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Fans continue to vote with their feet


Join *Jaguars Inside Report *Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions. Vic:You said earlier today the reason you're in town other than for the game is to see the progress for Super Bowl XXXIX. What have you seen?
Commissioner Tagliabue:Well, to start with, I have seen a lot of very enthusiastic people who are ready to go to work. I think that's critical. I have seen the reasons that existed a year ago when we awarded the game to Jacksonville still exist and we can expect a great game here in 2005.

Vic: What were the things in Jacksonville's Super Bowl proposal that interested you the most?
CommissionerTagliabue:I think it was the fan support for the Jaguars, the NFL and football in general, the quality of the stadium and the prospects of making some additional refinements and improvements to the stadium, and then having a game which would be memorable and people would always see as a unique experience, with cruise ships being part of the accommodations and everything else that could be built around that. Those were the elements that got people excited.

Vic: The pro sports fan was shocked in recent weeks by Major League Baseball's announcement that it is going to undergo contraction in the next year or so. What protects the NFL from contraction?
Commissioner Tagliabue: It starts with the structure of the league. The first key point would be the centralization of television. Everyone gets an equal opportunity on television. Everyone gets equal revenue out of television. The Jaguars, Bills, Saints, Chiefs, Packers and the small markets have the same television revenue as the Bears and the big-city teams. On top of that is the other sharing of revenue, which is more extensive in the NFL than in the other sports. A key piece that has been built in the past decade is the salary cap. It starts with the comparability of revenue and not the equality of revenue. Comparability of revenue puts every team in a position where it spends within a relativity narrow band for players and has to compete on that basis. That is so different, especially form the baseball system. Also, the popularity of the sport in all parts of the country gives us a lot of reasons we can continue to be a 32-team league.

Vic: Is the pooling of revenue still the league's best safeguard?
Commissioner Tagliabue: It's critical. It's not just the pooling of the revenue, but it's the fact that through the league's handling of television, every team, no matter how large or small the market, can become a national attraction on television if it succeeds on the football field. That's big. When the Packers won that Super Bowl four or five years ago, it was a tremendous television audience. It's a tribute to the structure of what the founders of the league put in place and built in the 1960's.

Vic:Do you favor instant replay and what are your plans for improving it?
Commissioner Tagliabue: I favor it and I think the system we have now is seen by most people in the game and the fans as a good balance between getting the calls right on the big plays and not constantly interrupting the game. Like most things that work well in life, there are some compromises. We will continue with it. I think the main thing that can be done is to have people be conversant with the system. The problem we have in getting it right 100 percent of the time is some of these calls depend on micrometers and not on cameras and eyesight.

Vic: The salary cap system is nearly 10 years old. Is it a success?
Commissioner Tagliabue:Most people feel it is. Again, it's a compromise. The main measuring rod is the quality of the game and the competitiveness of the game. The system distributes talent. All of our systems over the years have been designed to distribute talent, starting with the draft. Some people say, well, the cap has gutted some of the dynasties, such as the Cowboys. I don't accept that as a valid criticism because the Cowboys rose and fell under the old system. They were 1-15 when Jerry Jones bought the team under the pre-cap system. We have always had a system to have everyone strong and to give the down teams the advantage of cycling up, which is the concept of the draft. So, with the competition we have now, 25 of the 31 teams sold out every game last year. We have tremendous competition this year and I think that is the basic measuring rod of the system working. The fans seem to vote with their feet walking into the stadium and their viewership on television.

Vic: What are the major issues currently confronting the league?
Commissioner Tagliabue: We feel the big priority is the collective bargaining agreement; keeping it going with the players; keeping a strong relationship with the players' association. We just now completed an extension of the collective bargaining agreement through 2007. We've had good support from the players' association and the players on issues such as the safety of the game and the prohibition of dangerous supplements. Another area is the stocking of the Houston Texans. It was important to have a sensible stocking plan for the Jaguars and the Panthers and the Browns, and we have been working on that. That's a short-term priority. Long term, one of our challenges is to make sure on-line and other new media serve the fans well. We need to take advantage of new media, while not losing the mass audience that we have been able to have through broadcast television. Digital technology and on-line technology, the telecommunications revolution will give us opportunities that will be good if we are smart and could not be good if we are short-sighted.

Vic: Are you concerned about increasing ticket prices?
Commissioner Tagliabue: It's always a concern. It has to be balanced from market to market in terms of income levels and other entertainment offerings. It relates also to where we are in television. We have about one million people a week paying for tickets to get into our games. We have some 125 million watching our games on television. We are the only sport that continues to guarantee all games will be available on free home television. Even the Sunday night ESPN game is on a broadcast station in a market place for the two teams. That comment to broadcast television is very important to our fans. It doesn't mean we can ignore fair ticket pricing, but it does say a lot about how we treat the fans fairly across the board.

Vic: My final question is what are the plans for and its network of team websites?
Commissioner Tagliabue: This is a medium in which the fans can almost define the future of the service. It is evolving all the time. It's interactive. It's a medium that everyone can express his or her opinion through. I think we know what the fans want. They want the opportunity to talk to their heroes. They also, eventually, when band width improves, are going to want highlights. Look over the fence and watch practice on-line, and technology will allow us to do that. I think the fans will enjoy some of those services that will come along as and the team websites come along.

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