ASHBURN, Va. -- Avoiding local television blackouts will be a challenge as the NFL approaches its first full season in the economic downturn, commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday.
During a visit to the Washington Redskins, Goodell was asked specifically about the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose season-ticket base dropped from 42,000 to about 25,000 this season. The decline is such that the club might not even bother asking for extensions in hopes of avoiding blackouts this year.
Goodell said Jacksonville, one of the smallest markets in the league, is "one of the markets where we're seeing some challenges from ticket sales coming into the 2009 season."
"And we'll have other markets that'll have those challenges. It's all part of the challenges that we're seeing in the economy, and what our clubs are going through," Goodell said. "Our clubs have been working hard in the offseason to create other ways to try to get people in the stadiums and to have policies that are a little more flexible, and hopefully they're going to pay dividends for us."
The San Diego Chargers had an exhibition game blacked out for the first time since 2006 and will have Friday's game blacked out as well. They say regular-season blackouts could be on the way as well. Other teams that could have trouble selling out their home games include the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, who both had blackouts last season.
The Cleveland Browns nearly had their first blackout since 1995 for a preseason game last month, but Goodell said some of the August ticket sales could be attributed to the nature of exhibition football.
"I think the fans have seen that the quality of the games aren't up to NFL standards, so I think that's a factor," said Goodell, who is looking at the possibility of reducing the preseason and expanding the regular season.
Goodell had a meeting planned in Washington with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Goodell said it was more of a get-together than a formal negotiating session. The NFL and the union have been talking about a new labor agreement in hopes of avoiding a lockout in 2011.
"Anytime you're negotiating 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 and the coaches and the game."
Ethan Albright, the Redskins' interim player representative to the union, said this week he was telling his teammates to save up their money because the word from Smith is "the owners are taking all the steps to set up for a lockout in 2011."
"Listen, I think everybody in the NFL wants to play," Goodell said. "The owners want to play, the players want to play. It's our job to get a deal done. That's why I keep saying a lockout is not a strategy, nor an objective. What we want to do is get an agreement that works for the players and the coaches and the game and allows to continue to grow it."
Asked about Michael Vick, Goodell said the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is "making the right kind of progress." Goodell said he will consider Vick for full reinstatement to the NFL by no later than Week 6 of the regular season.
"A lot of those issues I'm focusing on are off the field. How is he dealing with the transition? Does he have his family relocated? Does he have the right people around him helping him make decisions?" Goodell said. "Tony Dungy's been incredibly helpful. Donovan McNabb's been helpful. I talk to Michael on a weekly basis, if not more. I'll be meeting with him again sometime in the near future. ... He's focused on the right things."
Goodell said he's been hearing a lot of questions from players about the league's steroids policy, rules changes, and the possibility of a lockout. An unusual question came from Redskins rookie defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon.
"He was talking about how we have rules to protect the quarterbacks," Goodell said. "And that you need more rules to protect defensive ends."