Sorry, L.A., but given the choice, I'd say the NFL adds another regular-season game to its schedule before it adds you.
Yeah, I know what Ed Roski's business partner said last week about having a team in Los Angeles by next year. I also know what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday, mostly because I asked him.
|Commissioner Roger Goodell does not think the NFL has a player conduct problem. (Getty Images)|
While that's plenty of time for L.A. to respond, it reserves its best acting for the cinema, not the football field. The city has been without the NFL since 1995. So what's another three or four more years?
Goodell made it clear the league wants to go there, but he also made it clear he isn't willing to sacrifice one of the existing 32 franchises to do it.
That's not all. He addressed the difficulties of a schedule with an odd number of games, the possibility of playing in China and what the loss of former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw means for future collective-bargaining talks.
But why am I telling you? Just keep reading:
Question: First things first: Is the game for the New Orleans Superdome definitely on or are there still contingency plans in the works?
Goodell: No, we're definitely on. We've spoken to the governor, the Saints and the Superdome people, and there was very limited damage both to the Superdome and the Saints' training facility. Neither one of them is operating with any difficulty. They were out of power, and it may be back on by now. But that was the biggest issue. They're very comfortable that will happen, so we'll be on for noon on Sunday.
Q: The season starts Thursday without Gene Upshaw. What impact will his loss have on the future of the league's collective bargaining talks?
G: From the standpoint of looking at one individual who has contributed so much to the game, both on and off the field, there is probably no one more significant than Gene. He had a long history with collective bargaining, and he understood the issues of the players. I'm sure that will be missed. On the other hand, he brought that organization along, provided tremendous leadership and has them in a position where I think they're much better for his leadership. I'm sure that will continue on, but there's obviously a transition here into new leadership that they're going to have to go through.
Q: Richard Berthelsen has been there a long time. Do you have a relationship with him?
G: Yes, I do. Richard and I have worked for a long time together, and I have great respect for him. We've worked very closely with a lot of the player reps, particularly with the active Player Advisory Council I have. I have a great deal of respect for the people involved, and I'm sure we will be able to address the issues successfully.
Q: In the negotiations, will the league push for NBA-style slotting of compensation for top draft picks, and does the NFLPA seem open to the idea?
G: That will be one of several issues we're going to have to address as a group. I don't come in with a specific solution right now as much as I do thinking that this is something that needs to be addressed with the two parties and needs to be done in a manner that is more ... (he pauses) the best way to say it is there's a better basis in which to handle rookie salaries than what we have right now. I don't know if I'm stuck to a particular solution right now, but I think it needs to be addressed.
Q: The last time we went through CBA talks, there was a rift between small-revenue and big-revenue clubs. How do you assure the small revenue clubs that their interests will be fairly represented this time around?
G: The same way we do with everything. The model of the NFL is to be successful in both the large and small markets. I think that's what the NFL has been most successful at, and the core of that has been our revenue sharing. We share over 80 percent of our revenue. That is something that will continue. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the labor costs and the changing environment that we're operating in. The last labor deal was not working. That's why the owners triggered out.
|Ask the Commissioner|
Roger Goodell: No, we have an international roster exemption that we increased, I believe, from 12 teams to 16 teams this year. But we didn't feel under the current structure that NFL Europe was actually providing that kind of value to the teams. In fact, a number of teams felt they could develop their players better by having them at home at their own training facilities.
Q: I think we all agree that something must be done about a preseason where fewer and fewer starters play. How soon do you think we see a 17 or 18-game regular-season and what, if any, reservations do you have about shortening the preseason?
G: I don't have any reservations about shortening the preseason. I think you always try to look for unintended consequences or what happens to the quality of the product. I'm convinced in talking to coaches, players and GMs that we don't need four preseason games to keep the quality of play at the level it is. If we change it, it's really subject to two things: media negotiations (TV contracts) and collective bargaining negotiations. So, it's when you feel that you can get those done successfully, and then we would move into it. The likelihood is not before 2010 but probably more like 2011 or 2012.
Q: Let's say you go to a 17-game regular season. How would you juggle the home and away games? And is there any chance you could play the 17th game at neutral sites?
G: We've talked about this. There are a couple of ways you do it. One is the 17th game could be done by conference, so that everybody in the conference has the same number of home games. That would take the inequity out. But there is some discussion about the international-game sites (for the 17th games). I don't know if we're in a position right now to play the 17th regular-season game as international games. I think we might look at additional regular-season games, but I would be surprised if we went to international games for the 17th start right now.
Q: What are the salary implications if the regular season is extended?
G: Right now what we're talking about is not lengthening the season but restructuring the 20-game season we have. All of that money, all of the preseason revenue, goes into creating the salary cap, or 60 percent of the gross. All we're doing is looking at the idea of restructuring the season to be either two preseason and 18 regular-season games or three preseason and 17 regular-season games. We would stay within the same construct of the 20-game season that we've had.
Q: If you expanded the regular season, would you be forced to open before Labor Day?
G: No, my view would be to start at the same time and go later into the year, or later into next year, depending on how you look at it. And the other thing you would have to look at, and there are a variety of ways, would be roster size. That would probably be something that would be attractive to the union. So you'd likely have to revisit the idea of an expanded roster at some time.
Q: I want to move on to the Los Angeles situation. John Semcken, a business partner of Ed Roski, last week said there was "no doubt" there would be an NFL team in Los Angeles next year. Furthermore, he said there is a possibility two teams could wind up there. That was news to me. Was it news to you?
