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Monday, March 21, 2005

Labor issues hover over meetings this week

The Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii - The biggest issue facing the NFL, the labor contract, won't be resolved in any meaningful way at the league meetings this week.

Owners, team officials and coaches assembled Sunday with little on the day's agenda other than recovering from long trips from the mainland. Although some sessions were scheduled, the major business was to begin today with commissioner Paul Tagliabue's "state of the league" address.

Tagliabue is likely to discuss the major movement in talks with the NFL Players Association to extend the contract that expires in 2008. The key issue is expanding the pool for the salary cap - and thus the pool from which the players get their money - to include additional revenue sources teams previously have kept for themselves.

An agreement to expand the pool has been reached, but the main unresolved point is what percentage will go to the players.

"When it comes down to it, it's still about money," said Harold Henderson, the NFL's executive vice president for labor relations. "There's still a way to go on that."

While there seems to be plenty of time to negotiate, union officials have suggested time is running short. If there is no extension by 2007, there will be no salary cap that year.

"If we don't get it done by the end of this season, there will be a sense of urgency," union executive director Gene Upshaw said last month.

The chances are it won't get to that. After two strikes in the 1980s and an antitrust suit following the 1987 strike, the NFL has had labor peace since 1992, continually extending the contract before it was due to expire. But both sides have described this negotiation as the most difficult since then, in part because of the union's insistence on including additional revenue, and now because of differences over the percentage of that revenue.

Still, it is unlikely the NFL will get to 2007 without a deal.

That's in part because of the good relationship between Upshaw on one side and Tagliabue, Henderson and owners like Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney on the other. Rooney has always been called in to resolve labor issues, and league officials suggested this weekend that he would be again, if needed.

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Tagliabue opens meeting with annual review

(March 21, 2005) -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue opened the 2005 NFL Annual Meeting on the island of Maui in Hawaii today with a 30-minute review of overall league affairs for a group of approximately 300 owners, club presidents, head coaches, front-office employees, and league officials.

Following are excerpts from the Commissioner's review:

"To present a successful NFL season, it takes thousands of people working together 12 months a year. The 2004 season was successful by all measures -- with competitive football from start to finish."

"The key rules emphasis last season was the strict enforcement of our downfield contact rules in the passing game. It produced what we expected: gains in offensive production within the range of what the Competition Committee considers desirable, and only a marginal impact on overall penalties. Also noteworthy is that NFL players are playing every game not only with quality but with class. In recent years, with strong support from our players, we have emphasized our rules on sportsmanship -- and they are working well. Penalties and fines for fighting, taunting, and illegal demonstrations are rarely necessary and are at low levels -- in some cases, record-low levels."

"The strength of the game on the field was clearly reflected in the scale of our audiences watching NFL football in stadiums and on television. Paid attendance reached record levels for the third straight year, and NFL television ratings are stronger now versus the competition and versus other prime-time programming than at any point in history. The playoffs were the most-watched in six years and the Super Bowl was the fifth most-watched show in television history, seen by more people than voted in the 2004 presidential election."

"This past year included the premature loss of two players who personified leadership -- Pat Tillman and Reggie White. We note their passing, but also vow to preserve their positive legacy to the game and the league. In the case of Pat Tillman, the NFL is establishing in Pat's name the first USO Center in Afghanistan for the support of our servicemen and women in combat in that region where he died. Next week, three of your outstanding players -- Ben Roethlisberger, Warrick Dunn, and Larry Izzo -- will travel to the Middle East to officially open the center and visit our troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq."

"The extensions of our AFC and NFC television agreements with CBS and FOX affirmed the NFL as the nation's premier sports and entertainment attraction. The agreements give us new scheduling flexibility for plans to showcase the better performing teams on primetime TV and for a late-season 'run-up-to-the-playoffs' Thursday/Saturday prime-time package on cable and satellite. New agreements for our prime-time packages -- currently on ABC and ESPN -- are still ahead of us, and we are very confident of the continuing appeal of NFL football for fans, networks, their affiliates, and advertisers and sponsors -- even with audiences fragmented by video recorders, the Internet, video games, wireless devices, and other digital wizardry."

"Many, many people share the credit for the NFL's accomplishments. We also stand on the shoulders of all those who came before us and set the foundation for the NFL's rise to the preeminent position in sports entertainment. Today, the entire league faces a critical business challenge -- not unlike others that we have successfully addressed in the past two decades. The challenge is how to restructure our leaguewide economics to extend the CBA with the Players Association; to ensure the continuing competitive quality of our game; and to continue the construction of superb new stadiums. And we must achieve these three critical goals in ways that take account of the escalating costs of club operations and that are within reach of all 32 teams ... The massive private investment by the league and the teams to build stadiums entails large ongoing debt-service costs that are not adequately treated in our current CBA."

"All of us with a stake in the league's future success need to address these financial realities with openness to new solutions. Together with the Players Association, the league faces challenges that present a compelling need to come together and recognize that, ultimately, all franchises are made better by strong and balanced league institutions. We have to fashion and agree upon some new and different approaches to resolve the financial issues that currently confront all member clubs."

"We should be clear about one thing: our own recent history tells us that a failure to come together now and agree upon solutions -- both internally and with the Players Association -- will produce alternatives that are far more negative for all clubs, all players, the league, and the Players Association, than the cost of a solution will be to any one club, group of clubs, player, or category of players."

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Labor talks hung up on sources of money

The Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii - Talks to extend the NFL contract are "at a dead end," commissioner Paul Tagliabue told NFL owners Monday.

In this case, disagreement on how to earmark the money designated for the players seems to be centered as much among the owners as between the league and the NFL Players Association.

Tagliabue used that daunting term "dead end" in his state of the league speech to open the owners meetings, and said he might call a special meeting for April 19 to try to resolve it.

Tagliabue would not concede when talking to reporters that internal squabbles have stalled talks. But it was evident from the owners that the simmering contention between high-revenue and low-revenue teams has contributed as much to the impasse as a division between the union and the league.

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