Goodell Addresses Economy's Effect on NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, shown last month, attended Redskins practice and spoke to players and team personnel.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, shown last month, attended Redskins practice and spoke to players and team personnel. (By Stephen Chernin -- Associated Press)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

While he has often warned the league isn't immune to a lagging economy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said problems faced by the struggling Jacksonville franchise highlight the challenges the entire league faces.

While a dozen teams may face TV blackouts in their local markets this year, the Jaguars could face several. NFL rules require blackouts for all games that fail to sell out three days prior to kickoff.

"I think it reflects two things, what you're seeing in Jacksonville. One is the quality of preseason games," Goodell said Tuesday morning during a visit to Redskins Park. "I think our fans are sort of seeing the quality of the games aren't up to NFL standards. So I think that's a factor.

"Additionally, they are one of the markets where we're seeing some challenges for ticket sales coming into the 2009 season. And we'll have other markets where we'll have those challenges. It's all part of the challenges we're seeing in the economy and what our fans are going through."

The Redskins are among the teams that have sold all available tickets, and no blackouts in the Washington market are expected. Goodell attended Redskins practice Tuesday morning, chatting on the sidelines with owner Daniel Snyder; Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations; Coach Jim Zorn; and former quarterback Joe Theismann.

Prior to taking the field, Goodell addressed the entire team, as he does in several cities. He said the questions and concerns he hears often revolve around the collective bargaining agreement. Both owners and the NFL Players Association have warned a lockout is possible if a new agreement isn't reached soon, though he stressed both sides are working to avoid such a scenario.

"I think everybody in the NFL wants to play," Goodell told reporters. "The owners want to play, the players want to play. It's our job to get a deal. It's why I keep saying a lockout is not a strategy or an objective. What we want to do is get an agreement that works for the players, the coaches and the game, allows us to continue to grow it. There's not a lot of rhetoric that's needed. We need to sit down at the table and try to get those issues resolved."

Union leaders have said owners seem determined to lock out players in 2011. Unhappy with the revenue split, especially as economic woes strike several NFL cities, the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last spring. If the sides can't reach a new agreement by March, the 2010 season would be played without a salary cap.

While in Washington, Goodell said he planned to meet with DeMaurice Smith, the union's new executive director. He couldn't characterize how negotiations currently stand.

"Any time you're in negotiations, you take a step forward and maybe a step back," Goodell said. "We're communicating, we're trying to get information to the union leadership, make sure they understand the challenges we're facing as a system and as a business. And make sure they understand that so we can design a system that addresses the issues for the players, the coaches and the game."

"When we get an outcome, I don't know. What we're looking for is the right outcome."

Zorn said coaches and players appreciated the visit from the commissioner.

"He got up, he was very relaxed in front of the group, very natural in front of the group and very positive in front of the group," Zorn said. "He didn't try to sell them on anything. He just tried to talk to them about what the NFL is about and what we're all trying to do together. They were listening. It was very quiet."

As the Redskins practiced, Goodell met with members of the media and addressed a variety of other topics, including quarterback Michael Vick's return to the NFL.

"The issue for Michael is to be able to deal with all of the issues in that transition back to the NFL," Goodell said. "A lot of those issues that I'm focusing on are off the field. How is he doing with the transition? Does he have his family relocated? Does he have the right people around him, helping him make decisions? Tony Dungy has been incredibly helpful, Donovan McNabb has been helpful. I talk to Michael on a weekly basis, if not more. I'll be meeting with him sometime in the near future. I think he's making the right kind of progress. He's focused on the right kind of things."

He also said league officials will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the new wedge rule, implemented for the 2009 season, and that the NFL is still considering expanding to an 18-game schedule.

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