Tags talks on 49ers stadium project

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, during his annual state of the NFL address at the Super Bowl, talks about the 49ers'stadium project, along with several other issues concerning the league during a question session in Jacksonville.

Q. When Eddie (DeBartolo) was the 49ers owner, there was a voter referendum that they were going to build a mall and stadium and there were going to be jobs on this. Now that Denise (York) has taken over the team, John York has had another attitude toward the way the team is supposed to be run. Is the NFL responsible, or is there some responsibility from the National Football League for the people who live in that area and the people who voted to have this mall built there that was ... and some changes made in Candlestick Park which is now Monster Park. What does the NFL have to do with this project, and has that involvement changed now that there has been a change in (San Francisco) mayors from Willie Brown to Gavin Newsom?

Tagliabue: Mayor Brown provided tremendous leadership in San Francisco on many, many subjects, and that I guess included getting the Pac Bell Park built with tremendous leadership of the baseball ownership of the San Francisco Giants. And Mayor Brown provided tremendous leadership when the referendum was in front of the owners when Eddie DeBartolo owned the 49ers when he tried to get the stadium built in conjunction with what you call the mall. When it came to costing it out and paying for it, it became clear that trying to build the stadium at that site, making it earthquake-proof and everything else you have to do along the edge of the bay in San Francisco, it just wasn't going to work. John York is continuing to try to explore alternatives, and we're working with him, and I'm expecting to be seeing mayor Newsom in the future, and we're going to continue to work on it.

Q. What is your impression of the stadium process in Indianapolis, where they're at? And given small-market Jacksonville, cold-weather Detroit, what's the possibility of Indianapolis getting a Super Bowl, once the construction begins?

Tagliabue: I've spoken to the mayor probably a month or so ago when they were announcing the terms of the agreement that was going to the legislature. I really haven't been able to keep close to it in the time since then. We've talked about what it would take to get a Super Bowl there, and I think the mayor has been very emphatic that the stadium is going to be a tremendous thing for Indianapolis and for multiple events, including NCAA events, and he draws a comparison between that new facility and Reliant Stadium in Houston. I think what they're doing is probably going to maximize their chances to get the project done and at some point hopefully will include a Super Bowl.

Q. As you know, Gene Upshaw and the union are looking for a major change in the next contract with greater revenue sharing. You've got owners who want the revenue shared more equally between the small-market teams. What's your stance on that issue?

Tagliabue: Well, I think we have a long way to go. I know Gene said he was optimistic, but he's also a realist. I don't know if I'm optimistic or pessimistic, because I think we have a long way to go in getting a consensus, that's going to get 24 votes on the Players Association. Everybody recognizes this has been a very solid system. But to take it to be responsive to some of the proposals the Players Association has made to change the system, and we will be responsive in some ways, but to deal with the economic issues, including the sharing issues, we have a lot of consensus yet to build. When I say the system has been working, it's important to note just one thing. This year the 2005 season will be the first time any sports league has ever had average team player payrolls in excess of 100 million dollars per team, and that's a system that's working, and we want to keep it in place.

Q. With the NHL on the verge of going out of business for this season, can you talk about the importance of a salary cap?

Tagliabue: In terms of the salary cap, I think it works. It's sometimes complicated. There were varying degrees of flexibility and softness and hardness in the salary cap. Our salary cap has proved to work very well to keep teams together. There's some things that we and the Players Association would both like to improve, but I think that the proof is in the outcome. As the record shows, that we've got a tremendously competitive league with everyone having a shot at winning. And yet a few years ago everyone said that the one weakness of our system was that you wouldn't have dynasties, but I think we see at least one and maybe two teams in this game that there will be rightful claimants to the concept of being a dynasty. We could commend it to anyone else that's interested in having a good league. It takes more than a salary cap to make a sport great, and hopefully we can keep our eye on those other things, as well.

Q. Along that line, sir, with this era of the salary cap and perceived quality on the field, are you surprised that a team could be in the position to win three Super Bowls in four years, and is a dominant team good for the league?

Tagliabue: I really can't say that I am, because we thought when we did this system, and a lot of it was speculative, but when we did this system in the early '90s, we thought there was enough flexibility in it so you could keep teams together and have repeat success. New England's done it, Philadelphia's done it, the Rams did it, the Broncos did it. Other teams have done it. Green Bay has had a phenomenal era and a phenomenal quarterback through the salary cap years. And I think that's one of the lessons. Part of the term we had was the departure of the great quarterbacks. Great quarterbacks like Steve Young and Dan Marino and Troy Aikman. We have now something that you can see something come along, and it's become a reality, great quarterbacks with great teams under the system. You have two of them in Sunday's game. You have many others in the league maturing, Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Steve McNair and others. I really can't say that I am surprised. We thought the system would allow for great competition and repeat winners, and that's what's turning out to be the case. Maybe there's a little bit of luck there, but I'm not really surprised.

