SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

Owners focus on issues other than labor

For all the hype about the NFL labor situation and the buildup to last week’s annual owners meeting with the demise of the salary cap earlier this month, the subject was hardly a major theme through the three days of discussions.

The comments league officials did make were hardly pressing. Instead, the tenor reflected the fact that it’s nearly 12 months until the collective-bargaining agreement would expire — not until the end of the next league year — and not until September 2011 that any regular-season football games could be lost.

Commissioner Roger Goodell described the process as being only in the first quarter, and the league even canceled a media briefing from chief labor negotiator Jeff Pash.

“I wouldn’t confuse a lack of urgency with being cavalier and not caring,” Pash said after the meetings concluded on Wednesday. “But people understand the issues and they know there is a lot of time … so no one is panicking.”

Pash said negotiations with the NFL Players Association would continue in April. He did not specify where or when any such meetings would occur.

The owners spent far more time tweaking the game’s playoff overtime rules than they did on labor. While some outlets reported that the union took issue with the OT move, a union spokesman, Carl Francis, said the union had no position on the matter.

The NFLPA did send to select reporters during the meeting a list of 10 questions to ask the commissioner during his press conferences, though the labor-related questions during these exchanges were largely about process rather than substance. This reporter did ask Goodell a variation on one of the 10, though: whether players should get a share of the proceeds from franchise sales.

Former player Ozzie Newsome
has joined owners in labor
negotiating sessions.

“They have raised that issue before, and we have discussed it for several decades, and I am sure it is not unique to the NFL either,” Goodell responded. “And we are willing to negotiate and discuss and reach a fair agreement, so I am not going to parse out the specifics of any negotiation.”

NEWSOME JOINS OWNERS’ GROUP: When Goodell separately was asked who’s on the league’s labor team, he first mentioned the usual suspects, including Pash and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the co-chair of the league’s labor negotiating committee. But then he mentioned a wild card: Ozzie Newsome, the former pro bowl tight end and current Baltimore Ravens general manager. Newsome has attended five negotiating sessions. In a statement through a team spokesman, Newsome said, “The commissioner wanted someone who is down in the foxhole and who can talk about OTAs [organized team activities in the offseason] and training camp. … As a former player, I can speak the same language with [NFLPA President] Kevin Mawae.” Newsome said he is on call for future meetings.

B OF A DEAL ENDING: Bank of America’s six-year sponsorship of the NFL will expire Wednesday, said Wayne Weaver, the Jacksonville Jaguars owner and chairman of the owners’ business ventures committee. Bank of America and some NFL clubs were at loggerheads over the bank’s push for exclusive rights to all 32 teams, a practice the league has moved away from in the last decade. While the league at one point had hoped to have owners vote on a contract last October, now the deal will expire. Weaver said the league is talking to other financial service providers about the category.

NFL PLAYS ON BROADWAY: The league will get a cut of ticket sales of the new play about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi that’s opening on Broadway later this year. The play is being produced by former Anheuser-Busch marketing chief Tony Ponturo, who also produced the hit revival of “Hair.” The league had to consent to certain licensing rights for the play, such as Packers logos, something Ponturo said recently was in negotiations. In return, the league will enjoy a portion of the gate.

TALKS INCLUDE ON-FIELD RIGHTS: The NFL’s apparel and licensing deal with Reebok expires in March 2012, but the date is closer than it seems because a company needs about 18 months of lead time to get products to market. David Baxter, president of Reebok sports licensing unit OnField Apparel, who was at the meetings Tuesday, said either Reebok or its parent, Adidas, could take the new deal. He said he did not know if the NFL was negotiating with other parties, adding that there is no exclusive window. He predicted a new deal realistically needed to get done by late this year or early 2011.

Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins,
won’t have any formal improvement plans in
place when owners meet again in May and
award the 2014 Super Bowl.

SUPER QUESTION IN MIAMI: The bidding cities for the 2014 Super Bowl, which will be awarded at the spring owners meeting in Dallas in May, are Miami, Tampa and long-discussed candidate New York, which would serve to host the first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl. Just as intriguing, though, is Miami, which played host to this past season’s game. The NFL has said improvements to Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins’ home, are necessary to keep the venue a viable candidate for hosting the event. The Dolphins have talked with local municipal authorities about needed upgrades and how such improvements could be funded, but Dolphins President Mike Dee said no formal plan is expected to be in place in time for the owners’ May vote.

So would awarding the game to Miami undercut the NFL’s argument about the stadium and take the pressure off the community to fund renovations? “It potentially could take away some of the leverage,” Dee said. But, he added, the renovations are not only about the 2014 game, but also about ensuring that the stadium gets 10 out of the next 44 Super Bowls, as it did with the first 44.

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