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Hunt believes new labor proposal good for small-market teams

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sharing a sports complex with Major League Baseball's Royals has given Chiefs owner Clark Hunt a firsthand look at a system that favors the rich.

Since the Royals won the World Series in 1985, dwindling revenues and questionable management have doomed baseball in Kansas City to a quarter-century of last-place futility.

Hunt believes football can avoid that fate if the NFL owners' proposal is approved by the players, because it will ensure there will be a place in the league for teams such as the Green Bay Packers, the Jacksonville Jaguars and his Chiefs.

"It's a very good deal for everybody involved," Hunt told The Associated Press. "It's a good deal for the players. It's a good deal for the National Football League. It's a good deal for our fans, in part because it's a long-term, 10-year deal. It is a good deal for the Chiefs. With this labor agreement, whether you're in a large or mid-sized market, everybody's going to have an opportunity to play for a championship."

The Chiefs, a regional team in one of the smallest television markets in the league, broke through last year with a 10-6 record and their first AFC West title since 2003. But even with sold-out stadiums and lucrative network contracts, teams in places such as Kansas City lack the potential revenue stream from luxury suites and other innovations that have expanded earnings of large-market franchises.

Nevertheless, the new proposal would make sure the Chiefs aren't put at a competitive disadvantage and ensure that historic franchises such as the Packers will have the opportunity to continue competing with teams in high-revenue centers. The Packers will be defending Super Bowl champions this season.

Revenue sharing and the viability of all franchises have been cornerstones of the league since Hunt's late father, Lamar Hunt, helped construct the modern NFL.

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"We've been very blessed in the National Football League to have a structure that allows small-market teams to compete for championships," said Hunt, a member of the owners' negotiating committee. "That was no more evident than this past year's Super Bowl. We've had a structure that works for everybody, and this labor deal will allow all teams to continue to compete, and I think it's a very good deal for the Chiefs and our players."

If players reject the deal, what is the owners' Plan B?

"I would say if that happens, we will cross that bridge when we get to it," Hunt said. "We really didn't contemplate the scenario where the deal was not agreed to. We spent many, many weeks negotiating this agreement. We're hopeful the players are going to be able to ratify it. But I don't want to minimize the complex process they have to go through. It's a very cumbersome and difficult process."

Hunt indicated that receiving a near-unanimous vote of owners to ratify the deal and send it to the players wasn't a simple task.

"I would say it was a long process to get there," he said. "We spent a day and a half locked in a hotel ballroom to get the agreement. There was a lot of information that had to be shared. We had to get the entire ownership comfortable with the agreement. We had to approve a new supplemental revenue sharing plan, and all that's just very difficult to do when you have 32 different clubs and their perspectives. But at the end of the day, I think everybody felt comfortable with the deal."

Owners were hoping to begin the league year early next week, sparking an unprecedented scramble among all 32 organizations to set rosters and sign draftees, free agents and undrafted rookie free agents during the first week of training camp. Whenever that happens, the Chiefs should have plenty of flexibility under the salary cap. With an unusually young team, they were millions of dollars under the cap a year ago.

"We do have some financial capability within the cap," Hunt said.

Even with the greatly abbreviated time period for setting rosters, the Chiefs' plan under third-year general manager Scott Pioli will remain the same.

"Our approach will not change just because of the circumstances we're in. It's going to continue to be a mix of adding good young players, which we felt we did through the draft," Hunt said. "There will be some players who weren't drafted that we'll pursue. I would think there will also be some free agents we will consider. I think it will be a very, very exciting period and a very chaotic period. I've been working with Scott Pioli over the last couple of weeks to get prepared for it.

"When that window does open, there is going to be so much business that has to take place. Obviously, the teams that are better prepared are going to be the ones that come out on top. And I have complete confidence that Scott and his team will be at the forefront."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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