The National Football League formally announced today that it had reached agreement on a new, $1.9-billion television contract that includes escape clauses for the networks if the league is struck by its players union this fall.
Although Commissioner Pete Rozelle would not announce any figures, it is believed the five-year contract will mean almost $14.2 million annually to each of the league's 28 teams; the old contract, which expired last season, called for $5.6 million. In return for the contract, the NFL agreed not to sell any cable television rights for five years. Rozelle confirmed that ABC would be included in the Super Bowl rotation for the first time.
In another development, Rozelle said the league would not expand by two teams until the resolution of its current effort to have Congress give the NFL limited relief from antitrust restrictions.
To put the new contract in perspective, the Washington Redskins' share of television monies next year would exceed their gross revenues, $13.5 million, for last season. Only five years ago, the San Francisco 49ers were purchased for $16 million.
The astonishing size of the contract reflects not only the powerful attraction the NFL has for television advertisers but the crucial nature of the ongoing negotiations between the league and the NFL Players Association.
There has been so much talk about a strike that the networks made sure, through what Rozelle described as a "variety of ways," that they would be covered if the players walk out. One of the methods, according to Rozelle, would be refunds to the networks.
Other major aspects of the pact include five prime-time games a year on ABC besides that network's Monday night telecasts; one additional advertising minute a game, bringing the total to 24, and an extra preseason game each for ABC and NBC.
Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, diluted today's announcement by revealing the agreement three weeks ago, much to the chagrin of the league, which likes to carefully manage such releases. Rozelle said that "all published figures have been inaccurate" but would not say in what manner.
Rozelle did admit, however, that "Ed Garvey's statement" prolonged negotiations, since they revealed to NBC and CBS that ABC already had reached agreement with the league for a hefty $500 million. It was learned that CBS, in particular, balked at the league's demands and ultimately was given concessions.
"It (Garvey's statement) caused problems with the other two networks in closing the agreement," Rozelle said.
Garvey, whose union opened its major convention today in Albuquerque, wanted to expose the agreement to use it as fodder in the union's campaign to obtain a percentage of the league's gross revenues in a new collective bargaining agreement. Garvey maintains that the only way the players can properly share in such an enormous amount of money is through the percentage concept.
The league is seeking limited relief from antitrust restrictions as protection from suits initiated by teams and cities over various NFL internal decisions. According to Rozelle, passage of the bill, which could be introduced within two weeks, would void the lawsuit being brought by Al Davis, who wants to move the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles.
But Rozelle emphatically denied the NFLPA'S charge that the legislation would be a deathblow to the union.
"It will not affect player antitrust suits, player matters and player bargaining," Rozelle said. "Not only will it have nothing to do with the union, we will also oppose any legislation introduced that would affect the union's rights . . . this has nothing to do with changing the present status of labor laws in relation to the NFL.
"We just don't think Al Davis should be able to pick and choose what league rules he doesn't like."
Rozelle said he would not become part of the NFL's bargaining team, as has been demanded by the NFLPA. "I have never sat at the table before," he said. "I monitor the talks closely and, in the past, I've been an escape valve to help in a settlement. I don't know if I will be now or not."