. Give them a chance to be able to prepare for what they are going to face when they retire from the game of football. Tony and I have had some great meetings with these players and I think we will continue to make improvements in that area.”
Going back to the London/Mexico subject, is this CBA discussion pushing back your plans to play games internationally? If so, do you have an idea for how long? Also, just say that you’re not making a decision based on popularity in both countries. Is it based in economic terms on money – pound versus peso?
“I think what I said, just to be clear, is that we weren’t selecting the London game over Mexico. We think we can do both. The issue is we have to have the kind of agreement with our partners that makes sense for everybody. That’s the core issue. The first part of your question – on the CBA issue and the effect it has on the international series, it has had an effect on the international series, even in this year. We seriously considered playing two international games in the UK. We decided not to, because it’s an additional investment, additional losses for our clubs. I’m not sure it made the right kind of sense in the short term until we get this labor agreement resolved. We would like to expand the number of games we’re playing internationally, not only in the UK but around the globe. I think there are ways we can do that. The restructured season, actually, is one of the ways to do that. By adding two more regular season games it gives us a little more flexibility to be able to reach our international audience.”
One more international question – Toronto remains keenly interested in having a franchise. Where does it sit on the expansion franchise list, if there is one on the horizon, as a possible location for another franchise?
“As you know, Toronto is a great market. The Bills are playing up there on an annual basis in a regular season game, and then every other year with a preseason game. I think we want to continue to service that market. We have great fans there. I think it’s a great city. I think they are going to be facing, and I’ve talked to some of the leadership up there, potentially a stadium issue that is going to have to be addressed. Their current stadium, as you know, is a multi-purpose stadium and has a relatively small capacity by NFL standards. So I think there are some issues that would have to be addressed up there, but it’s a great market.”
“Before we break, I want to thank not only the people of South Florida, but the Super Bowl Host Committee. (Chairman) Rodney Barreto has been a tremendous leader for us, and we’re so proud of what he’s done and look forward to working with him through the weekend. He’s been tremendous for us, and we thank Rodney and his host committee and the people of South Florida in general. Of course, the governor (Charlie Crist) has been terrific for us every step of the way. I’ve seen him three or four times this week at different events, and he’s always supportive and always looking to do what he can do to partner with the NFL to make these events even better and have greater impact in these communities. Then, of course, the Miami Dolphins – (Chairman of the Board/Managing General Partner) Steve Ross, (Chief Executive Officer) Mike Dee, the entire organization. I think they’re a big reason why the Pro Bowl was such a success down here and why this event has been so successful. Last, but not least, because this is important – our (NFL) staff. Our staff has really worked hard and executed on something that some people didn’t think we could do, and they did it with class and they did it with great success. So, I’m proud of every one of them. Thank you all.”