Meetings: Unfinished business looms

The NFL wants to make sure fans value being at the game as much as possible. The team owners are mulling proposals of flashier scoreboards and perhaps even more live updates. Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

IRVING, Texas -- As always, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell concluded an owners meeting by saying it was productive.

That can't be argued.

During the meetings that concluded Tuesday, the NFL voted in a historic Super Bowl in an open-air stadium in the New York market. The league announced the launch of a responsible drinking program with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Lots of things were discussed.

But lots of issues remain.

Pro football is a year-round business, and labor problems and concerns will lead to plenty of anxiety as a potential lockout approaches for the 2011 season. This spring meeting, though, did help to focus on some of the league's unfinished business.

Here are some of the main items of unfinished business left on the NFL's agenda:

1. Naturally, getting moving on a collective bargaining agreement heads the priority list. Goodell said a negotiating session is scheduled for June. With the American Needle case out of the way, both sides can concentrate on collective bargaining as opposed to antitrust debates. The latest twist in labor talks involves a huge debate over the value of the credits owners claim should be deducted from the players' share of revenues. These credits are what owners consider investments in the game: stadium loans, capital improvements, etc. Over the past few months, according to sources, the NFL opened a portion of its books to itemize each credit cost. The NFLPA labeled that information as "aggregate" number reports, and even though it is more information than has been provided to the players in the past, it's not a clear opening of the books. The league's books will never be opened completely for the players union's perusal. For all the debating of words and concepts, the entire labor issue ultimately comes down to a bottom-line agreement on the cost of running the sport. Unfortunately, it might take the tension of a lockout to get both sides focused on the urgency of a resolution.

2. No decision has been formalized on whether the league will expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games, but by August, the NFL might have a clearer picture.
The feeling coming out of the owners meetings is that the league will end up with an 18-game schedule. The high-revenue owners favor that scenario, and Goodell clearly is unhappy with an uninteresting four-game preseason. "It's been very clear to us from not only our fans but also from our players that the quality of the preseason and the desire to participate in preseason is not at the level it should be," Goodell said. "We have to address that issue, and I expect we will be doing that at the August meeting." Like it or not, the NFL probably will end up with an 18-game schedule in the future if it can get labor peace.

3. By August, the NFL wants to select an owner for the St. Louis Rams, and the odds have shifted to minority owner Stan Kroenke getting the team. New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, head of the finance committee, tipped the scales in Kroenke's favor by saying that the league and the owners like Kroenke. Why not? He's run successful hockey and basketball franchises in Denver. He's been a model minority owner of the Rams. And he's worth $6 billion. By August, the league should be able to adjust its cross-ownership rules to give Kroenke full control of the Rams.

4. Ticket sales are a big concern, but Goodell assured everyone Tuesday he doesn't expect an increase in blackouts in 2010. "We're still in a challenging environment," Goodell said. "There is still a lot of uncertainly out there in our fans' minds. That's reflected in their willingness to commit to season tickets. We're having to work harder and spend more resources to get our fans to engage, whether it's on a season-ticket basis or smaller game packages or individual game packages or group sales." The economy is tough. Ticket prices are higher. But economically, the sport is healthy.

5. The three biggest stadium worries are in San Diego, Minnesota and Jacksonville. Chargers owner Dean Spanos continues to scramble to get his city to help construct a stadium near Petco Park. A grand jury recently said that Qualcomm Stadium will lose $11.8 million or $17 million annually, depending on how you view the numbers. Clearly, it's time for a new stadium, or San Diego risks losing the Chargers to the Los Angeles area. Minnesota could also lose the Vikings. The Vikings' lease is up at the end of the 2011 season, and a recent poll showed 64 percent of the state's residents oppose funding a new stadium. The thought is that Vikings ownership might have to wait for a new governor to enter the picture and push to get a stadium. As for Jacksonville, it's not a lease problem or a stadium issue. It's ticket sales. Jaguars fans have to show they want to keep the team in the next several years.

6. Finding ways to appease multitasking young fans are priority assignments for teams. Goodell recognizes that a new type of fan is vital to the long-term success of the game. No longer are fans content just to sit in the stands, wear team colors and cheer. They want more, and Goodell wants to give them more. He knows young fans can sit at home, watch games, text, keep up with fantasy updates on their phones and watch every game. He wants fans to experience the thrill of live football and mix it with the advanced technology.

"The in-stadium experience," Goodell calls it.

"This would include bringing new technology -- content like the RedZone Channel -- into our stadiums to make it a better experience for our fans," he said.

7. Player safety is also a big concern, and the topics don't just include concussions. Equipment, in general, is a huge piece of unfinished business. Helmets are being independently tested to see how they prevent concussions, and one of Goodell's pet projects regards padding. What worries him is that many players won't wear the maximum amount of padding because it doesn't look good. He sees defensive linemen wearing the equivalent of quarterback shoulder pads because they don't like the appearance of wider, thicker pads. Fewer players are using hip, knee and shoulder pads because they don't feel as though they look good in them. By 2011, the NFL plans to implement an enhanced league-wide standard for equipment. Goodell might make it mandatory for players to wear those extra pads.

"There are prototypes currently from some of our manufacturers of a one-piece unit that would have hip pads, thigh pads and knee pads all in one," Goodell said. "You could have rib pads and additional padding in the shoulder area with performance wear underneath the shoulder pads."

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.