Goodell says fans matter most

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / March 23, 2011

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NEW ORLEANS — National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell seemed surprised that anyone would find it strange that 31 of 32 teams, including the Patriots, are demanding payment from season ticket-holders even though the league is currently in a lockout that may stretch for months.

“Very simple — we’re getting prepared to play for the 2011 season,’’ Goodell said yesterday at the conclusion of the NFL’s annual meetings. “We’ve identified policies for refunds if that is necessary.

“Our clubs are in communication with our fans. That’s a positive thing for our clubs, to be communicating with our fans. We’ll continue to do that. They are important to what we are doing, and we want them to know what is going on. They are certainly an important part of what we are doing here.’’

Some fans would likely beg to differ on that point with Goodell, who for the first time since the league’s first work stoppage in 24 years began March 12 fielded questions about the game of which he is the chief steward.

“The most important issue is our fans,’’ Goodell said. “We certainly recognize that our fans want football. They don’t want to read about this. They don’t want to hear about it.

“They want an agreement and they want it done quickly. That is why we say, ‘Let’s get back to mediation and get to that agreement as quickly as possible.’ ’’

Goodell defended the owners’ role in negotiations, which became a point of contention with the NFL Players Association. In its view, the league wasn’t sincerely interested in negotiating since its most powerful people — the nine members of the commissioner’s executive committee — took part in about four days of mediation.

“I was there the entire 17 days. The entire negotiating team was there. We didn’t miss a single moment,’’ said Goodell. “We had owners that were not only available but came in when we felt it was appropriate. We had the full ownership there on the Thursday and Friday as the union pushed away from the table.’’

Were the last two days before the expiration of the CBA adequate?

“We had our entire negotiating team,’’ Goodell said. “Our ownership is acutely aware of every aspect of our negotiations. We kept them informed. We had calls with them. They are very well-informed on the issues and willing to participate at any moment.’’

Goodell also sent a very clear message to the NFLPA: The longer you wait to get back to the negotiating table, the harder it will be for the league to get near its last proposal.

“I’ve said very clearly that the proposal we gave them specifically identifies this to avoid a work stoppage,’’ Goodell said. “Every day that goes by makes it harder and harder to keep the elements in that proposal and so that’s another reason for urgency and to get back to negotiations.’’

Other topics Goodell addressed:

On the possibility of using replacement players: “That hasn’t been discussed. It hasn’t been considered. It’s not in our plans.’’

On the NFLPA staging an alternative draft event in protest of the lockout: “I hope that the players are not put in the predicament of having to make that determination. It’s a great opportunity for them and their families and I hope they get the chance to enjoy it.’’

On the continuation of the conduct policy during the lockout: “I don’t know how it would apply to the players under this circumstance, but it’s something that I feel strongly about, that we owe to our fans.’’

Drafted players will be able to travel to their respective cities for media availability during the draft but will have no further contact with the team once it concludes. Teams will not be allowed to give them playbooks.

Five teams were contacted — before the lockout — for violating the offseason rules barring supervised football activities before the official offseason workout programs start March 14. The NFL didn’t identify those clubs, but the Patriots were not one.

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