Q. The Rooney Rule seems to have an obvious effect. You'll have a record number of black head coaches next year. The Rooney Rule has no enforcement penalty in hiring of front office personnel. Why is that? For example, the Green Bay Packers hired a general manager without it being a minority candidate. Is that something you want changed?

Tagliabue: Not at this time, no. I think the Rooney Rule has been important, but ... I know Dan would be the first one to say it's not the Rooney Rule. I don't think it's the most important thing. I think the most important thing is the outstanding coaches are demonstrating that they have the talent and the vision and the understanding of what it takes to win to be head coaches. I'm referring to people like Lovie Smith, Denny Green coming back, the people who have been getting the jobs that African-American coaches, they are there because they are outstanding coaches. And one of the reasons we made the interviewing mandatory is that we knew that the coaches were there. That was the judgment of our ownership committee, which Dan chaired and Arthur Blank and Jeff Lurie and others, some general managers, Ozzie Newsome and others, that was the judgment. So I think what you're seeing is more of a natural process of development than one that's driven by threats of penalties. It didn't take a Rooney Rule to get Donovan McNabb into this game. He's a great quarterback, following earlier decades. We don't have penalty or mandatory interview requirement because we haven't satisfied ourselves that we've done enough to recruit people and to really have a deep pool of talent within our League. And I've said before some of the talent in the front office comes from outside the league. It comes from Corporate America. But the clubs are doing a better and better job of doing that on a voluntary basis. And it's about talent and not about penalties, primarily. We will have penalties where we think they make sense, but mostly about talent.

Q. Is the awarding of the Super Bowl to Jacksonville this year and Detroit next year a sign that the league is embracing cool and cold weather sites, or is it a sense that you're financially rewarding teams with new stadiums?

Tagliabue: It's a combination of factors. The Jacksonville community demonstrated when we put the expansion team here in the early to mid-'90s that it was The Little Engine That Could, it out-competed the markets. There's been tremendous support here for the team. There's great history in football here at all levels. I've alluded to those things. Those were factors to bringing the game here. The weather here is going to be fine. In today's environment if the biggest problem is a little rain, you should count yourself a lucky person. We're not concerned about whether it will be cloudy today or sunny tomorrow. I met a lot of fans in the hotel and one of them probably had the most apt comment of all, "I don't care about rain, you don't have to shovel it." (Laughter.) So that's what I would say about the weather. Some of us become a little too high falluting. The fans are having a great time here. The fans are here for football. They're here for fun. In other years, we get lambasted by some people because we're into high-end hotels and luxury in excess and hedonism. And this year we're not into any of those things, we're getting lambasted. It's one of those things you're dammed if you do, you're dammed if you don't until it's time for the game. It's got a great history in football. It's a fabulous stadium. The community is excited about having the Super Bowl. I met with some of their people, Roger Penske is doing a great job. I think it's going to be fun. Each of those communities built stadiums and that's important. We want to make this a two-way street. When people invest public money in the NFL they get a return, and the Super Bowl is part of the return where we can do it.

Q. With NFL interest being high in Canada, can you envision a franchise north of the border in our lifetime, starter or non-starter?

Tagliabue: I said before and I still feel this way that I think it could be very likely that the next franchise in the NFL beyond 32 are outside the United States. Toronto certainly makes a go. We're giving consideration right now to see whether we can in the next year or two play a regular-season game outside of the United States to continue to develop the interest and be responsive to fans. I'm going to China in early May to have firsthand discussions with their government about playing two preseason games over there leading into the 2008 Olympics. So my guess is it will happen. And I'm expecting to live a good many years, so hopefully I can be there to kick it off in Toronto. But it's impossible right now to have a timeline.

Q. How much of a priority is it for the league to have a team in Los Angeles, and can you kind of give us an overview of the current situation there in terms of potential sites and potential ownership situations?

Tagliabue: On the potential sites, I think all of you know in L.A. we've been working very hard with the four sites, the Carson, the Rose Bowl and Pasadena, the Coliseum in Anaheim, and we expect by as early as our May meeting this year to have one or more term sheets finalized with those cities for the building of a stadium and for the use of a stadium. And then assuming we do that, then we'll move on to the question of how do we put -- what team do we send there, is it an expansion team, is it a relocated team. But I think we're making real progress. I've been saying that for quite a while, and it's becoming a reality in terms of how close we are to signing off on some term sheets on one or more projects. It is a top priority and has been for quite some time.

