Goodell visits Packers' shareholders, highlights NFL's concerns

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As the only NFL team required to disclose financial information to the public, the Packers have become Exhibit A amid rising tensions between owners and players over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Just don't expect other teams to open up their books in an attempt to make the owners' case.

Visiting the Packers' annual shareholder meeting Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters that the players' union already has enough financial information to understand why owners believe the current system doesn't work.

"Somebody reminded me recently that there are seven pages in our collective bargaining agreement that are dedicated just to audit rights," Goodell said. "They have a tremendous amount of information to be able to make the decisions they need about what we're going to do to create a new system that works for everybody."

Packers shareholders -- fans who own a tiny stake in the team, although it doesn't pay dividends or appreciate in value -- certainly were happy with the information they received from Goodell on Thursday.

While other sports commissioners often are booed when they go out in public, Goodell was met with warm applause as he walked toward a stage set up on the field.

Immediately after the team's financial presentation to about 8,300 shareholders seated in Lambeau Field, Goodell stayed on stage to answer presubmitted questions from fans. One asked if she could have a hug, just like players get at the NFL draft. Goodell said yes, so Beth Lohr of De Pere, Wis., went on stage and embraced the commissioner.

In all, Goodell appeared to enjoy his trip.

Speaking at an NFL Network fan forum inside the Lambeau Field atrium Thursday afternoon, he remarked to a fan wearing a split half-Vikings, half-Packers No. 4 jersey, "You're really mixed up, aren't you?" He also led fans in a chant of "go Pack go," then joked that it might get him fired.

But if the players and owners don't agree on a new collective bargaining agreement done, there might not be NFL football at Lambeau -- or anywhere else -- in 2011.

"Listen, we're so far away from that," Goodell said. "We have an entire season of football, and a lot of negotiations. We have a lot of work to do, but a long time to get it done. And I think there's a desire on everybody's part."

There are serious disagreements, too.

The Packers say this year's numbers underscore owners' concerns about the league's existing agreement. According to team president and CEO Mark Murphy, player costs have risen twice as fast as revenue gains over the past four years.

The Packers posted an operating profit of approximately $9.8 million in the fiscal year that ended March 31, down from $20.1 million the previous year. Taking into account investment losses that were less severe, the team reported net income of approximately $5.2 million, up from $4 million.

Local revenues are leveling off -- a problem that Murphy acknowledges the team must work to resolve itself, potentially by an expansion of Lambeau and developing businesses nearby.

While other teams aren't opening their books, Murphy and Goodell say they are experiencing similar issues.

"We need to see changes to the system," Murphy said. "I think our financial statement really highlights some of the issues that the Packers and other teams have."

That's not sitting well with the players, who say they don't see a problem with the current system based on the information they have. And they're asking for more.

"It's 1/32nd of the financial information we've requested in response to their demand that we give back $1 billion and increase our risk of injury by playing two additional games," NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae said earlier this month, after the Packers released an early overview of their financial report.

Players currently receive a certain percentage of the league's revenue -- but at this point, even that number is in dispute.

The widely cited figure is that players receive approximately 60 percent of total revenue. But the union disputes that number, saying the definition of total revenue doesn't take into account approximately $1 billion in "expense credits" to the league and owners. Taking that money into account, the union says players really receive about 50 percent of all league revenue.

Fans, meanwhile, aren't necessarily taking sides. But shareholders did seem pleased with the issues Goodell spoke about Thursday.

Goodell reiterated the league's desire for a new rookie salary structure and better benefits for retired players. He wants to see players wear more and better padding, saying the league would work with players to try different pads during training camp.

Goodell also talked up the so-called "enhanced" schedule, which potentially would add two regular-season games and take away two preseason games.

Goodell acknowledged that players aren't necessarily thrilled with the idea of two more games, adding that owners could offer to limit offseason workouts, training camp and practices.

"I'm not surprised at all by those reactions," Goodell said of players' objections. "I've spoken to several of those individuals. It's getting people to understand what we're trying to create, how we build a better game, what other things we need to change. And I think we need to make sure the players are informed about that."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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