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Transcript: Commissioner Goodell's conference call with season ticket holders

Bills CEO Russ Brandon opening statement:

I want to welcome all of our season ticket holders and our sponsors and supporters.  And welcome to all Buffalo Bills Fans in Bills Nation, thank you for all of your continued support.  I know everybody wants to get right to the commissioner, so it is my privilege to introduce Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Commissioner Roger Goodell Opening Statement:

Thank you, Russ.  It is a thrill for me, particularly as a Western New Yorker, to be able to talk directly to Bills season ticket holders and partners.  I know more than most others of the great passion of the Bills fans and we certainly appreciate that, as Russ said, and I look forward to talking with you this afternoon and taking your questions.

On the mediation taking place this week:The mediator has asked us not to discuss publically what happens in the mediation room.  We are still actually here in mediation.  I just stepped out for a few minutes to take this call.  I expect that we will be back again tomorrow.  We continue to think that the right way to address this issue is through negotiations and we think that is the appropriate approach rather than through litigation, which I don't think is going to ultimately solve this issue.On the date of June 3 being viewed as an important date:

June 3 is the hearing with the Court of Appeals and that would be something that our legal team is focused on.  In the meantime, we have four owners here, including the chairman of our committee, to engage in the mediation process and to negotiate because we do believe that negotiation is going to be the ultimate solution, not the litigation that the union's attorneys have pursued.On if he feels it's in the cards to get a deal done:First, thank you for your support and I know that many of the hardworking people that support us around the country are going through difficult times and this uncertainty makes it even more difficult for them.  We appreciate your support.  I am hopeful that if we can get back to the negotiating table that we can get this resolved.  It is in the best interests of the game, it's in the best interests of the players and it's in the best interests of the clubs.  And I know it's in the best interests of the fans as you point out.  I think all of us should get back to negotiating rather than this litigation strategy and I think we can develop solutions -- which I know what the fans want, they want football.

On why he favors mediation opposed to litigation:It is difficult for fans to understand, I think, and I understand that, because the litigation is filled with starts and stops and different appeals and it's not always a clear picture and that is frustrating.  But that is part of the process.  I think ultimately, and we have been encouraged by the courts, that this ends in a full-blown collective bargaining agreement, which means you address a multitude of issues.  What concerns me about the litigation is ultimately what the union's attorneys are attacking and the system issues which I think made this game great.  I think it's so much of why there is a lot of optimism and hope for the Buffalo Bills 2011 season.  They have made great improvements in the offseason and they have hope to turn the team around and maybe go to the Super Bowl.  And that is what makes the NFL terrific and the draft is one of the areas that the union's attorneys are attacking, saying that it is anti-competitive and illegal.  I think that is one the things that has made our game competitive.  Second of all, there are system issues – franchise players, free agency, salary cap – all of those areas have been carefully constructed and have led to the competitive nature of our game.  Last of all, it is the ability of small markets, like Buffalo, to be successful in the NFL.  That is one of the things that is so attractive about the NFL. We saw it in the Super Bowl the last two years, where we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers and the year before that the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, small markets competing and winning in the NFL and that is because of our system.  I want to make sure we continue to keep the game strong. 

On the increased access to teams:

When it gets to the point of access, our fans want more access.  They want to get closer to the game.  They want to get closer to the decision makers that are making the decisions in Buffalo, whether it's Buddy Nix or Chan Gailey.  They want to understand the approach and the fans are so well educated and they know so much about our game.  And it's great to be able to give them that kind of access, allow them to get closer to the game.  That has been healthy, I think, for the NFL.  I think it's been healthy for the clubs and for the players.  And of course, it has been healthy for the fans.

On preseason games:

Obviously, like anything with the NFL and most things that have the kind of exposure and popularity that the NFL has, there are mixed opinions.  One of the things that makes our game great is that there are differing views.  I think with season ticket holders, with the quality of our preseason games and reducing the number of preseason games and adding to the regular season is popular.  With the broader fan set, it depends on how you phrase the question in polling, but we don't operate on polling.  We hear from our fans, we talk to our fans.  I hear it overwhelmingly from our fans.  We had a fan forum the morning of the third day of the draft and there were 100 people and there may have been one or two, if that, that didn't think that the 18 and two concept was worth evaluation.  We can't do it, unless we do it right.  It has got to be done with a consideration of player health and safety.  It has got to be done with consideration of improving everything we do and creating value for our fans.  That is what we are all about. Status quo is not acceptable.  We are going to continue to find new ways to make our game better and make it better for our fans as well as everyone associated with the game.