G: Yes, it was.
Q: What teams do you think he's talking about?
G: Uh, I don't think he knows what two teams he's talking about. I'm not trying to be short, but I think he was talking more in generalities. I don't know because I haven't spoken to him, but I don't think he was implying that he knew of the two teams. I think he was just saying they have a project that's attractive, and they believe that two teams will be interested in it at some point and time. Our effort, however, is to keep our teams where they are. We obviously want to be back in Los Angeles at some point, and we're looking at solutions. But I don't think that solution will be coming by next year.
Q: So when do you realistically see the NFL returning to L.A.?
G: Our view is not necessarily doing it by a certain time; it's doing it correctly. We want it to work for the community. We want it to work for the NFL. Since we don't have any teams available, that's been a significant issue.
Q: One more question about California. Is there a concern about the stadiums out there? And what can be done to improve what might be the three worst facilities in the league?
G: Well, they are (the three worst), and that's the reality of it. And it's something we raised frequently. Our stadium situation in California is not very good, and we need to improve those facilities. The fans demand it. They're seeing new facilities in other sports. And it's something we think is necessary for our fan base out there. So we are working to try to address it.
Q: On to player conduct. A Jacksonville player was shot Tuesday morning. Another was arrested over the weekend. And there were 11 suspensions handed out last weekend, including Travis Henry for the season. What part of the player conduct or substance abuse program aren't these guys getting?
G: Whenever you're dealing with 2,000 young men, you're going to have a couple who aren't going to understand their responsibilities. That is becoming more clear. We said at the time when we established this that it was not going to become an overnight success; that this was something that we were going to have to continue to work on. We also have to understand that there are unique circumstances surrounding some of these incidents. I still don't know all the facts specifically around Fred Taylor or the Jacksonville player who was shot. Those are issues where they may very well have been ... or, at least, in the case of one of these individuals ... the victims. That is something that we want to make sure we're careful on, and that we do everything we can to make sure our players are safe.
Q: A couple of years ago I think all of us -- including Gene Upshaw -- agreed the NFL had a player conduct problem. Do you think that's still the case, and, if not, what's the evidence of improvement?
G: I don't think that's the case. There's recognition by our players that there's a responsibility. They recognize that it's a privilege to play in the league and not a right. The evidence is that the number of actual incidents has gone down, though it's still not at an acceptable level from our standpoint. We will continue to be very aggressive in this area and continue to impress on our players, coaches and everyone involved in the NFL of their responsibilities to conduct themselves properly.
Q: You once flirted with the idea of a preseason game in China. Any thoughts of returning there in the future, either for a regular-season or preseason game, and any thoughts of playing regular-season games somewhere other than Canada or England?
G: Yes, Mexico would be added to that list. We're contemplating Mexico also. As far as China is concerned, yes, we are evaluating that. We did have plans to play there. But between all the Olympic plans and everything that was going on there to get the community ready for the Olympics, it just wasn't the appropriate time for us to play. We are going to evaluate that going forward to see if it's appropriate. In the meantime we're doing a lot there to increase our television coverage and interest in the game to make that game successful if we do decide to do it.
Q: Let's talk about the NFL Network. Are you frustrated at attempts to get the network more widely distributed, especially here in New York where we can't find it?
G: I'm frustrated only because it's obvious consumers want it. We don't own the distribution (outlet), in this case Time/Warner in the New York area or some of the other cable operators who control that access to the home. I'm frustrated they don't recognize what everyone else seems to recognize: That it's high-quality entertainment and something that the fans and their consumers want. It's frustrating to see why they aren't delivering it to their consumers. It's clear they talk about a sports tier, but they're not committed to a sports tier. They do not treat independent programmers the same as the channels they own. So there is a discrimination factor we face being as an independent programmer. Also it's extremely clear that NFL football has a very broad and deep following and that this kind of a network should be available to the broadest possible distribution outlet they have.
Q: There was talk of an ESPN-NFL Network merger. Any substance to it?
G: We talk with our media partners all the time about alternatives both to the NFL network and other media opportunities. We see ESPN as one of those partners that we have great respect for, and we have had dialogue with them. But we've also had conversations with other partners that should be intriguing with respect to the NFL Network as far as distribution in trying to make it more compelling than it is now for our fans.
Q: So you could foresee the network merging with someone in the future?
G: It's not something we've ruled out. If we think could make it more compelling from a consumer standpoint that is something we're interested in doing. This is a long-term strategy; this is not short-term. While we may be frustrated in the short-term, long-term we're looking for the distribution and having the highest-quality programming because we want to bring football (into homes) 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That's our goal here, and we're going to succeed. We just would like to get there as fast as possible.
Q: Since you mention long-term, can you imagine the day when the NFL Network is available by Pay-Per-View on the Internet, and, if so, are you in favor of it?
G: No, I can't imagine that. One of the things that made the NFL great was the broad access to games. That's exactly at the core of our disagreement with some of the largest cable operators. (Pro football) is in great demand and what made the NFL so popular and successful is that it reaches a broad audience. The distribution ought to match that.
Q: The NCAA has its bowl games sponsored, and the NFL has its stadiums sponsored. Can you envision the day when the NFL does something similar with the Super Bowl, so that we have, say, a Tostitos Super Bowl?
G: I don't envision that. The Super Bowl is one of the marquee brands, so I don't see us doing that. No.
Q: Where are you going to be this weekend?
G: I'll be Thursday night at Giants Stadium, and then I'll be going to Indianapolis Sunday for the opening of their new stadium.