NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Criticizes Union Economic Report

"The economics were difficult prior to the economy turning south on us," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who remains optimistic about a new labor deal. (By David J. Phillip -- Associated Press)
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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009

TAMPA, Jan. 30 -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that he hopes to avoid a clash with the players association that could interrupt the sport's longstanding labor peace in two years, but he disputed findings of an economic study released this week by the union that concludes the league's franchises remain highly profitable and no financial concessions by the players are needed.

In his annual state-of-the-league news conference two days before the Super Bowl, Goodell said the study's assertion that NFL franchises are turning an average annual profit of $24.7 million is "completely inaccurate." He also said "there is a lot of fiction" in the report, which was compiled for the NFLPA by two economists.

Goodell also vigorously defended the league's fines of players this season for hits deemed illegal, saying he noticed a move later in the season toward a safer style of play. And he indicated that the league will consider possible changes to the overtime format, potentially addressing the concern that too many overtime games are decided by one team winning the coin flip, taking possession and driving to a field goal.

The threat of a potential work stoppage in 2011 looms over the sport as the NFL stages this Super Bowl amid a national economic crisis. Goodell was asked repeatedly Friday about the upcoming labor negotiations, which are likely to begin in earnest after the union's scheduled election in March of a permanent successor to its late executive director, Gene Upshaw.

Goodell said he remains "optimistic" that the franchise owners and the players will be able to negotiate a new labor deal and avoid a work stoppage.

"We understand the numbers," Goodell said. "The ownership has spent a tremendous amount of time evaluating the current collective bargaining agreement. They came to the conclusion that it was better to terminate that agreement and go into a negotiation where we could work to try to come up with something that would work for all clubs and our players rather than continue on with that system.

"The economics were difficult prior to the economy turning south on us. What's happened now with the economy turning difficult for all of us, I think that it just accentuated the negatives in that collective bargaining agreement. I think the owners feel that it's critically important for the future of the game, for the future of the business, that they reevaluate this. . . . I am optimistic that we're going to be able to sit down with the union and reach an agreement that will continue labor peace and allow the players to continue to flourish, but most importantly, allow the owners to continue to invest in the game."

The current deal expires following the 2010 season, because the owners voted last year to end it two years early by exercising a reopener clause in the agreement. The 2009 season is the final one in the deal with a salary cap.

The union released its economic report Thursday, maintaining that the financial health of the league means that players should not have to accept a smaller share of the revenue under the salary cap system.

The study concludes that the average value of an NFL franchise has increased from $288 million to $1.04 billion over a 10-year span; that the teams had an average profit of $24.7 million last year; that teams are receiving an average annual return on investment of $107.3 million each, based on an average profit of $24.7 million and an average annual increase in value of $82.6 million; and that the players now are receiving a percentage of the league's revenue under the current labor deal that's consistent with what they have received since the salary cap system was put in place.

Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel and acting executive director, said Thursday that "we recognize that this does not reflect the actual books and records of the NFL. But it's the best thing we have, and we think it's accurate."

Berthelsen said the players are unlikely to agree to any economic concessions in this round of bargaining. He said the players are hopeful they won't be locked out by the owners in 2011 but they must prepare for that possibility. The union has amassed a work-stoppage fund of $210 million.

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