NFL Owners Attend to Business
But Find Little Consensus on Difficult Revenue Issues

By Leonard Shapiro and Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 26, 2005

NFL owners unanimously approved the sale of the Minnesota Vikings, awarded the 2009 Super Bowl to Tampa and debated the thorny issues of revenue sharing among the league's 32 teams and negotiating an extension on the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

Still, when two days of meetings at the Ritz Carlton hotel ended, several owners did not share the optimism of Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the possibility of reaching a quick consensus on revenue sharing. The commissioner, who said the sides made "good progress" yesterday, announced there will be special league meetings to continue the discussion every month between June and October.

At issue is the disparity in sharing money generated by the high revenue clubs such as the Washington Redskins and New England Patriots and teams in smaller markets such as Pittsburgh and Buffalo. While all teams share national broadcasting rights fees and gate receipts, the higher revenue teams want to keep the revenue their franchises generate from local television and radio rights, stadium signage and other local corporate sponsorship deals.

"It didn't go well," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said of the two-hour revenue-sharing session that went late into the afternoon. "I don't think we got anywhere closer at this meeting. Maybe further apart."

"It's disappointing," Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney said. "We certainly didn't change any votes today, but we'll just have to keep trying."

Added Dallas owner Jerry Jones: "I don't know that it's that easy to say whether we're closer or further apart. Certainly we'll resolve it at some point. Right now, I don't know what the answer is."

Tagliabue painted a somewhat rosier picture, saying at least several areas of what he called "structural changes" in the current system generated "a much broader consensus" during yesterday's discussion. Any change in the revenue-sharing policies must be approved by a three-quarters majority of owners.

He cited several potential changes, including what he described as a "blended rate" of sharing local revenues, perhaps 80 percent to the team that generates the revenue and 20 percent shared by other clubs.

Tagliabue also admitted, as he did at the March league meeting in Hawaii, that negotiations on an extension of the CBA with the players' union were still at a "dead end." He said he soon will meet with NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw and plans to make a significant effort over the next two months to settle their differences. Most owners agree accord won't be reached until revenue sharing is resolved.

The current deal expires after the 2007 season, but a salary cap will be in place for only 2005 and 2006 unless both sides agree to an extension. Upshaw said earlier this week the union will not back off its demand of getting a larger percentage of gross revenues than the NFL has offered and warned team owners he would not hesitate to let the current agreement run out and have an uncapped 2007 season.

"We have the opportunity to spend a lot of time [on labor negotiations] now that we have our television contracts done," Tagliabue said. "We have a chance in the next six or seven weeks to work closely with the NFLPA on how to narrow the gap. Hopefully by late October we'll sign an agreement and not look like pumpkins."

Tagliabue said he preferred not to comment on a bill aimed at eliminating steroid use by professional athletes co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would call for a mandatory two-year suspension for a first-time violation. The bill is scheduled to be marked up today by the House Committee on Government Reform, which will send it to the House floor for a possible vote. The NFL now suspends first-time violators for four games without pay.

NFL spokesman Joe Browne said the league was "concerned we did not have the opportunity to comment on the legislation before [Thursday's] committee meeting. We think there are aspects of the bill that will diminish our [steroid] program. A two-year suspension for a first offense is not applicable to our sport. Unlike the Olympics, we play every year, not every four years."

Earlier, Tagliabue introduced New Jersey real estate developer Zygmunt Wilf as the Vikings' new owner. Wilf's group paid $600 million to purchase the team from Red McCombs, who paid $246 million in 1998. Wilf pledged the team will "be in the Minneapolis area forever." He also said he would prefer the Vikings play in an open air stadium.

Tampa secured the 2009 Super Bowl on the fourth ballot yesterday morning, beating out Atlanta. Atlanta and Houston had been the front-runners going into the meeting, but Brian Glazer, son of team owner Malcom Glazer, said owners were swayed by Tampa's impressive bid, the prospect of warm February weather and "a Saturday night party at Busch Gardens. We're giving [the owners] 150 [free] tickets they wouldn't have had in the past."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company