Transcript of Wednesday's fan forum with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bengals season ticket holders
Roger Goodell's initial comments: Let me say thanks to you for being on the call with all of the season ticket holders and the Bengals organization, from Mike Brown on down, for having this. It's great for me to have this opportunity to be able to talk to the fans also.
On the status of labor negotiations:We had 17 days of mediation back in February into early March as the contract expired. At that point in time, the Players Association, as you pointed out, decided to decertify and pursue a litigation strategy. That essentially ended the negotiations for all purposes while they pursued this litigation strategy. That is still ongoing unfortunately. There is a hearing on June 3 in front of the court of appeals and that will be heard then and they will make a decision within their timeframe shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, the lockout is in place. We do have a mediation session early next week within the court of Minnesota. We will continue to do that. I would tell you that not enough negotiation is going on; it is more litigation right now. It is unfortunate. We need to get back to negotiations because that's how this will get settled.
*On the most significant issues separating the NFL and players: *I participated in all 17 days of that mediation. As we came close to the 17th day, we put the proposal in writing of all of the things that were discussed over that period of time that we felt the ownership was prepared to make on a variety of different subjects – everything from player health and safety, to improvements to retired players' benefits, including a 60-percent increase in their pensions, to discussions of a new rookie compensation system and to the economics of the game. Very specifically, there was a proposal that had the player compensation increasing 15 percent over the next three years. The proposal was made very clearly. The only response that we got at the end of the day [from the NFLPA] was that it was not good enough on the economics and that they were pursuing a different strategy. That was how it ended. I assume the economics is the key issue that is separating us.
On optimism that a full season will be played in 2011:I'm very positive because I think once we get back to negotiations, we can settle our differences. There is an opportunity here for us to continue to grow this game and address the issues, some of which I just identified. The sooner we get back to the negotiating table the more we can address those issues in a timely fashion and get to what everybody wants, which is football. In the meantime, we've done everything to prepare for 2011. We had the Draft, we put out our schedule for this year and we're continuing to prepare for this season. That is our objective.
On loyal fans who may lose interest due to frustrations with the labor dispute:Certainly, I understand your frustration and I share your frustration. I had the opportunity last season to tailgate with some of the fans in Cincinnati last fall. It was a great experience because I got to talk to the fans, hear from them and take their questions from them. It was a great experience to hear their comments.
I understand the frustration with this labor dispute and what it does to fans' interest in the game and what it does to their overall interest in the NFL. That's why I keep telling the Players Association that it's really important for us to get this resolved now. People enjoy the NFL because it's a release from some of the other work issues they have. It's an opportunity to get away from that and to enjoy football and enjoy their family and friends. We have to fill that. That's our goal. That's our objective. We have to fulfill that objective for our fans.
I understand your frustration. I hope we get this resolved. I can tell you from our standpoint we're trying to get an agreement that will work and continue to produce a great game of football, a competitive game of football where every team has a chance to win. That's what you've come to expect from the NFL and that's what we want to deliver on.
On an 18-game regular season and player safety:In the March 11 proposal, we agreed to a number of changes to what we consider the player health and safety issues. Those are legitimate. I'm sympathetic to those issues, and we tried to address those in a reasonable fashion by shortening and limiting the kind of contact in the off-season and training camp and even into the regular season. We'll continue to look at that to make sure that we are doing that in a responsible fashion.
What we also agreed to do, though, is implement those changes immediately so that we could see the impact on player health and safety and then jointly make a decision within a couple of years about the idea of instituting and 18-game schedule. It addresses a lot of issues I've heard from fans about the quality of the preseason. They want greater value. They don't want to see preseason games that are not competitive and they don't see the players that they want to see. It is something that I have heard loud and clear from fans. We're going to continue to pursue that but we did want to address, in a responsible fashion, the health and safety issues.
On who is responsible for retired players:It's a shared responsibility of all of us. No one has a greater respect for retired players than I do. When I've gone around and talked to retired players, the No. 1 issue is that they want an independent organization that is going to represent their interest and that could identify their priorities, whether they be medical issues, whether they be pension issues or whether they be career transition issues. We've continued, through the ownership efforts, to make improvements to those benefits. As an example, the owners implemented a program which we call the 'Joint Replacement Program,' where any player who needs a joint replacement can go to one of 13 hospitals across the country – outstanding hospitals with outstanding doctors – and get VIP treatment. If they can't afford to it, we will pay for it. Cardiovascular testing and screening, we've done that to make sure it addresses the great players population needs that they have.
