The owners obviously were very informed on these negotiations. Jeff Pash led the negotiations for close to a year, and there were regular updates to the ownership that Jeff would provide. We had four owners that were primarily involved in at least advising Jeff and also who participated in some of the negotiating sessions going back a few months ago. But I think the dynamics were that there were strongly-held views about certain aspects. We certainly wanted to make sure we could do everything necessary in this agreement to improve officiating for the long-term and to make it better. There were strong views toward issues like full-time officiating; creating a pool of developmental officials. The owners felt strongly that the pension program was something that needed to be addressed, that we needed to get into a defined contribution program as opposed to a defined benefit program. Of course, the officials also had strong views. When you have that kind of a conflict, it is a process. The owners and the officials were respectful. I got much more engaged probably a month ago and understood what the dynamics were and what the conflicts were. These things don’t get resolved quickly. The Monday night game – we were in such intensive negotiations over the last three weeks that it may have pushed the parties further along, but we were really in intensive negotiations for the last two weeks.
On what was learned from this experience, if anything:
You try to learn from every experience. They key thing is when there is conflict, sometimes it takes time to resolve. What you have to do is make sure you respect the principle points of the two conflicting parties and make sure you get the long-term agreement that is respectful to both sides, and it can create a win-win situation. You don’t want to enter into a bad agreement for either side. The fact that we came out of this with an eight-year agreement is important. We will continue to be able to improve officiating. That is good for the game. That is our primary concern – making sure we get what is good for the game here. Obviously when you go through something like this it is painful for everybody. Most importantly, it is painful for our fans. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but it is something that in the short-term you sometimes have to do to make sure you get the right kind of deal for the long-term and make sure you continue to grow the game.
On how he would assess the cost of using replacement officials for three weeks in order to get the right deal:
You always have costs for the short-term, but you sometimes have to experience that to get to the right place for the long-term. That is always a painful thing, but you have to sometimes do that. In this case, we were not going to shut down football. We wanted to make sure we delivered football, so we had to be prepared with the replacement officials. It got us closer to the point where both parties were able to make the necessary compromises and get to the position where we could get an agreement that worked for the long-term. That is really where we got to. It is really painful in the process, but that is what labor-management disputes normally result in.
On if logistically getting the deal done last night allowed the locked-out officials to be on the field for Thursday’s game and if that was important with consistency for the games this weekend:
Both parties probably felt comfortable that there was an agreement near eight o’clock last night. We discussed how we would get back onto the field. Of course, I was very interested in getting [the locked out officials] back to the field as quickly as possible. The logistics of being able to do that within 24 hours and getting back on the field were challenging. I think both parties worked very hard to make sure that got done in the right way. Reaching out to Gene [Steratore], which was a crew we identified – the union was also involved with that. We reached an agreement that ensures that all of the games will have the regular officials back on the field. That is good for football.
On Gene Steratore:
It is great that he will be doing the game. He was anxious to do it. He stood up quickly and said that he was ready to go. That is a real tribute not just to Gene and his crew but to the officials in general, that they wanted to get back on the field and wanted to do what they love doing and make a contribution to the game. That is a tribute to them.
On if the officiating mistakes Monday are acceptable for the NFL:
I would start with the fact that life is not perfect, and unfortunately neither is officiating. Unfortunately, mistakes occur. That is something that has happened in the past and unfortunately will happen in the future. The point you want to try to get to is to limit those mistakes and create consistency in officiating. Some of the things that we are now going to be able to focus on in a positive way – like full-time officials on a limited basis, like having a resource or developmental pool of officials – will allow us to train, improve officiating, and do the things that are going to be necessary to limit those mistakes, because they do happen. We have brought technology in the game with instant replay and have different approaches in trying to limit those mistakes. But it is not realistic to thing that officiating is going to be perfect.
On his reaction to Monday’s game and where he was:
I was home. When you see any controversial play when you work at the league office – I have been doing this for 32 years now and we like to say at the league office we are rooting for the officials – we want to see the games properly officiated. You want to make sure that controversial plays are not factors in games. But that is not reality. It happens. It has happened frequently in our history, and unfortunately it will happen again. When it happens, you feel for all of the people involved. You want to make sure that we properly communicate what the decisions were on the field. We immediately went in to focusing on that and making sure that people understood at least what was called and how it was called and make sure our fans understood that.
