The questions about the league's unsettled labor situation were fully expected. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was still in the process of completing the first of two scheduled days of mediation in Minnesota's Eighth Circuit before U.S. Magistrate judge Arthur Boylan when he stepped away to conduct a Monday evening teleconference with Bills season ticketholders. What may not have been foreseen was the level of concern that Bills fans had with regard to revenue sharing once a new agreement between the two sides is reached.
Answering questions from Buffalo fans for 45 minutes, Goodell addressed the concerns of a handful of Bills callers wondering if their club will be able to compete in the NFL with the larger market clubs.
"I can tell you with the NFL one of the things I'm proudest of is we continue to find ways to share new revenue," he said. "Our system right now close to 80 percent of our revenue is shared amongst the clubs. That's one of the core reasons that the system works and why the Buffalo Bills have the financial ability to compete. You always have to evaluate that system and balance that system to make sure as the economics of the league changes, as revenue growth changes that you continue to have a system that will allow that revenue to grow, but also share it in a way that will allow the fundamentals of the league continue to be successful."
Bills owner Ralph Wilson was one of two votes against the extension of the previous CBA in 2006 due in part to what he felt was insufficient revenue sharing. Two years later the 30 owners that voted in favor of the extension opted out leading to the current labor dispute.
Despite the reservations of the fans that asked Goodell questions on the call, the commissioner assured that NFL ownership will continue to make sure that the Buffalo Bills and every other small market come into the season with the ability to be competitive.
Goodell also pointed out that the primary source of revenue sharing comes from the television contracts, which is shared equally. Reminding those on the teleconference that he is a Western New York native (Jamestown, NY) Goodell made it clear that the league appreciates the passionate fan bases of the smaller market clubs, mentioning Buffalo, Green Bay and New Orleans specifically.
He also cited examples of the balanced competition in the league with teams that have turned their fortunes around from one year to the next.
"When you look at the statistics of the competitiveness of the league you see that we have several new teams that make it into the playoffs," he said. "We have for the eighth straight year had a team that's gone from last to first. That's great for the league to be able to have that kind of competitiveness and it's because of our financial revenue sharing."
To reinforce that point he made note of the four small market teams that squared off in the last two Super Bowls in Green Bay and Pittsburgh and New Orleans and Indianapolis.
The rest of the call dealt with a heavy dose of labor questions where Goodell was asked about everything from the sticking points between the owners and the players to the potential of a watered down product if the current lockout drags on.
"I think we still have time," said Goodell. "I think it's the uncertainty and the length this has dragged on. I think it's dragged on unfortunately because of the litigation strategy. Instead of negotiating they're pursuing resolution in the court system. I think that is bad for the game. I think it's bad for the players. I think it's bad for the clubs and the game itself, which ultimately could affect the quality of what we do. I think we need to remove that uncertainty. I think there's still time to do that and still have great competitive football that we all expect. But time is growing short. It's time to get back to the table and get that resolved."
Goodell admitted that he's frustrated by the pace of the entire process stating that serious negotiations haven't happened since the initial 17-day run of federal mediation concluded in Washington D.C. when the players union walked away from the table, decertified, and went to court to seek a resolution.
"Since then I have the same frustration that I think fans do which is this is getting in the way of producing great football," said Goodell. "We should get back to negotiating table. We're here in mediation right now and we need more of it to get these issues resolved in the context of a collective bargaining agreement."
Both sides appear resigned to waiting for the June 3rd ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when they have a hearing scheduled for the NFL's appeal of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision to issue an injunction to lift the lockout.
The NFL was granted it's motion to stay-on-appeal by the 8th Circuit Monday keeping the league's lockout in place.