It's important for all of us to do more for our retired players. The NFL Alumni has been created and is under new leadership with George Martin. He is doing an outstanding job of pushing the agenda of the retired players. The owners have met with George four or five times on a formal basis collectively and I've met with George several times in between there. They want an independent organization that addresses their issues and that can work with the Players Association, the NFL and its clubs. I welcome it. It is a good thing for us to do. We all have to make improvements to retired player benefits.
On employing replacement players if an agreement is not reached prior to the 2011 season:We have not had any discussions about implementing a system with replacement players. Our focus has been entirely on getting an agreement with the NFL players and continuing to grow the great game. From our standpoint, we want to do everything to improve the quality of what you're getting and to improve the value of what you're getting with the best players. That's been our focus.
On legal rulings affecting rookies during and after the 2011 NFL Draft:The most important thing when you're going through something like this is that all 32 clubs are operating under the same rules. As a league, the competitive integrity is critical. All 32 are operating under the same rules. There was a very brief period a couple weeks ago when we had a court ruling where the facilities were opened up. It was closed down by another court decision shortly thereafter. The reality of it is we need to get rid of this uncertainty so we can get back to getting those young players where they understand the systems they're coming into and they can begin to get the coaching. The sooner we can get to that agreement, the sooner that will happen.
On the NFLPA targeting the draft in its antirust lawsuit:When the players moved away from their unionization, at least in theory, and moved to a litigation approach, they sued us under antitrust laws. Essentially, what that does is attack virtually every aspect of the great game that we have – the salary cap itself, free agency and the draft. As you point out, the draft is something that has lead to the competitive balance of the league. It is used in every other league. It is integral to having a competitive league. They've attacked that as being anti-competitive and illegal. That troubles me as the commissioner of this league and where this league is going and as someone who loves this game more than anybody. I'm going to protect this game as best I can. That kind of an attack is what troubles me under the antitrust world that the Player's Association's attorneys are presenting for us. It should concern every fan.
On whether the players, in accepting a high percentage of the profits, take any of the economic risk the owners do: No, they do not take the economic risk. The way the system works right now is it's not a high percentage of profits – it's a high percentage of revenues. That's one of the issues that the clubs are raising. While those revenues continue to increase, unfortunately, they're not increasing as fast as our costs, including players costs. But there are costs in building new stadiums, maintaining those stadiums, making capital improvements to those stadiums, continuing to have great facilities for the clubs – all of those things come with higher costs and that is something that we want to have recognized in the system. With those higher costs, instead of taking it completely as a percentage of revenue, there should be recognition of those costs before the sharing of revenue, and that's one of the systems that was proposed and part of the discussion that we're having with the players association. It's something that we've got to get addressed.
On how the NFL plans to prevent the lockout from affecting season ticket holders and pricing them out of seeing games: It's a great question, and it is one of the things that we're obviously trying to address here. By controlling our costs, that gives us a better ability to manage our business and I think we have to recognize what our fans are going through, either season ticket holders or other fans that want to attend our event or participate in our event in some fashion. The economy has taken an impact on people and it continues to have that impact. The uncertainty out there and the rising cost of gasoline – all the things that you are dealing with and every other fan are dealing with are realities and we cannot continue to shift the cost, our increased costs, to the fans, to the season ticket holders. That's something we're trying to address here. By controlling our costs, by getting a better control over the way we manage our business, we hopefully can do a better job of making sure that we continue to make our game affordable for all fans.
On the issue of the cost of preseason game tickets being the same as the cost of regular season game tickets: You make several good points in there. One is the recognition and appreciation for our fans, which I think is critically important. The longer this goes, the more impact it has on our fans, and we understand that. We are talking about different ways of trying to address that because I think we realize what it's doing to our fans, what it's doing to our business partners, and that's going to have a long-term impact on the game, it's going to have a long-term impact on the clubs, and it's going to have a long-term impact on the players. We've spent a lot of time on preseason games about whether we can increase the number of comp tickets so that we can get various groups into our stadiums on either reduced price level or not. I believe it's close to three quarters of our teams this year did not raise ticket prices because of the uncertainty going into this season. So I think clubs are out working, trying to be sensitive to what's going on in the economy, sensitive to what's going on in this labor dispute, and making sure that we make responsible decisions going forward. So we'll continue to evaluate all those and hopefully implement some of those.
