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Goodell tempers talk of potential lockout

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he’s “at the forefront’’ in getting the players and owners to smooth out labor talks. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he’s “at the forefront’’ in getting the players and owners to smooth out labor talks. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)
By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / February 6, 2010

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a call to arms to his constituency Thursday.

Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with a call for peace.

Less than 24 hours after Smith characterized the threat of a 2011 lockout “a 14’’ on a scale of 1-10 in a stirring press conference at the Super Bowl media center, Goodell turned down the intensity and denied that owners are bracing for a year without football.

Smith cited the $5 billion in television revenue the owners will receive in 2011, whether there’s football or not that season.

“I think every owner will say the same thing - ‘We want an agreement that’s fair to the game, to the players and [one that] will allow us to continue to invest in the game,’ ’’ Goodell said in his annual state of the league address. “The idea that ownership would want a work stoppage is absolutely false. You don’t make money by shutting down your business. It’s a bad scenario for everybody.

“I can assure you that the ownership, and I believe the players, in talking to individual players, want to get an agreement and want to work to do that. We’re currently committed to do that and I am right there at the forefront.’’

On Thursday, Smith discussed many of the players’ issues in the negotiations. First and foremost, the union chief cited a proposal by the owners to roll back player compensation 18 percent, as part of the total revenue pot.

Goodell’s contention is that assertion doesn’t tell the whole story on what the owners put forth to the players.

“I will tell you that what we’ve asked for, very clearly, is 18 percent cost recognition,’’ he said. “So that when investments are made throughout the game and generate revenue, they’re getting recognition and that will encourage further investment and hopefully grow that pie.

“It’s not a point in time here where we’re going to get specific in a negotiation. But if we sit down at the table, I think we can recognize that with a proper system that recognizes the investment it takes, that ultimately, we can get to a system that will allow all of the benefits to be shared by the players and the owners and the fans.’’

One big issue the union has had with the league is the owners’ consistent refusal to open their books and allow the players to see hard numbers so they can negotiate with a full complement of information.

The NFLPA has cited examples of the NHL and NBA doing it for their players during labor talks. Goodell claimed that those leagues did that out of necessity.

“That is not the Holy Grail,’’ he said. “Both those leagues went into lockouts and extended lockouts. So it doesn’t mean they’re not going to dispute how much [the owners] are spending.’’

Absent the books, Smith and Co. worked off figures from Forbes Magazine and the financials of the publicly held Green Bay Packers, and estimated that teams took home a net profit of approximately $31 million last year, and that franchise values have soared five-fold in 15 years.

And this was another issue where Goodell’s feelings were at odds with Smith’s.

“The system isn’t working,’’ Goodell said. “Right now, the important number to focus on, since the 2006 agreement was struck, we’ve generated $3.6 billion in incremental revenue, and $2.6 [billion] of that has gone to the players - 2.6 of that.

“The owners are actually $200 million worse off than they were in 2006. So the system is not working for at least one side of the equation. And that’s the point. You have to have a system that works for everybody here.’’

Despite his disagreements with the union, Goodell’s tone was far from combative.

When asked what the plan would be for the 2012 Super Bowl, and how host city Indianapolis would be treated if the lockout lasted through the 2011 season, the commissioner said the league’s focus remains on preventing days like those from arriving.

And Goodell was steadfast in responding to Smith’s feeling that the threat of a lockout couldn’t be stronger.

“I couldn’t make that prediction and I sure hope he’s wrong, and I sure hope it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy,’’ Goodell said.

“We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have now to structure an agreement, and sit down and negotiate. That’s how it’s going to get done, and we will have an agreement, it’s just a matter of when. But talking about options like work stoppages is not going to get us there.’’

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com.

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