NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed frustration Thursday in the lack of negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
During a call with Kansas City Chiefs fans, Goodell reiterated the league's desire to resume negotiations with the locked-out players. The venue is an important distinction and the commissioner and owners have repeatedly accused the players of walking away from negotiations in March, kicking off the federal court fight that has included four days of judge-ordered mediation.
"Unfortunately, I don't think we're making much progress in negotiations because they really aren't happening," Goodell said on the call. "Right now, it's in a litigation phase and the union is pursuing that while we are defending that. Unfortunately, there are not enough negotiations, which ultimately it's going to have to come back to and is where this will get resolved and end in a new collective bargaining agreement."
The next date for court-ordered talks in front of a federal magistrate is May 16.
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told callers that small-market teams such as the Chiefs could be at a competitive disadvantage with big-market teams if the NFL does not adjust to the times.
For an example, Hunt needs only to watch the small-market Kansas City Royals. Unable to match the richer clubs' salary offers for top players the Royals have developed, Kansas City has been shut out of baseball's postseason since 1985.
"It's incredibly important for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs that we have a collective bargaining agreement that is good for all 32 clubs," Hunt said. "We don't want a system that heads in the direction of baseball. We have some concern that this has the potential to go that way. We want a deal that allows our great game to continue to grow."
The 30-minute teleconference produced no fireworks, bombshells or breaking news on the labor dispute which has brought the NFL to a standstill. Goodell has conducted similar question-and-answer sessions with other clubs since the lockout began.
Nevertheless, several fans, identified only by first name, were able to make some points. Joan, a season ticket holder since 1963, was concerned about players' conditioning during the lockout.
"I don't understand how you expect — my husband was a professional football player. But he played back in the days when you didn't get a million dollars and you really aren't worth a million dollars. Sorry," she said to Goodell. "He played both ways and they don't have any players like that any more. But I don't understand how you expect these players to perform when they can't practice. I mean, you have to be in shape to be able to play."
Goodell was sympathetic.
Well, Joan, you're absolutely right," he said. "What we have been focusing on is strength and conditioning vs. the contact drills and we're trying to find the right balance to make sure the players are in the best possible physical condition."
Jack, a season ticket holder from southeast Missouri, told the owner and the commissioner the league could be damaged if the dispute is not resolved soon.
"I'm afraid if this drags into the season, it could have a long-term affect on the league. There's going to be people that aren't going to come back if we lose games," he said. "My question is, what assurances can we have from you guys that we're not going to cook the golden goose?"
Hunt assured him that ownership is eager to return to the bargaining table. And Goodell agreed that "if we're unsuccessful getting this done, it can produce damage."
"Fans don't want to be bothered with the details of all this," he said. "They look to NFL football as being an escape from all these issues. To go and rally behind their teams and to enjoy an experience with their family and friends. That's what we have to keep delivering on."
Gary, another longtime season ticket holder, told Hunt he appreciated the renovations made last year to Arrowhead Stadium but did not like the rising parking fees. Last year, the gate charge was $22 per car.
After thanking the man for his feedback, Hunt had to tell him something he did not want to hear.
"We're going through a very difficult time economically," he said. "There will be a bump in parking prices this year. It's largely driven by a surcharge that Jackson County is adding to our parking prices which was something that was required in our lease when they were negotiated in 2006."
A Chiefs spokesman said parking will go to $27 per car in 2011, with $4.50 of the $5 increase going to the county.