In a Thursday afternoon conference call with Steelers season ticket holders, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell re-iterated management’s position on several issues, from the 18-game regular season, to the importance of maintaining the draft as one of the ways to protect competitive balance, to the need for some kind of rookie salary scale.
But when it came to the issue foremost in the minds of all fans – will there be NFL football in 2011 and will it be in the form of a full season that then leads to a complete complement of playoff games and the crowning of a Super Bowl champion – Goodell had no definitive answer.
“The first objective obviously is to have a full season. We have scheduled a full season. We are planning for a full season. It is certainly our intent,” said Goodell. “If for any reason we are not capable of doing that, we obviously would play as many games as possible, and we would want to finish the season with the Super Bowl. That would be our intent. Obviously we want to have a credible season. There is no drop-dead date where there are expected decisions other than we are going to continue to work as hard as possible to get that agreement and make sure we can have as many games, and hopefully a full season this year and a Super Bowl.”
Another question along the same lines allowed Goodell to list some of the places the league has some wiggle room to attain its full-season goal.
“We obviously could potentially take out a bye week (during the regular season),” said Goodell. “We obviously could take the weekend between the championship games and the Super Bowl, if necessary. And we happen to have the flexibility of moving the Super Bowl one week because we anticipated the potential of an 18-week season several years ago when we made the commitment to Indianapolis.”
Goodell also explained that while the plan is for a complete 2011 season, there is a league-wide policy in place mandating reimbursement to season ticket holders for any games not played because of the labor situation. He said the owners “are seeking a system that puts back balance into the collective bargaining agreement.”
That balance has to come, in Goodell’s view, because while the players are receiving a percentage of the game’s revenue, the clubs are looking for a system that acknowledges the costs inherent in producing that revenue.
“There are a whole lot of other system issues that need to be addressed that we think are going to improve the game, improve the integrity, but we cannot continue to have the rising cost of operating the league and shifting it to the fans,” said Goodell. “There’s a point where that is not healthy for our game. It’s certainly not healthy for the fans. We want to continue to have full stadiums and that’s an important objective for the ownership.”
There was frustration expressed by fans on varying issues, from the manner in which litigation has supplanted negotiation with regard to the labor issue, to the way tickets are allocated for the Super Bowl.
“(T)he only way that it is going to get resolved is through negotiations and by us sitting at a table and addressing the issues in a reasonable way and a fair way and everyone compromising and getting what we need rather that what we want,” is how Goodell sees the labor situation being resolved. “That is what collective bargaining is all about, and that is what we need more of. I would encourage all of us to get to the table as quickly as possible, and if that opportunity comes up, we will certainly do that.”
As complex as the labor issue is, it might be more simply resolved than allocation of Super Bowl tickets.
“The reality is this game has become so popular, the Super Bowl, that we don’t have enough tickets for everybody,” said Goodell. “The demand is so great in the Super Bowl compared to the supply. We have made some adjustments in our policies to make sure that a certain percentage is available to our fans. We will continue to evaluate that, and also the quality of those tickets.”
But this being a conference call with Steelers fans also meant Goodell faced a question like this: “How can the league watch these games in slow-motion and fine players for making split-second hits? Are we safe feeling we were a little bit targeted …?”
“You are right about the speed of the game and the reaction to the game,” said Goodell. “The issue that we are focused on in our Competition Committee and what we do each offseason is focus on certain techniques, and those techniques that should be removed from the game. We have done this over the decades of the NFL, and it has made our game safer, whether it is taking out the head slap, or the chop block or a variety of other things that have happened over decades of football to make the game safer because those techniques are dangerous. That is what we focus on. So if those techniques are used, that is the technique we are focused on and fines will follow from that.”
But come the end of the half-hour, it was clear to all who participated in this conference call that the best possible outcome would be to get back to questions about legal vs. illegal hits rather than being bogged down in labor issues and antitrust litigation.
“All of our attempts will be to maintain that system that will allow all other teams the opportunity to be competitive and continue this great game,” said Goodell. “I know it’s frustrating for fans. I appreciate that, and as a fan myself, I am looking forward to getting resolution, and we will continue to work hard to do that.”
To read the entire transcript from Commissioner Roger Goodell, click here