By BARRY WILNER, AP
DANA POINT, Calif. (AP) — America's Team will open its palatial new home this summer, most likely without a naming rights deal.
The NFL trims its staff by 15 percent, commissioner Roger Goodell takes a pay cut, and three-quarters of the teams don't raise ticket prices for 2009.
A new collective bargaining agreement with the players union must be reached in the next year, or the league faces an uncapped 2010 season and perhaps a labor stoppage.
Troubled times are brewing for the NFL.
``It's a different business atmosphere than 20 to 30 years ago,'' Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said Monday. ``Originally, we worried about selling tickets. Now we've got to worry about selling tickets, about keeping media partners happy, operating stadiums, keeping fans happy in the stadium, servicing debts.''
Economics and the CBA are the main topics of discussion at the owners meetings, but resolutions are not forthcoming anytime soon. While the NFL is the most profitable of leagues, with the average team value estimated at $1 billion, it still is surrounded by question marks.
Most notable, of course, is the CBA, which the owners opted out of last year - effective after the 2010 season - saying it favored the players too heavily.
``We need a structure that works long-term,'' McNair said. ``We can't expect the fans to pay more and more and more. We have to hold all our expenses down and labor is just one of them.''
The players get about 60 percent of applicable revenues, and with the league considering expanding the regular season to 17 or 18 games - and cutting out some preseason matches - the NFLPA is not about to consider any substantial cuts in that number.
Plus, the NFL must be sensitive to the problems of its media partners, particularly the TV networks, and of its sponsors.
Consider that when the Dallas Cowboys open their $1.1 billion stadium this summer, it might not have a corporate name on it. With the Cowboys' atop the NFL value list and their popularity so high, selling naming rights would seem an easy chore. Not in this economy, though.
``We're not naive to what's going on in the country and the economic crisis,'' Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said. ``We're very respectful of that now. Obviously, there are some factors when you're opening a new building in this economy.''
The Cowboys reportedly had AT&T lined up for naming rights last year, but that deal has been put on hold.
While Jones didn't want to paint the situation with a broad brush, he noted that many companies are wary of spending millions of dollars for naming rights, especially if they have been trimming staff and seeking government bailouts.
``Obviously there is some sensitivity out there,'' he said. ``I don't know if that holds for every company.''
Goodell acknowledged that a lack of companies able to purchase stadium naming rights ``will have an effect on how our business model is changing.''
The commissioner does not expect an uncapped season to occur next year; the current CBA calls for one.
``I don't believe that will be the case,'' he said, noting the NFL's calendar for a CBA begins in March.
Goodell said he was hopeful a proposal for an expansion of the regular season to either 17 or 18 games could be presented to the owners at the May league meetings in Fort Lauderdale. Implementation almost certainly would not come before 2011.
``I haven't made a decision on whether we'll have a 17-game or 18-game season. We'll have a good feeling on it when we come out of these meetings,'' Goodell said. ``We have to sit down with our partners and go through negotiations. We think our content continues to be more valuable to our partners.''
Goodell also mentioned possibly creating a developmental league: ``I would like to explore that in the next negotiations.''
He noted that nearly three-quarters of the teams did not raise ticket prices this year, and that the NFL has been hit by the economic downturn. The league trimmed its staff by 15 percent and many teams have laid off employees - even as free agents reap millions in guaranteed salary.
``It's definitely hitting us on our revenue side,'' he said of the economy. ``The risk become greater in that kind of a climate and your revenues become challenged. There's a lot of uncertainty out there.''