Tagliabue Addresses Key Issues

While NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's Q&A session with reporters at the Super Bowl addressed issues of interest to the NFL in general, it also touched on some key topics for Vikings fans. Among them were questions and answers regarding the next collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap, minority hirings, gene doping, getting a franchise in Los Angeles, gambling, the future of television contracts, a flexible national TV schedule in the future and other topics.

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?

COMMISSIONER 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: The NHL is in a lockout, on the verge of possibly going out of business for the year. Could you talk as a commissioner to react to what might be happening to the NHL and also to talk about the importance of a salary cap?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
I have no reaction that I will talk about to what's going on in the NHL other than to wish them well and hope they could get it resolved because I think it would be great for their sport and all sports. 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, sir?

COMMISSIONER 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?

COMMISSIONER 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: How aware is the League, if at all, about the concern over gene doping, a process that reverses muscular degeneration? A lot of athletes in other sports who have used it illegally to enhance their bodies and is virtually undetectable. Is this something the League is aware of or concerned about at this point?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
There's been a lot written about it, whether it's really available on a widespread basis to athletes, different people have different opinions going back ten years or more. We were involved in Congressional hearings on Human Growth Hormone, and this is all evolving. We have specialists and medical teams and committees who are working not only internally in the League but with other organizations on those issues. And I guess that's all I need to say right now. We're aware of it and we're working on it, just as we are in the designer steroids and everything else.

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?

COMMISSIONER 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: Could you explain how the League finds alcoholic beverage advertising with dancing girls, and why the League has chosen to crack down on parties in Las Vegas?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
Well, Las Vegas has sports gambling and I think the Congress has made it clear that -- and we've made it clear that -- we don't want our game to be associated with sports gambling. Beer advertising is legal, consumption of beer is legal. America tried Prohibition in the last century, it didn't work too well. Responsible advertising is critical. Responsible policies in terms of the service of beer are critical. And we think that we and others who are involved in these issues have struck the correct balance on those subjects.

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

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
Not the way you characterized them the other day. (Laughter.) 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: As you discussed earlier the NFL's economic system is a gold standard in professional sports leagues. What do you think it would be like to be the commissioner of a league trying to implement such a system in this day and age as some of your other professional sports leagues are trying to do?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
Well, I think that the other leagues actually are doing pretty good in terms of dealing with the revenue disparity issue that they've had, particularly in baseball and the cost disparity issue. Right now I've seen some of the economics of the baseball tax, or whatever they call it and redistribution escrow system in the NBA. They are transferring significant amounts of money from higher-revenue teams to lower-revenue teams. They are in various ways sharing equally or planning to share equally in the future potential of the business, such as on the Internet. So I think the other sports are doing a fine job. It's heavy lifting and it's heavy lifting in our League to continue to address the scale of the business and the tradition of support and the integration of all the teams so that everyone can be competitive in a fair way. So they have their challenges, we have ours, too. I still work an eight-hour day.

Q: I just want to get back to something you said earlier. Were you saying that you don't think right now there are enough qualified minority candidates for front office positions for the Rooney Rule to be affected by that rule, and if there aren't, how do candidates get the experience necessary to become qualified for those positions?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
No. What I'm saying is that I think that the first priority is to continue to do things that build the pool of qualified talent. We've been doing that. We've been running executive education seminars at the Stanford Business School. We've been aggressively reaching out through the search process to bring minority talent into the League. We've been encouraging owners who have talented African Americans in the front office to be open with other teams and giving those executives the opportunity to move up with other organizations. We're reaching out to other areas of industry where people have skills that are usable in the NFL, whether it's marketing, whether it's retailing, apparel retailing, other areas, accounting. We've got people that have worked in our Management Council staff that came to us from the aerospace industry because they have accounting skills that are applicable to the salary cap. The first priority is to create talented people. And we're encouraging teams to have minority candidates in all their positions, not just the head coach position. But for us to sit in New York and point our finger to 32 teams and say we'll fine you if you don't do X or Y, it would not be a constructive step at this point. There are much greater diversity positions. The head coach is a definable position. To take that, the dozens of other positions, and us to try to micromanage it from New York with fines is not likely to be a positive thing right now.

Q: Some business leaders researched the possibility of putting the Hall of Fame in a downtown complex like Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame. I don't know if the NFL has taken a look at that. How healthy is the Hall of Fame, and where do you want the Hall of Fame?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
The option of putting a new one in Canton downtown, rather than where it is?

Q: Yes.

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
I'm aware of it, but not in any of the great details. And I know that there's some people in the community think it's a great idea, some others would be more wedded to the existing hall and continue to grow it. I'm on the Board of the Hall of Fame, and I will be up-to-date at some point. It's in the early discussion phases.

Q: We want to know if the American Bowl is going to come back to Mexico?

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
I don't know, but we're looking at not only American Bowl games outside the United States, but trying to explore realistically whether we could do a regular season game outside of the United States. Obviously if that became possible in terms of taking a game away from the fans of a team in its home city, one of the places that would get serious consideration for that would be Mexico City, just the time zones and travel would be compatible with what you want to do with the teams. If we don't want to do that, I'm sure we'll be back with the American Bowl games.

Q: In the 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.

COMMISSIONER 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.

COMMISSIONER 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.

Q: What's the latest on flexible TV schedules for night games? You have the Sunday Night Dallas-Giants with no playoff implications. The last Monday Night game where one team didn't play their starters, I think the fans, most important, would want to have meaningful games down the stretch.

COMMISSIONER TAGLIABUE:
Yeah. The television contracts that we announced in early November with the CBS and Fox give us some options for flexible scheduling in terms of switching some games from Sunday afternoon into the primetime broadcast window, so we have some approaches for that in the future contractually that we haven't had in the past and we'll be working with our teams to figure out how to do that and working with the networks.



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