On player safety:

You are right that we spend a tremendous amount of time on our rules from a player health and safety standpoint, as well as from a competitive standpoint.  We want to continue to make our game exciting and competitive.  We evaluate every one of our rules and new rules during the offseason.  The competition committee is the focal point and then they make proposals to the full membership, including our coaches and general managers.  I think they have done an outstanding job of presenting new rules each year that can make our game safer, primarily by evaluating the game and seeing certain techniques that we can remove from the game.  It's not new over the last few years, but I think there has been an increased focus on that, particularly as you point out, hits to the head.  We have had these changes going all the way back to crack-back blocks and the head slaps.  They have all made the game safer for the players.  They have made the game more exciting and we have continued to focus on making sure we are going to do what is right for the players to make the game safer.  It is a tough game and injuries are going to happen.  There are certain techniques that we can clearly take out of the game, make the game safer and hopefully at the same time make the game more exciting.

On protecting small market teams in NFL:

One of the things that I am proudest of is that we continually find ways of sharing new revenue and our system right now is close to 80% of our revenue is shared amongst the clubs.  And that is 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.  You always have to balance that system to make sure that as the economics of the league changes and 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 to continue to be successful.  I know our ownership has always stepped up to that and we will continue to do that.  To make sure that everyone has the financial ability and that we can make sure that the Buffalo Bills and every other small market comes into the season with the ability to be competitive. 

On the revenue source for a small-market franchise like Buffalo and being able to compete with large-market teams:

The primary revenue source for the NFL is the network television revenue.  That is shared equally amongst the 32 clubs.  The same amount of revenue is given from network television to the Buffalo Bills as given to the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants or the Chicago Bears. And I think that's what makes our league unique.  By sharing that revenue on an equal basis it gives everyone the fundamental financial ability to be able to do that.

Second of all, the fact that football is successful in markets like Buffalo or Green Bay or New Orleans is really spectacular for the league.  When you see the passion of those fans and you turn on your television set or you go the stadium and see the kind of crowd excitement that comes through the television if that's what you're doing and watching on TV, it's an extraordinary experience.  We want to continue to make sure those stadiums are full, the teams have the ability to be competitive and I think we have demonstrated that.  When you look at the statistics of the competitiveness of the league you see that each season we have several new teams that make it into the playoffs, and for I believe the eighth straight year have a team that goes from last to first.  That's great for the league to be able to have that kind of competiveness. It's because of our financial revenue sharing and the system issues that we deal with, with respect to the player system.

On the possibility of moving the Draft to a different city each year:

It's a great question and is one that we have really been studying and we very well may do that. As you know, we made some changes to our draft three years ago to speed it up and increase the pace of the draft.  That was overwhelmingly positive.  Last year, we went for the first time to a primetime format on the first two nights.  We discussed the idea of moving the second night or the third day to another city.  There's tremendous interest across the country in doing that.  I think it's another way to bring our fans in different communities the opportunity to attend the draft.  We're seriously evaluating that alternative.

The first thing we've got to do though is ensure that we continue to have that draft.  That's what we're doing in defending this antitrust case.

On lowering ticket prices for pre-season games:

That's one alternative that we continue to look at.  We continue to look at providing additional discounted tickets or comp ticket to our pre-season games.  But the core of it is still the quality. What I hear from the fans and I'm assuming you hear this too, is we're not seeing the same quality of players and we're not seeing the competitiveness where this counts in the standings. And that's what fans really want.  That's where we developed a concept of potentially restructuring the season to the 18 and 2.  We're going to continue look at this.  It's probably going to have to be addressed in multiple ways and find solutions that are going to work for the game and for our fans.

On the specific sticking points of the lockout situation:

I think it's gotten lost over the last 60 days in some ways because the NFL clubs made a proposal back on March 11, nearing the end of 17 days of mediation in the hopes of continuing the mediation of those negotiations.  And it's a proposal that reflected essentially a slight increase in player compensation from the 2010 and 2009 season and then increasing by 14 percent over the next three years.  The players said that was not enough and there were no further counters or information.

