Commissioner Pete Rozelle said today that most, if not all, National Football League franchises lost money last season as a result of the 57-day players union strike.
Although Rozelle said he did not yet have specific figures available, league sources estimated that most teams lost an average of $4 to $7 million in 1982.
Rozelle, however, predicted that all 28 teams would be in the black in 1983, mainly because of a large transfusion of money from the league's $2 billion television contract.
Speaking at the league's annual meetings, Rozelle said that NFL teams lost $100 million in television revenues and another $100 million in gate revenues because of the players' strike.
But he said he was not sure how much the teams saved in costs because of the strike, during which they did not pay players' salaries.
He said that of the $100 million lost in television revenue, $28 million involved the 1983 league budget. The upcoming season's loss represents a $1 million loss for each team.
Because of the strike, Rozelle is striving at these meetings to focus attention on the future well-being of the NFL, and not the potential threat posed by the new United States Football League.
He said that in addresses to league officials Sunday and today, he urged them to get together "as best we can to work together to promote the league."
"I want to stress quality and promotion. We need to make ourselves better through promotion . . . Little things like the referee's mike (during games). That bugs the hell out of me. I've talked to the clubs about that, to make sure they have backups that work, so at least fans in the stands know what the call was."
Rozelle and the league were encouraged by attendance figures during the strike-shortened season. Despite anticipated fan fallout, the average attendence for the nine-game regular season was the fifth highest in NFL history (58,000 per game).
Rozelle attributed that impressive figure to season-ticket sales made before the strike. It was obvious he was not certain how much the 1983 season would be affected by remaining residue from the walkout.
Yet the USFL remains very much on the minds of league owners. The USFL already has drained the draft pool considerably and has made an impressive start with its television ratings.
Rozelle said if he had to grade the USFL at this point, "I'd give them an incomplete." He said he wanted to wait until "they find they have to spend $100,000 on tape" and limited partners "have to be assessed more money" than they originally had anticipated. "We'll have to see if they have the staying power," he concluded.
In other matters:
Rozelle downplayed the urgency of moving the NFL draft from April to February to better combat the USFL. But sources indicate there is strong sentiment here to make such an adjustment beginning next year.
Rozelle said he had talked with Edward DeBartolo, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, about the possibility of DeBartolo's father buying a USFL franchise. Rozelle said there could be conflicts of interest involved because of the competing nature of the two leagues, although the NFL could not prevent the elder DeBartolo from buying a club.
"In the three previous leagues that have started up to compete against us, there eventually have been litigation," he said. "It would be very difficult to talk about court tactics" if one family had teams in both leagues.
Because of lingering concern over antitrust problems, the league still was not seriously considering expansion. Nor would there be an expansion of the schedule to 18 games.
The NFL competition committee presented 10 possible rule changes for consideration. No major changes have been proposed, but there could be alterations made by the end of these meetings Friday in how pass interference is interpreted and how punt returners are protected.