On if the NFL considered having replacement refs on the field a player safety issue:
I would say that we look at everything through the lens of player health and safety, and try to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure that we are doing what is necessary to make the game safer. I do not believe that this put any greater risk to player health and safety. There is no data to back that up. We obviously have all kinds of backup systems that exist when you are using either replacement or regular officials such as film review, where we evaluate intensively every play of every game. From time to time, plays are missed where we think calls should have been made and discipline can follow – even when the call is not made on the field. Discipline can follow that can be in the form of a fine or suspension. So that happens. But these officials were trained for three months with a very intensive focus on making sure that player health and safety was their first priority.
On if any league partners and sponsors expressed concern about what the replacement refs were doing to the image of the game:
No, they didn’t. Obviously I spend a great deal of time talking to our partners, and there are a lot of people that have an influence on me that called during the last month or so – players, coaches, CEO’s and business partners – that always give helpful advice and are influential on me in at least my thinking in keeping the perspective of the game and the big picture of how we continue to make sure our brand is strong for the long-term and our game is strong for the long-term. Those perspectives are critically important, and I appreciate them. It is part of not only partnership, but relationships in helping you to think through and how to find solutions to what are very complex problems.
On if he was taken aback by the level of the firestorm in the aftermath of Monday night’s game:
No, I would not say that. I have come to learn in the NFL, particularly with the popularity of the game and the influence it has on today’s society – not much surprises me about what happens in the NFL and the influence and attention that it gets. Again, that is a reaction not only of our passionate fan base, but this moved quickly into mainstream media. That is a signal of the influence of the game in today’s society.
On what grade he would give the replacement officials and how he feels they performed:
That is one thing I do not have in my job duties is grading our officials, either the replacement officials or the regular officials. We obviously have a crew doing that. I would say the folks on the field during the last three weeks were under unprecedented scrutiny. Everything they did, every call, was magnified. They kept the game going. They worked hard. They trained hard. They were incredibly focused and dedicated. We were allowed obviously by their services to make sure the game continued to go and get to the point where we had a resolution and get the regular officials back on the field. I thank them for that dedication. But I am also glad that we can move forward and get on to focusing on football.
On if he would say that Monday’s controversial call was an interception and not a touchdown:
The first mistake that was made on that play was the pass interference and the fact that they did not call offensive pass interference. That clearly was a mistake. I have not had the opportunity to look through it with our officiating department because I have been in negotiations almost non-stop since the game. Their view was that on the field, when you have a call that close, that it stays with the officials on the field. Replay was not in a position to be able to get evidence that they think was sufficient to overturn it. That is a close call. Those are decisions that our officiating department will make. They felt that standing behind the officials’ call was the appropriate thing, and I will stand behind that.
On if he believes part of the outrage was created by not saying the pass was intercepted:
That is the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating, that there are controversial calls and people see them differently. I understand that. That is the beauty of sports.
On if he feels the deal they got could have been struck in August and the damage done to the shield the last two weeks:
When you have a conflict and you have different views and you are making significant changes to an agreement – which clearly occurred in this agreement – some were economic, like the pension program and the changing of that. That is a dramatic change, and not easy. The owners felt strongly that the defined benefit pension program needed to be changed to a defined contribution. They were willing to make a change into the defined contribution program to replace that. But that was a very strongly-held view that we needed to do that. We were able to find a compromise that made sense that the process would occur over a five-year period. I think that is intelligent and a good move. We felt very strongly about full-time officials and starting to move into that on a limited basis, having a pool of officials that we can develop. So there are some strongly-held views from a principle standpoint, and then obviously there are other issues that you are always prepared to work to compromise on that I think are important to be able to do. But you have to make sure it works for both parties. The economics had to work for the officials and for the owners. You can’t always force an agreement at a particular time. That is the frustrating thing about labor-management negotiations or any dispute or any conflict – you can’t always force it. You have to move people to a place that they are comfortable making the kinds of concessions and long-term commitments that are going to be necessary that improve our game for the long-term. I think that is where it got to.
Unfortunately, it happened after three weeks, which goes to the second part of your question. You obviously want to try to avoid this situation. All parties worked hard to try to avoid it, but we had to keep the game of football going, and you had to get to the point where people were prepared to make those kinds of concessions. In the short-term, that is difficult, and we are sorry for our fans that had to go through that or other people that had to be carried through that period of time. But it is unfortunately part of getting to a long-term agreement that makes sense. Both parties worked hard over the last three weeks – intensively, to the point of exhaustion – in getting this resolved for the good of the game. I appreciate the officials doing that, I appreciate the owners doing that and I appreciate both negotiating teams. It was intensive and it was a lot of hard work.