Q: How would you characterize your discussions and negotiations right now with the ESPN and ABC with TV contracts?

Tagliabue: We've had a lot of discussions with ESPN, ABC, Disney, and we're going to continue. And they have tremendous interest in staying with the NFL, both on cable television and on broadcast television. We have an interest in having them stay with us. And we have a disagreement about what the rights fees should be, based not on wishful thinking, but based on what we think the rights fees would be in the marketplace, as it is, with tremendous interest in NFL football. So we're going to continue talking to ABC. The discussions will probably be complicated, because we're looking at it from a strategic perspective. We are giving very serious consideration to being part of the launch of another major sports network on cable and satellite television. That's a complicated thing, but we're looking at that very seriously. That's a strategic thing, which anticipates the future of television technology and the future interests of where people are going to be in terms of digital television technology. We're also talking to other television networks and companies about the packages that we still have to sell, including the Thursday night/Saturday package we're creating. And there's strong interest in other companies, some of whom already have contracts with us and some of whom don't. So it's a strategic set of questions and initiatives. We will continue to talk with ABC and ESPN, and hopefully we'll get something done with them, and hopefully we can do something that's really bold and major and not just business as usual in terms of how we grow our television services. NFL Network is a step in that direction, and we hope to take more steps in that direction.

Q. In a previous question about Los Angeles you indicated that you hope to have term sheets in hand by May, and I think previously you set an objective of getting those done by mid-March. Have those guidelines changed? And also, regarding the negotiations with the Coliseum, you're getting into the 10th month, and it seems like both sides have been putting a lot of effort into agreeing to terms. I'm wondering why has it seemingly taken so much effort than the other sites to get a deal with them?

Tagliabue: I know there's been a lot of discussion about whether we're going to open a stadium in 2008 or 2009. Now we're having a discussion about whether we're going to finish term sheets in March or May. That doesn't matter to me. What matters is two teams left L.A. a decade ago. We want to get back there, whether it's '08 or '09, it's going to be an unacceptably long period of time out of L.A. What matters to me is that we get this right for like a hundred years. If it's March or May, I don't care. If it's '08 or '09, I have a little bit more interest. But what I really want to do is get it done within this decade, not have it go into another decade. And when we do it, I want it to be something that the fans in L.A., the business community in L.A., the leadership of that community, and the leadership of the NFL will be very proud of because it will be a great thing, and that it stays there and is very successful for 50 to 100 years. Those are the timelines that matter to me, and that's the way we're working on this.

Q. We're all assembled here because we love the game. The Super Bowl is a wonderful event. The hoopla, the media. Football is a grand sport. But it's a dangerous sport. Jerome Bettis said because he played so long in the NFL he didn't expect to live as long as he might. Is that a perception or a reality? It doesn't seem to be the case in other professional sports. You wouldn't say that about tennis or basketball or baseball. I wonder if that's a concern for the NFL?

Tagliabue: Yeah, I think on that particular issue of life expectancy, I think the National Institutes of Health did a study some years ago that showed there was no significant difference in life expectancy between people who played in the NFL and the male population at large. That was an issue that we and the Players Association for many, many years ago focused on. I think the NIH or somebody like that did a pretty definitive study. On the other side of the coin, if I look around the room, here, I don't see too many people the size of Jon Runyan or Richard Seymour. So we are very much focused on the size of our athletes, what they do. It's very stressful, as you know, you played the game. We have in place a committee which we set up quite some time ago, a medical committee on cardiovascular health, which is looking into the whole issue of size, obesity, stress, with oversized individuals, sleep apnea, all the other things that go with size and obesity, but just size is the issue. At the same time I think we have to be realistic. We don't do gene implants. We don't create quarterbacks that are 6-6, 275 pounds. They come from their parents. The NBA didn't create Yao Ming at 7-7, or whatever he is. So people are getting bigger and bigger all over the world. But, yes, we're very concerned about making certain that we are leaders in understanding the health risks with the kind of people we have in our game. And we recognize that we are unique, college football is unique, and high school football is unique. And having individuals do these kind of things, we're very concerned about it. It's hard to get definitive answers in the short term, because as you suggest, it takes decades to know what the consequences are to a person's health of having played in the NFL for five or ten years. So it's really going to be a decades-long evaluation. Some things can be ascertained in the short term, but some things are going to take a long time to decide. And our sample is a relatively small part of the total population.

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