On the player health and safety, we addressed a number of issues that have been discussed in the negotiations that would be implemented beginning with the 2011 season which I think would give us a pretty good basis of understanding how we can use the off-season training, training camp period and even the regular season in reducing our contact.  Which then could be used to identify how we make the game safer and then maybe consider the 18 and 2 concept in that context with the players and do that the right way if we were going to do it.

Third is the rookie pool concept.  It's a big issue for the clubs and I think for the game of football. And I hear this from the fans.  The compensation should go to proven veterans on the NFL field -- in other words guys that have played on the NFL field and proven their worth.  We have a system that's frankly out-of-whack with respect to the way compensation is paid to unproven rookies and we need to fix and address it.  I think that's good for veterans, it's good for the game and it's good for obviously the clubs and the players, particularly veteran players.

Regarding retired players, I have repeatedly said that we have to do more to help the men who helped build this game, particular the pre-1993 players.  The clubs offered a 60 percent increase in pension for pre-1993 players.  That's significant.  A number of things were addressed and I believe that's on our website the proposal that the clubs made back in March. Those are the key sticking points.

On the Bills remaining in Buffalo and if the league would help the team to stay in Western New York:

First off, we certainly hope the Buffalo Bills continue to be in Western New York.  As a Western New Yorker, I know how important it is to that region and how passionate our fans are there in Western New York.  The effort we have been going through with the Buffalo Bills and the business leaders in the surrounding areas is to regionalize the team and to draw from a broader area, including Southern Ontario and the Toronto area.  I think that's good for allowing the Bills to be successful in Buffalo.  As you know, they're playing a regular season game and a pre-season game on alternating years in Toronto.  I think that's been successful.  We all can do better with that and we'll continue to try to improve the experience for the fans in Toronto.  But we want to see the Buffalo Bills be successful.  I think some of the things that we addressed earlier in this call on the revenue sharing are a big part of that in continuing to give them the financial ability to be successful.  And quite frankly, I think it's incumbent on all of us including the fans to continue to support the team.  I know how strongly the fans feel about the Bills and I know they'll continue to come out and be passionate about the Bills.

On if there has been any discussion of a new stadium in Buffalo:

I know there are always discussions about how to make sure that Ralph Wilson Stadium stays competitive.  They've done a terrific job of making capital improvements and changes to that stadium to make it competitive.  It's always a challenge for teams and communities.  It's one of the things we're trying to address in the collective bargaining agreement to make sure the Buffalo Bills and small market teams can be successful.  How do we encourage those investments in the stadiums which are more and more being made in part by the private sector, meaning primarily the teams and or the business communities and the fans.  We need to encourage that.  Those costs continue to rise and that needs to be recognized in the system. I'm not aware of a specific new stadium proposal.  I know that they continue to seek ways to improve the stadium experience and the stadium itself.  And that's critical to making sure the Bills remain competitive.  

On why both sides haven't been able to sit down:

I hear your frustration.  It's one of the things that's got me most troubled is that it seems like the union's attorneys seem to be driving it as a litigation strategy.  I agree with you that courts are not the ultimate solution in these circumstances.  There are labor laws and there are ways in which these issues are normally addressed in collective bargaining and that's how it should be resolved.  And the courts have told us that.  Unfortunately some of the union attorneys have very clearly stated that bargaining doesn't work for them and that negotiation hasn't worked.  It hasn't worked, so they're not pursuing it anymore.  I think that's a mistake because I believe ultimately that does work.  It is our system and not just in sports, but in other industries as you guys well know.  That's what we should do.  We should negotiate the solution to this and even the courts are indicating that that's what we should do.

On how a portion of games missed would help other football leagues:

I'm not an expert on that although we've had a great relationship with the Canadian Football League over the last couple of decades and they went through their own labor issues last season as you know and got resolved on the eve of the season with a new collective bargaining agreement – and that's what should happen here.  We should get that labor agreement done so that the NFL brand of football continues to flourish, grows and can make the kind of investments that will continue to make the NFL successful.

I support the success of football on all levels.  That's good for the NFL.  I believe in the game of football.  I'm a huge fan myself.  I'll do everything I can to protect it and grow it.  And that's how I look at the game.  How do we grow it on all levels?

On if teams OTAs and mini-camps would affect the product on the field once the season began:

I think we still have time.  I think the uncertainty and the length of this as you pointed out has dragged on.  I think it has dragged on because of the litigation strategy.  Instead of negotiating they're pursuing a resolution in the court system.  And 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 the uncertainty.  I think there's still time to do that and we'd still have great, competitive football that you all expect.  But time is running short.  It's time to get back to the table and get those issues resolved.

