NFL's business model evolving
New York-area Super Bowl means league is becoming more pragmatic
IRVING, Texas -- The biggest thing we learned at the one-day NFL spring owners meetings was how business can change a sport's tradition or rules.
A couple of years ago, the thought of an outdoor Super Bowl in New York was laughed out of the meeting room. On Tuesday, owners awarded Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 to the New York/New Jersey region after also considering bids from Tampa and South Florida.
NFL cross-ownership rules prohibit an owner of non-football franchises from getting a majority share of an NFL team. At this meeting, owners started to warm up to thoughts of letting Stan Kroenke and his family find a way to get full control of the St. Louis Rams, even though he owns a hockey team and a basketball team in Denver.
Years ago, owners changed the rules, making it acceptable to own multiple franchises in the same city. Those rules allowed Wayne Huizenga to own the Florida Marlins and Miami Dolphins. They also allowed Paul Allen to own a basketball team in Portland and the Seahawks in Seattle. The league simply called it a regional market. If owners like a particular owner such as Kroenke, they could change the rules once again.
Yes, times are changing in the NFL. Here are the five things we learned at Tuesday's owners meetings.
1. Cold won't become the norm: The decision to vote for a New York/New Jersey Super Bowl doesn't set the stage for future Super Bowls in cold-weather cities, but it will promote a few new chilly proposals. "It's warmer in Washington, D.C.," said Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who supports the Super Bowl in '14 at the new Meadowlands stadium. No doubt, Snyder wants to put together a Super Bowl bid for his stadium. It wouldn't be out of the question for Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos to put together something in the future for the Mile High City.
To protect itself against having too many cold-weather bids, the NFL made sure Tuesday's secret ballot remained secret. No result of the vote was leaked, although the Tampa contingent tried to make it sound as though the vote was around 18-14. The support for New York/New Jersey could have been in the 20s, but no one is willing to reveal the real numbers. By the fourth ballot, only a majority (17 votes) was needed. (The first three votes require a 75 percent majority, which didn't happen; the fourth vote requires only a simple majority.)
"There are no trends when you have a secret ballot," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
Even those who voted against New York/New Jersey wouldn't admit it afterward. This Super Bowl site won because it is a unique opportunity at the perfect time. The Super Bowl brings an estimated $500 million of impact to the area. Owners of the Jets and Giants went deep in debt to build new Meadowlands stadium, and getting a Super Bowl meant something to them because they all grew up in the area.
2. OT rules stay status quo: The momentum built up in the March owners meeting for revolutionizing the overtime rules was tabled for a year, partially for labor reasons. In March, owners added a second possession to playoff overtime games if the team that wins the coin toss settles for a field goal. On Tuesday, commissioner Roger Goodell held discussions for a similar regular-season rule, but those talks took place only in the final minutes of the meeting, when owners were calling limos to get them to the airport.
Why the change in urgency? The timing didn't seem right. There wasn't enough time to talk to players -- who are in the final year of their collective bargaining agreement -- about altering regular-season rules that could extend the length and number of plays in a game. Second, coaches, who were warming up to thoughts of using regular-season games to test strategies for the playoffs, have discussed forming a union. Goodell said the change in the playoff overtime rule is good enough for now, and he's probably right. That change was a bold move to appease fans who thought a second possession was needed to make overtimes fairer. Why push things?
3. Roethlisberger decision looms: Goodell is about a week away from making a decision on when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can rejoin his teammates. Because he's been busy preparing for this meeting, Goodell hasn't had a chance to meet with the consultants and counselors reviewing Roethlisberger's case. He said his plan is get back to New York, review the material and render a decision next week.
For the Steelers, the delay is a little blow because they are running out of OTAs and they would like Roethlisberger to get some work with the team. From Goodell's standpoint, he wants to make the right decision based on whether Roethlisberger is taking accountability for his actions off the field. Goodell and the Steelers know the franchise quarterback is out for at least the first four games of 2010. The question is whether Roethlisberger will have to serve all six games of his suspension; the answer will depend on Roethlisberger's behavior in the coming months.
4. Goodell confident on CBA front: Goodell and NFL lawyers claim the 9-0 decision against the league in the American Needle case has nothing to do with labor and everything to do with the licensing and selling of hats and intellectual properties. If the NFL had won, though, the league would have had a big hammer in negotiating leverage with the NFL Players Association.
As for the labor front, talks are still in the beginning stage. Goodell said talks are scheduled to restart in June. The commissioner said Tuesday that there will be a labor agreement at some point, but no one can figure out when. A lockout could start next March and could exist until next summer. Or a deal could be struck before March of next year. The biggest obstacle for both sides is coming up with a labor-cost number that works for the owners and for the players.
"We will have a labor agreement" Goodell said. "It will be collectively bargained and not through the courts."
Now that the antitrust exemptions haven't been changed because of the American Needle case, the hope is that talks will be kick-started.
5. Hard stance on drugs: Plenty of challenges are affecting the league's drug-testing program, but Goodell remains confident the system is withstanding all challenges. The water-pill case involving Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams continues to drag through the courts, but the league stresses that suspending a player for banned substances hasn't been deemed illegal.
The Vikings case does expose the league to some of the drug-testing laws within states, and Goodell said he might need to solicit federal legislation to have a completely uniform system. Goodell said the league is prepared to discipline any player whose name is linked to HGH use in the case of Canadian doctor Anthony Galea in Buffalo. He's just waiting for evidence to come out regarding what is believed to be three NFL players. Finally, the league continues to push for blood testing for HGH use in talks with the players, but the NFLPA isn't ready to accept blood testing as an accurate barometer.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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