EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Giants fans today that he expects a full 2011 season to begin as scheduled, but admitted the current lockout has created an atmosphere of uncertainty.
"We're planning – and you saw that when we released the schedule yesterday – to start the season on time," Goodell said. "We're planning on playing a full season. And we're going to negotiate as hard as we can to get that done.
"You obviously have to be prepared if you're unsuccessful. But I don't like to focus on that. I like to focus on being successful. There is a lot of risk for everybody involved, most of all you as fans. We know how much you want football. So we have to identify the solutions and get it done. It's tough for me to project other than we're going to continue to make the preparations for the season and work as hard as we can to solve those issues in advance, so we can play every game and every down of the season."
Goodell made his remarks on a town hall-style conference call with Giants season ticketholders. At the its peak, 5,500 ticket holders were on the line for the call, which was moderated by Bob Papa, the Voice of the Giants. Goodell has held conference calls with the season ticketholders of the other teams, including the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and, later today, the San Francisco 49ers.
The Commissioner was asked questions on numerous topics during the 30-minute call, though the bulk of the queries concerned the labor dispute and its consequences. Indeed, Goodell participated on the call from Minneapolis, where he was on a lunch break from the mediated talks between the NFL owners and the players representatives.
Goodell stressed that the owners are determined to reach an agreement with the players, because the current stalemate harms the game and benefits no one.
"Not playing football and shutting your business down has a dramatic impact on your business," Goodell said. "There will be a tremendous amount of lost revenue to the teams. There will be a tremendous amount of lost revenue to the players. A strike or a lockout has significant financial impact on all parties. It is one of the reasons why they are used. People usually get serious and they resolve their differences because the damage is significant.
"I worry not only about the financial impact to all parties but also the damage to our game and what it does in the eyes of our fans if we are unsuccessful. That is why we are looking for solutions and why we want to continue to negotiate to get it resolved before any of that occurs. Make no mistake about it: It will have significant financial impact on the clubs."
Although he is not currently in Minnesota, Giants president John Mara drew praise from Goodell for his role in helping to end the dispute.
"John Mara is a very respected owner," Goodell said. "He does serve on our CEC (Management Council Executive Committee), which is essentially our labor committee. He has participated in many of the negotiations, including a large part of our mediation in Washington. He has always been there. He's respected, I think, by all parties. He has high integrity. And he is a very good sounding board for me. He understands the game of football, obviously, and he knows what's best for the game. He wants to be fair to all parties, and I think he will continue to play a crucial role in our labor negotiations."
No one knows exactly what the final accord will include, but Goodell said the game would be harmed if the current talks result in some changes to the basic structure of the business of the game. For example, Goodell was asked what will happen if the players are no longer a union and they are successful in litigation. Under what system would the league and its players operate under?
"That's something that's troubling to me a little bit," Goodell said. "In hearing some of the lawyers for the players association talk about their vision of what would happen with the NFL and the types of things they would be challenging in court – everything from the draft to free agency rules – I think it would have a real tremendously negative impact on the game of football, and what everybody loves the game of football for and what has made us successful.
"I get concerned when I hear how the lawyers want to approach this and how they want to change the game for the players association. I think we have a great game that's competitive. I think the balance that we have amongst teams is all part of our system. Aspects of those systems are always modified, always changed. I'm willing to engage in that. But to eliminate some of those aspects that have made our game, and frankly other sports … the NFL has an incredibly competitive and attractive game. We have to make sure we continue to make modifications that are going to make it stronger – not weaken it."
One aspect Goodell very much wants to reinstitute is a salary cap. The league had a cap from 1994-2009, but played the 2010 season without one.
"I think both sides have indicated an interest in having some type of salary cap system," Goodell said. "I think it has been beneficial to the game. And it's part of the discussions we've had – what is the appropriate salary cap level and how would it grow? The proposal on March 11 had the salary cap … slightly increased from where the spending was in the uncapped year and where the spending was in 2009 under the last capped year. Then it grows 15 percent over the next four years. So it's a pretty significant increase. So I think the question really will be – if we have a cap system, which I think benefits the game, and I think we should have – then what's the growth rate of that cap? And what's the starting point of that cap?"
During the NFL's last work stoppage in 1987, the league played games for three weeks using replacement players, a decision that was widely criticized by fans. Goodell said the league has no plans to produce a sequel to The Replacements.