On when a deal needs to be reached in order to properly to prepare teams for a full NFL season:The longer it goes, likely the longer it will take. The longer you are away from it, the more likely you are going to take more time to get back into what we would consider shape to play the game. Our players do a great job of staying in shape but football shape is different than just physical conditioning.
We haven't come to a specific amount of time but we are still hoping we can continue on with our full preseason, including training camp, the full preseason schedule and the regular-season schedule. If we are unsuccessful in getting an agreement, we are going to have to adapt that and we are going to have to have sufficient time for players to get in shape and to make sure we are not putting them at a risk for injuries once we do return to play.
On clarifying decertification and the NFLPA's decertification:What it means to me is they are abandoning their union position and they are abandoning their collective bargaining rights. If you are fully doing this, it is permanent and irreversible.
This happened in the late '80s and the early '90s – the exact same circumstance. They decertified and sued us in antitrust court. It obviously wasn't permanent and irreversible back in the early '90s. I don't think it is permanent and irreversible now. It is why we don't think it is a sincere decertification. We think this is simply an attempt to get leverage in a negotiation and puts the game at risk. We should all get back to the negotiating table and do what is clearly needed, which is get an agreement.
On what the NFLPA is seeking financially:They are looking for a share of the overall revenue and they don't want to change their share in revenue despite the fact they acknowledged costs have continued to escalate, not just players costs but the costs of operations, which they have acknowledged and we have demonstrated to them in financial disclosures. Clearly, they understand that the economics of the NFL have changed over the past 10 or 15 years but they do not want their percentage shared to change.
It is unrealistic in this kind of an environment where it takes a significant investment to create revenue, whether it is a new stadium or other new business opportunities. You have to invest to do that. You have to encourage owners or clubs to make those investments because that is how the game is going to continue to grow. That is how we have been able to grow the game, particularly over the past five or six years, by making smart investments. Hopefully, we can get back to that.
On current and former players involvement in their communities:Our players do great things. You mentioned some of the former players. (Pro Football Hall of Fame T) Anthony Muñoz, who was here for the (2011 NFL) Draft, what he does with his foundation is extraordinary. There are so many players who do that, both active and retired. I am proud of what our players do. We want to continue to do things to encourage them to make a difference in their communities, and I think they do.
On the NFLPA's access to financial data:Despite what other unions get, the NFLPA gets access to every single penny of our revenue. They are able to audit that. They know exactly where it is generated and how it is generated. Obviously, they have a very clear understanding to the penny of our player costs and we have offered and have demonstrated to them and have shown them the increased costs that we have had in operations.
There is a significant amount of transparency that exists. They understand what is wrong with the business model. They clearly do.
On the NFLPA and other unions activity:You see what is going on in Wisconsin with their fight to hold onto collective bargaining rights. This union decided to abandon those collective bargaining rights. It is a choice that they have to make if it is what they are sincere in doing. I am not so sure if this isn't just an attempt, though, to get leverage in a negotiation. That is what troubles me because clearly, it is not going to benefit the majority of players if we don't have a collective bargaining agreement. That is what we should do. We should settle the issues and continue to build this great game.
On a final deadline for cancelling the season if an agreement is not reached:We haven't gotten to that point. I hope we never get to that point. It would be a shame. We are continuing to make all of our plans to play a full 2011 schedule. It is our intention. We have to get back to the table and make sure that it occurs. If we are unsuccessful at getting to that point, we will have to make those decisions as we go. To date, I do not have a specific time period other than getting this done sooner rather than later.
On personally receiving negative reactions from media and fans:It is part of the job. I understand the frustration. People just want football. Anyone who gets between them and football is going to be seen in that light and as an obstructionist. I want football more than anybody. We also have to make sure, though, we have a sustainable business model and we continue to grow the game and we continue to do the things that have created the competitive kind of football we have. You can't be commissioner of any sport without being subject to criticism. I understand that. It is a part of the job. I will continue to do the best I can to make sure that every day I leave this office that I am working hard to make sure the game of football continues to be successful for the long term not just the short term.
Closing statement:The first thing I do is thank the fans for their support and their interest. I know Mike Brown and the Bengals organization appreciate it and certainly, we do at the NFL. At the end, we are all NFL fans and want this great game to continue. Thank you. I know it is a frustrating period but I appreciate hearing from you.