Joining multiple NFL owners in multiple contexts, Commissioner Roger Goodell has declared unequivocally his belief that the league and the players’ union “can and will” reach an agreement on a new labor deal.
The operative question remains whether that will happen before the offseason, training camp, preseason, and regular season, or some portion or combination thereof are wiped out.
Goodell’s vow comes in a Monday e-mail to five million fans, the full text of which we have posted separately.
The message attempts at times, in subtle fashion, to persuade the fans to align with the owners in the ongoing labor mess. But it’s a little too long and wordy, like the terms-of-service box that we inevitably claim we’ve read and understand so that we can get to the next step of the software-installation process.
Here’s a summary of the key points, as we interpret them.
“Economic conditions . . . have changed dramatically inside and outside the NFL since 2006 when we negotiated the last CBA,” Goodell writes, even as the league persists in its refusal to share with the union internal financial information that would support a reduction in the size of the slice of the pie that the players currently receive. “A 10 percent unemployment rate hurts us all. Fans have limited budgets and rightly want the most for their money.”
Whether it’s the economy or something else, the league is faced with a problem of significantly more less-than-full stadiums than in 2006, the first year of the current labor deal. NFL spokesman Dan Masonson told us Sunday that there were 26 blackouts in 2010, up from seven only four years ago.
Of course, it could be that the prices for the tickets in the markets affected by blackouts are simply too high. As the viewing experience shifts toward enjoying the game on HD and 3D televisions, it makes sense at some point for ticket prices to drop — and for the league to generate even more money from its broadcast partners as it harvests less from paying customers. As ratings go up and attendance goes down, it’s a no brainer for the league to seek greater revenue from the boob tube and less from the box office. (At some point in the future, the in-home technology continues to improve, large portions of the general-admission crowd at a football game may get in for the price of a movie ticket or less, since they’ll be in many respects serving as background extras for the ultimate reality show.)
Goodell’s e-mail also addresses the issue of expanding the regular season, presuming once again that fan complaints regarding the length of the preseason necessarily translate into a clamor for more games that count. We think plenty of fans want less preseason games and the same number of regular-season games.
The e-mail likewise repeats Goodell’s position regarding the need for a rookie wage scale, explaining that some of the money paid to unproven rookies should be shifted to veterans and retired players. It’s a point with which we agree in most respects.
“My job is to represent the game — the fans, teams, players, coaches and business partners,” Goodell writes as he wraps up the 16-paragraph message. “Protecting the integrity of the game and ensuring it thrives is a responsibility I take very seriously.”
We believe him. But the reality is that he was hired by and answers to the owners. Even though Goodell seems to be doing a far better job than any of his peers and predecessors when it comes to representing all constituents, his biggest challenge may not be getting the NFLPA to make concessions, but persuading the owners to do so.