“This is the season to get a deal,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said before entering the meeting room.
ESPN reported that the accord would include a full-season television package of Thursday night games beginning in 2012. But Goodell said that idea has not been discussed recently and others familiar with the idea said it could not be accomplished by 2012. Currently, Thursday and Saturday night games are televised on the league-owned NFL Network in the second half of the season.
The players received slightly more than half the sport’s revenues in the past. But, according to one person familiar with the situation, they likely would be comfortable accepting slightly less than half in the future because overall revenue is expected to rise sharply and total player compensation would increase rapidly, even if players accepted a smaller percentage of the gross revenue.
Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the dissolved players’ union, have participated in a series of negotiating sessions over the past three weeks, along with small groups of owners and players. Those meetings apparently have put a deal between the two sides within reach.
Any agreement between the league and the players would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners to be implemented.
Players have been locked out by the owners since March 12, the day after they dissolved their union and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners.
As Tuesday’s meeting began, it appeared that only a handful of owners had serious objections to a potential deal, according to people familiar with the owners’ deliberations. Those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said that Goodell wanted to use this meeting to allow the owners to express their views in advance of a deal being completed, in an attempt to ensure that opposition to an agreement doesn’t grow.
The owners with concerns apparently want the agreement to provide protection for the teams in case of an economic downturn. Some owners also appear to believe that the league should take advantage of its recent courtroom victories to negotiate a more favorable deal.
But other owners are pressing for a deal on the terms currently being negotiated with the players.
“I think that’s the hope,” Irsay said before Tuesday’s meeting. “I think really that’s the logical thing. You’re pushing on both sides and saying why get a deal on Oct. 1 or whenever that you could have had July 7? It just makes sense to continue to have a feeling or urgency to try to get something done. That’s my hope. But these things are tough. They’re fragile. You’ve just got to keep working at it.”