KANSAS CITY, Mo. —NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt tried to be upbeat Thursday about the league's labor situation and the prospects for a full 2011 season during a half-hour, question-and-answer conference call with Chiefs season-ticket holders.
But they both sounded warnings about the possibility of a post-lockout NFL world that would abolish the draft and create an economic free-for-all, making it difficult for small-market teams such as the Chiefs to compete.
Such a world is possible, they said, if owners and players can't agree on a new collective-bargaining agreement — negotiations are now at a standstill and the sides haven't met for two weeks — and the players prevail in their lawsuits.
The players have said that if the lockout were to result in a lost season, it would do irreparable damage to them because their playing careers are so short. The players have a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NFL pending before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minneapolis. But the legality of the lockout has essentially become the fight for now, and both sides are arguing in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis over whether Nelson has jurisdiction in the case and the notion of irreparable harm.
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"It's incredibly important for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs that we have a collective-bargaining agreement that's good for all 32 clubs," Hunt said. "We don't want a system that heads in the direction of (major-league) baseball. We have some concerns that it has the potential to go that way."
Goodell said, "There are several issues that need to be addressed just beyond economics in the collective-bargaining agreement that are important to you as fans in making sure that the game you want to support and the game you want to be a part of continues to be a great game and continues to be competitive, that the Kansas City Chiefs have the same economic ability to be competitive against the New York Giants or the Chicago Bears or any other large market (team).
"Those are systems we've got to make sure we maintain, a system where when we come into a season, every fan thinks their football team has a chance to win the Super Bowl."
The Chiefs said more than 3,000 season-ticket holders listened to the conference call. Together, Goodell and Hunt answered 11 questions from an audience that was mostly friendly, given the fact the 2011 season is in peril. The Chiefs said they didn't screen questions.
Questions covered a range of topics. Some highlights of their answers:
Goodell said he understood the aggravation of fans with the lockout.
"I know this is a difficult period," he said. "We all share your frustration with the inability to get a new labor agreement done and the uncertainty that's there.
"Fans just want football. If we're unsuccessful in getting this done, it can produce damage. Fans don't want to be bothered with the details of this. They look to football and NFL football in particular as being an escape from all of these issues."
Responding to a question about the Chiefs' inability to do more to help their offensive line in the recent draft, Hunt pointed to second-round pick Rodney Hudson. Hunt called Hudson, "perhaps Florida State's greatest offensive lineman ever."
"Clearly, at some point, we'll have an opportunity with both college free agents and also pro free agents to bolster the line as well," Hunt said, "I understand your concern. It is an area we're focused on. We took one step in the draft with Rodney, but I think you'll see some more moves as we move into free-agency."
Asked why fans must pay full price for preseason games, Goodell said the owners would prefer an 18-game regular season and reduce the preseason to two games. But he never said why the league insists on fans paying full price for exhibition games.
Goodell said the NFL had set no specific date for delaying the start of the season or canceling games if the lockout continues.
"There's some flexibility (in the schedule) if you took away bye weeks or reduced (to a) week between the championship games and the Super Bowl," he said.
He also repeated earlier statements about the possible use of replacement players.
"We have not had any discussion about replacement players," Goodell said. "It's not part of our strategy or thinking. We've been focused on trying to get a labor agreement."
To Hunt on changes made by the Chiefs in recent seasons, Goodell said: "I salute you in the sense of what you've done with the organization in putting your own stamp on it. You brought in great people, including Scott Pioli and a great new coaching staff. You're doing everything to make sure the fans experience is great for our fans.
"At our annual meeting, we recognized the Chiefs as one of three teams that have greatly improved their fan experience. Their focus on doing that (and) their work to be responsive to fan concerns are at the top of the list."