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NFL owners still stuck on revenue-sharing debate

ATLANTA (April 19, 2005) -- NFL owners again found little common ground on the issue of revenue sharing.

How much money the richest teams should share with the smaller market teams continues to stand in the way of progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement with the players.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the high-revenue owners, had a quick response when asked if there had been any progress in the revenue-sharing debate at Tuesday's special meeting at an Atlanta airport hotel.

"None," Jones said.

"We had a lot of good discussion, but not necessarily progress, just good discussion," Jones said.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who is working in the middle ground of the debate, was more optimistic.

"I think it's maybe like a football game," Blank said. "We know we're going to win, but it's not easy. We're still progressing, three yards forward, two back. Four yards forward, three back. I think there is a general consensus building around some ideas, but the devil is always in the details and I think that's where we have to work through some things.

"I absolutely think we are" closer to an agreement, Blank said. But he agreed there is reason for concern, even though the current labor agreement does not expire until 2008.

Owners and players want to avoid the possibility of a 2007 season without a salary cap, which is part of the current CBA, and the longer the owners debate, the less time will remain for negotiations with players.

"We need to focus on peace among the owners," Blank said, adding that New York Giants co-owner Wellington Mara expressed the same concern.

"As Wellington Mara said, we must have peace among the owners before we have peace with the union, and I think that's very, very true," Blank said. "I think unity among the owners is critical."

But the owners are far from unified on revenue sharing. The owners will meet again in Washington on May 24-25, but NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he doesn't expect owners to resolve their internal debate in time to make a deal with the players that soon.

"I don't think that's very likely," Tagliabue said when asked about the possibility of extending the collective bargaining agreement as early as May. "I think that there has been a lot of good work done, but we haven't started to vote on specific proposals and until we do you don't really know where the consensus might be."

Said Blank: "The sooner the better."

Jones and other owners have argued any team that needs to find new revenue can find it through hard work. Others argue that a basic key to the NFL's success has been sharing the riches in order to ensure a continued balance of competition.

Teams at the top of the NFL revenue chain include Dallas, Washington, Houston, New England and Philadelphia. Franchises that enjoy more attractive marketing options than in such smaller markets as Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Green Bay.

"By definition the largest group is in the middle because you've got 22 teams probably in the middle and four or five at the top and four or five at the bottom," Tagliabue said. "I think whatever gets done is going to have to be compromise across the entire spectrum."

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