Wednesday’s edition of ProFootballTalk Live featured an interview of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Here’s a transcript of it, as prepared by the league. (And, yes, I am aware that my initials are “MF”. And, no, there is no hyphen between my first and last name.)
MF: Thank you for joining the show today and congratulations on a great 2010 NFL regular season.
RG: It has been a great season. I congratulate all of the coaches, players and clubs. It has been something great for our fans this year.
I’m glad to be with you today.
MF: Right now the league enjoys unprecedented popularity. Explain how that has happened and how the league goes about becoming even more popular in the future.
RG: It always goes back to the game. We’ve had a tremendously competitive season. The performances, both individual by players and clubs, have been extraordinary. You can see how the fans react to that. They are more engaged than ever in the game of football and NFL football. That is something that we work towards.
What we have to do is make sure we keep looking to the future. The status quo is not acceptable. We need to keep looking to how we improve the game, the quality of what we do and the safety of what we do to make sure we make the game fun for all the fans.
MF: Right now, the television ratings are really higher than ever in some instances but attendance is dipping in some markets – 26 blackouts in 2010. That’s up from seven in 2006. What’s the league’s plan for reducing the number of blackouts in the future?
RG: As you know from being involved with NBC, it is difficult because there is great technology at home. The quality of what people are seeing on television sets with high-definition television and super-slow replays, all of those things make the experience at home terrific. We don’t want to discourage that. We want to encourage that, but what we have to do is make sure that the experience in our stadiums is equally as great. There is nothing like being in a stadium with 75,000 passionate fans enjoying NFL football.
We want to make sure that we are doing everything to make that experience positive. That means it is safe, that means it is entertaining, that means bringing the best technology to those stadiums and making sure that we continue to make the game affordable for our fans. We realize what our fans are going through. We have to make sure our game continues to be affordable to them whether they can come to the stadium or they stay at home.
MF: Has there been any thought, as far as it relates to the markets where there have been struggles to sell out the stadiums, to reducing the ticket prices in those markets in order to get more people to show up to the games?
RG: Absolutely, our teams do that on an individual basis. Each team does their own ticket pricing. They have reduced ticket prices certainly by category and in some cases in large percentages of their stadiums. They do that recognizing what their fans are enduring from an economic standpoint. They make the decisions in hopes of selling every ticket in the stadium. Then they have to market aggressively to sell those tickets.
As you point out, we’ve had more blackouts this year. We had a five-percent reduction – a little bit over that – in our season ticket sales, which has made our clubs work harder to sell those remaining individual tickets.
MF: There is a 7-9 team that has made it to the playoffs this year, the Seattle Seahawks. They will be hosting a game Saturday on NBC against the New Orleans Saints. There has been some talk about potentially re-seeding the playoff field so that a wild card team with a better team with a division winner wouldn’t have to go on the road. Where do you stand on any of this talk on changing this current playoff structure for the National Football League?
RG: As you know, this is something that we re-examine every offseason with our Competition Committee to make sure that not only our rules but also every aspect of the competitiveness of our game remains sharp and does everything that we can to make sure that the game stays entertaining for our fans.
This is something that we’ll look at again. We looked at it a few years ago. The strong view of the clubs was that you should win your division and if you win your division, you should be rewarded with a home game. There is another view that winning your division should automatically get you into the playoffs and into the postseason but that it should not automatically reward you with a home game. That is something that will continue to be debated. We will look at that this offseason. Let’s let the playoffs play out here a little bit and try to understand what the ramifications are rather than reacting to a specific circumstance.
MF: That’s right because a couple of years ago one of the very maligned division winners, the Arizona Cardinals, lost a game by 40 points in Week 16 and they almost won the Super Bowl. Maybe the Seahawks can wake it up this weekend against the Saints.
One of the biggest issues that everybody wants to talk about and that looms over the sport right now as the Super Bowl approaches is the status of the labor deal. The current agreement expires in early March.
There were signs in December that talks were heating up. Liz Mullen of the SportsBusiness Journal reported very recently that no talks are currently scheduled. What can you tell us about the current pace of the labor negotiations?
RG: I’m not satisfied with the current pace. There has not been enough progress in collective bargaining over the last three or four weeks that there should be. There hasn’t been a sense of urgency from the union side. We would like to see those negotiations continue very aggressively because we have a very short period of time to get this done. We believe this deal should be done by the March period. If it’s not done by March, it is going to be harder to reach an agreement and it is going to be less attractive for the players, the clubs and the fans.
This is something that needs to get done quickly. It needs urgency and it needs a very strong commitment to making progress and not just meeting but making progress.
MF: Do you envision – this is something I have been mentioning from time to time – getting everyone together in the same place for weeks at a time, walling off schedules, getting people there and committing to meeting around the clock or every waking moment? Is anything like that on the horizon before we get to March 4 and is that what you are hoping to get accomplished?