On the TV blackout rule and Jacksonville covering sections of their stadium:

The way the system works on the TV blackout is trying to create a balance between getting our stadiums full and keeping our games on free television, which we are the only professional league to do so and I'm proud of that.  That's what's helped grow the game.  Jacksonville several years ago reduced the size of their stadium for the entire season.  So, every game they have roughly 10,000 seats that are covered and every club has a choice of doing that.  But you have to be consistent from game to game.  You can't for one game and not another game. Those are choices that clubs make.  Other clubs have made those in limited positions.  But it depends on the size of your stadium and the demand for tickets.  As I say we want to make sure every game is sold out and we would love to have it sold out on a season ticket basis but we know that there are many fans who want to buy them on an individual game basis.  That's something that every club makes their own decision on -- the capacity, the season tickets and the pricing.

On Mr. Wilson's impact in Western New York and the NFL, player salaries and NFL Network on Time Warner Cable:

You hit a lot of different issues and I particularly loved your lovely January afternoon in Buffalo, so I appreciate your hometown crowd there.  And I do agree with your point on Ralph Wilson and all he's done -not just for pro football, obviously with the AFL and to the NFL - but what he's done for Western New York and what he's done for the NFL, particular on revenue sharing. He's a great person and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

On your first point, I want to see the players get paid well also.  They deserve to.  They add an awful lot to the game of football.  I'm proud of what they do both on and off the field and I support that.  But we also have to balance that with the rising costs of being a fan or attending our games or being associated with the NFL.  There is a limit, and we have made that point consistently in the collective bargaining.  We cannot continue to have the rising costs be shifted to the fans.  We are going to continue to work on that point, to hold the line, to say we are not going to allow that to happen to our game, and move people out of our stadium because of the costs.  We'll continue to be focused on that.

On Time Warner, I completely agree with you on the frustration.  We have been in negotiations. Time Warner is one of the largest in the top six cable operators or satellite carriers that doesn't carry NFL Network.  We know how popular it is with programming on a year-round basis and we know those games are important to the fans.  We believe the value is there and the market has been set by other cable and satellite carries.  That's what so frustrating for us.  We know it's worked for the other distributors and we know it could work for Time Warner.  So, we'll continue to try to get that agreement resolved as quickly as I can.

On professional sports and antitrust laws:

I do believe that professional sports are somewhat unique in their structure because you have in our case 32 clubs.  You have to have common rules to improve the quality of the product and there are unique relationships which the courts have recognized.  It is important for us to address that in the context of collective bargaining rather than antitrust law.  We certainly understand the importance of the antitrust laws and respect that.  We are going to be subject to that, but we also believe that ultimately the solution is going to result in a collective bargaining agreement.

On labor law:

I think that's one of the frustrations that we have.  I don't think anybody on this call or anyone that I've ever talked to other than the union's attorneys believe that this is not a labor dispute. This is a labor dispute.  It should be resolved under labor law.  It is certainly something that when you just say that you're no longer a union that is certainly an option but they did this back in the early 1990s and said that it was irreversible and permanent.  Well, in the early '90s they returned as a union and have been until March 11 of this year.  We don't think that's real.  We think ultimately they're just doing this to get leverage in the negotiation.  I understand that but unfortunately it's causing long delays and risking the season.  And I think risking the potential for the players as well as the clubs and most importantly getting between the game and the fans. And I think that's a mistake.

On the current negotiations:

I guess I would say I'm frustrated by the pace, primarily because I don't think a lot of negotiation has happened since March 11 when we concluded 17 days of mediation in a very short time. And I believe progress was made that resulted in a very fair proposal by the clubs.  It was obviously rejected and the union's attorneys pursued this litigation strategy.  Since then, I have the same frustration that I think fans do which is this is getting in the way of producing great football and we should get back to the negotiating table and get this resolved.  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.

Commissioner Goodell's closing statement:

Thank you, and thanks to all the Bills fans.  Again, I know how passionate they are and how much they support the Bills and we're very appreciative of that.  I want you to know how important you are to the NFL and that's one of the reasons I love the feedback that we get on these calls.  Thank you and I look forward to seeing you this season.

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