"We have not had any focus on replacement players," Goodell said. "That's not part of our strategy; it's not part of our thinking. We're not pursuing that. Our focus is entirely on trying to get an agreement with this union and with these players.
"Obviously, if we're unsuccessful in getting that, we have created some league-wide policies on ticket refunds if any games are not played. But replacement players are not part of our strategy."
The owners had initially proposed increasing the number of regular season games from 16 to 18 while reducing the preseason schedule from four to two games. Although the owners have withdrawn that proposal to allow the issue to be studied further, Goodell said moving the Super Bowl from the first weekend of February to the Sunday of President's Day weekend in the middle of the month is an idea that merits strong consideration.
"It has actually been brought up mostly in the context of the restructured season of 18-and-2," Goodell said. "If you started the season roughly when we do, which is the week after Labor Day, and you run that out for 18 regular-season games and the playoffs at the same length, you would end up on President's weekend. We think that is of interest. It is compelling. We have some other factors that you would have to consider. Obviously, you would have potentially more games in northern climates that you would have to think about. The idea of having the Super Bowl on a three-day weekend is very attractive, particularly to fans. We have heard that consistently from them."
Goodell discussed several other subjects in responding to questions from Giants season ticketholders:
*On the significance of the Giants opening the 2011 season in Washington on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
"All of us that live in the New York area, Washington area, or western Pennsylvania as well as everyone across our great country knows the impact 9/11 had on us," Goodell said. "We want to honor that 10-year anniversary in a way that's appropriate. We thought putting the schedule together the way we did, where we can have a game in New York, we could also have a game in Washington. The Jets will be playing in New York and the Giants in Washington. We will also be having a proper recognition in western Pennsylvania. It's the right thing to do. Our country should be recognizing the tragedy that occurred 10 years earlier, we know that we play a big role in doing that appropriately. We think we played an important role in not playing the week after the 9/11 incident so that the country could properly deal with the issues we had to deal with. We want to make sure that we do this respectfully, so we'll be announcing plans on that front in the coming weeks."
*On the emphasis given to player safety while the league explores the possibility of playing more regular season games:
"We are playing a 20-game format with four preseason games and 16 regular-season games," Goodell said. "The concept that we have been discussing with the union is making that 18-and-2. In addition, we would make significant changes in the offseason, training camp and even potentially the regular season to reduce the exposures to injuries because that is important. Player health and safety is a priority for us. We have to make sure we do it responsibly or else we wouldn't do it. In the negotiations, we said that we would implement those changes in the offseason, training camp and the regular season immediately and spend the next two years studying it, making sure we have made the game safer. Making a move to 18-and-2 would be done jointly with the Players Association after consideration of the changes we are making. We are approaching it in a responsible fashion and making sure that we can reduce the overall exposure to players. We are going to continue to make all of the changes we have made in the playing rules, equipment and other areas that will make the game safer.
"I hear from fans consistently about the quality of the preseason and that they really don't believe that it meets the standards of the NFL. I think the player health and injury issues that they have raised are legitimate and they need to be addressed. That's why we've made the changes in the proposal. I don't know the reaction because before we really never got a full reaction, they pushed away from the table and we haven't had much discussion about it since. I think through those discussions, the players that were engaged in that felt that the changes we were making would make the game safer and would be responsible changes. We're going to continue to push that and make sure that we get this done responsibly. And if we can't, we won't do it. But I think there is a way to do it if we work together."
*On whether he can become more assertive in the current negotiations:
"I understand your frustration and I share your frustration," Goodell said. "We went through 17 straight days of mediation back from February into early March and at that point in time the players pushed away and pursued this litigation strategy. I'm a firm believer that this will not get resolved through litigation it will get solved through negotiations. That fact that we are here negotiating is a positive thing, but there has to be a commitment by everyone to get a deal. It's not just about meeting, it's about addressing the issues, being responsible, recognizing we have a shared responsibility in this game to continue to make it better and to be fair in what we're doing. My role specifically will be to do anything I can to bring the parties together to reach an agreement that works for everybody; that keeps our game great. My number one responsibility is the game of football and making sure it continues to stay strong. That's what I'm going to continue to do, anything I can do to make sure we promote the NFL and make the NFL better for everyone participating and most importantly our fans."