RG: It is not just a matter of meeting or saying that you’re meeting. It is about having a serious commitment to reaching an agreement. There was a lot of discussion a few weeks ago about an internal deadline that the NFLPA had that has since passed. I’m not sure what that means. There is a lot of discussion about what is going to happen March with respect to either a decertification or a lockout by the owners.
This is going to have to be a negotiated settlement. That’s what it takes. It takes a commitment to negotiating an agreement that works for the players, works for the clubs and most importantly works to keep our great game going for our fans. There is a deal to be done here. We’ve got to get it done.
MF: If there is some progress made in the month of February, could you envision the agreement being extended by a couple of weeks or a month just to provide more time to get it done before those tough decisions would have to be made about decertification or a lockout?
RG: We’ve got close to 60 days. With the right kind of commitment, we can make that kind of progress. If we are making that kind of progress, you’ll entertain anything to make sure you get it done within the quickest timeframe. That’s what we would want to do from an NFL perspective. It needs a commitment on both a union standpoint and a club standpoint to get this done quickly.
MF: You were hired by the 32 owners but in your job as commissioner, do you believe that you represent the interest of the owners or do you envision that your responsibilities and your role are broader than that?
RG: It is much broader than that. I believe that I represent the game. I have to do what is in the best interest of the game. I have to do what is in the best interest of everybody associated with the game, including our fans. I have to take disciplinary action against a lot of clubs and a lot of individuals at the club level. Obviously, on the players’ side, I’m involved in that also.
My interest is in making sure we do what is best for the game, for the collective NFL and for our fans.
MF: In a nutshell if that is even possible, could you give us just a quick overview of what it is that you believe the owners are looking for in a new collective bargaining agreement?
RG: Fairness first off. The CBA is about the future of our game and making sure we do what is necessary to improve the quality of the game. That means addressing the player safety issues. That means addressing retired players and the way we pay our rookies, the quality of our preseason and making sure that the business model works so that the future for players, teams and everyone can continue to benefit by building and growing what has become a tremendous success.
MF: One of the criticisms that we’ve heard about shrinking the preseason and enhancing the regular season to 18 games is that it may contradict the concept of enhancing player safety. How do you reconcile those two things, player safety concerns with the possibility of expanding the regular season to 18 games?
RG: I don’t think you ever compromise on player safety. You always do what is in the best interest of making the game as safe as possible for the players. I keep seeing that throughout the season with an emphasis on making sure we take certain behaviors and certain techniques out of the game that can lead to risk of injury for either the player doing the striking or the player being struck.
I don’t think you ever compromise on player safety. You always have to do that. What we are looking to do is make sure we continue to produce quality football. What the fans very clearly stated and I hear this from the players also is that they do not like preseason games. Unfortunately, we have injuries in preseason games.
We have to look at this throughout the year: what do we do to prepare our players, what do we do to prepare them in the training camp period and what do we do during the regular season to make sure that the game is as safe as possible and our players are in the best condition to be able to play at the highest levels?
MF: Some would say that by adding those two regular-season games, starters – the guys at the top of the depth chart – would be the ones who are exposed to two extra games of the possibility to be injured. Is there any way to control that or limit that or is that part of the analysis that the league is engaged in?
RG: That is part of what we are doing not only in our own analysis but also in the analysis with all of our football people. I also asked John Madden and Ronnie Lott to get involved on the player safety issue in creating an injury panel that will look at how we continue to take certain contact out of the game with respect to the offseason.
In one particular point, can we take more of the contact out in the offseason training camp period? When you look at it on a year-round basis, hopefully it would be responsive to what I think is an issue that we all have, which is make sure that the game is as safe as possible and the players have the best conditions in which to play whatever number of games we have.
MF: Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, recently was interviewed by CBS and he was asked if he thinks a lockout would be disastrous for the game. His response and it didn’t get much play was ‘No, I do not.’ Do agree with his assessment that a lockout would not be disastrous?
RG: I would tell you that I think we need to do everything we can to reasonably avoid a lockout. It is not good for the fans and for the game itself. I don’t believe it is good for the players or the clubs at the end of the day. I will do everything I can and work night and day trying to avoid that.
There also has to be a fair system in place that takes our game forward and goes into the future. The status quo of what we have right now is not acceptable. We have to fix the system and get it done properly so that it is fair for the players and the clubs and long term will be good for the game.
MF: What would you say the biggest problem is with the current system?
RG: There are a number of things that have to be addressed with the current system. We’ve talked about the rookie compensation system. We’ve talked about the significant requirement that needs to be made in investing in stadiums and the cost of operating these stadiums. We’ve talked about retired players. We’ve talked about the forfeiture issue, which needs to be addressed in a responsible fashion. There are a number of issues that are facing our game that we have to address going forward. I would also put into that our drug program. As someone who thinks he is protecting the integrity of the game – that’s one of my major priorities – we have to make sure that we have the best possible drug program in place. That is something we have to improve in the context of our collective bargaining agreement.
MF: We hope that your efforts are successful. I know that all fans want football to continue. They want the offseason to be as robust and interesting as it always is. We wish you well in trying to get the negotiations moving forward.