On if the NFL gained enough economically by ending the pension plan after five years:
You’re focusing on one specific issue rather than the broader. This wasn’t all about economics. Clearly, as I said, pension was one of those economic issues, but we’ve discussed getting to the point of full-time officiating. That was one of the last items discussed last night. It’d been discussed several times, but that was the last piece of the agreement allowing us to move into full-time officiating on a limited basis and to be able to do that in a way that was constructive for the officials, but also going to help improve the game for the long-term. It’s new. It’s different. It’s going to be something that we’re going to do with the officials in being able to talk to them, but I think that’s a positive development, same with creating a pool of officials. I think that’s a critical thing to be able to develop younger officials, give them the experience, give them the training so they can come onto the NFL field and make the contributions that they want to make and improve officiating.
They weren’t all economic issues. There’s no question in my mind that the owners didn’t go into this thinking that they were going to try to approach this negotiation from saving money. They wanted to make sure that the right kind of agreement was struck. It was going to allow them to continue to not only manage officiating, but also manage their business in an appropriate fashion.
On it being easier to get a deal done if the economic issues were not a part of the negotiations:
That’s the difference. Those are all issues that you have to address in negotiations. On principle issues, you don’t always compromise quite as quickly. On issues where you have some flexibility – economics is an example – that was very important to the officials. It was important to the owners, but I think the owners were much more focused on making sure that the system, the overall agreement worked and I think the officials were also in the same place. You have to respect the different perspectives and try to reach an agreement.
On how much more the NFL offered to get a deal compared to their offer in August:
I think several things changed there. I think the economics are relatively close. There were compromises, obviously, during that period of time, but the big issue probably was the length of the deal. You were discussing a five-year deal there and now, we have an eight-year deal. When you have that kind of long-term deal, it makes it easier for you to make some concessions, particularly on the economics, because that gives everybody long-term stability.
On the pool of officials:
It was never about adding the pool and having that calculated in the cost of officiating. That is a cost that we always knew of. Training officials and having full-time officials was going to be a cost outside of their actual compensation. The question, and it gets into a little bit of specifics, is when one of those officials from the pool comes onto the field, they are going to be paid within that pool and at the same levels and become a member of the union as the other officials. We are going to be paying the other officials at different rates. That’s our decision as management and we will make those decisions as we go, but they will be paid outside the pool to our current officials.
On how the process of grading and changing officials reflected in the deal:
No. From a broad standpoint, I’d say that the management rights and the commissioner’s authorities, those areas of the Collective Bargaining Agreement did not change at all. That continues to be something that would be management’s prerogative to do what they think is necessary to improve officiating. Obviously, there’ll be a great deal of reach out to the union to get their perspective and to understand the officials’ perspective of how to make these changes that, ultimately, we think will improve the quality of the game.
On what he would say to some of the Packers players after Monday night and the possibility of the game result coming back to haunt them in making the playoffs:
Again, I just go back. I’ve been in touch with a couple of the Packers. I understand the frustration. We get that. Unfortunately, on a regular basis here throughout any season when there are controversial calls, particularly as you point out the importance of each game, that’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for the players. It’s frustrating for the coaches, the teams and our fans. I understand that after 32 years. It’s particularly intensive, obviously, because replacement officials were on the field. We get that and we understand it. Certainly, it is something that we want to do everything to make sure that the officiating going forward will avoid mistakes, but it’s not practical. Officiating is imperfect and we’re going to have mistakes, whether they’re replacement officials or regular officials, it will happen on the field. You just got to do everything you can to limit that. I think that anybody in sports, whether you’re a fan; player; coach; commissioner; you understand that. It’s just part of sports.
On if he is concerned at all about there being any long-term damage from Monday night:
I think it’s broader than that on anything. I think you’re always worried about the short-term impact on your brand and the long-term impact on your brand. Obviously, this has gotten a lot of attention. It hasn’t been positive and it’s something that you have to fight through and get to the long-term. That’s what we’ve been able to do by getting to an eight-year agreement. We always are going to have to work harder to make sure we get people’s trust and confidence in us. We’re going to have to work harder to do that and we will. I think this agreement and getting it behind us and now moving back into football, improving officiating, making sure we do the kind of things that have made the NFL great, that’s a positive thing for us and we look forward to moving on to that.