Goodell: 'Serious negotiations' needed

NEW YORK -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indicates the 2011 regular season could be in jeopardy if the league and its players' union don't start "serious negotiations" toward a new labor deal soon.

In an op-ed piece posted Tuesday on NFLlabor.com, Goodell writes: "The hard work to secure the next NFL season must now accelerate in earnest."

Noting that the current collective bargaining agreement expires March 4, Goodell says he "cannot emphasize enough the importance of reaching agreement by then."

Goodell says owners need more money to offset "costs of financing, building, maintaining and operating stadiums." He adds: "We need new stadiums in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego."

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues; under the old deal, the owners receive $1 billion off the top, and they want to increase that to $2 billion before players get their share.

Former players have also weighed in with their concerns.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday, NFL Hall of Famers Jack Youngblood and Bruce Smith asked NFL owners to promise not to lock out players even if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by the time the current one expires at the end of the day March 3.

Youngblood was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, Smith in 2009. Their letter was addressed to "Owners of the National Football League" and sent Jan. 31 to Goodell at league headquarters in New York.

"As former players, it is crystal clear that the vast popularity and financial success of football means that a lock out cannot be in the interest of anybody involved, particularly the fans who support the game," Youngblood and Smith wrote. "We understand the need for both sides to create pressure, but also know that at times it is important to decrease tenor and tone in order for the right deal to be made in a non-emotional atmosphere."

They noted that the players' union already "pledged to not strike."

"By making the parallel commitment," they wrote, "the owners would create the breathing room for a deal to be struck."

That exact wording also was used in a Feb. 7 letter from Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Mark Funkhouser to Clark Hunt, the owner and chief executive officer of that city's NFL team, the Chiefs. Indeed, Funkhouser's two-paragraph letter to Hunt uses phrases throughout that echo the letter to Goodell from Youngblood and Smith.

Mayors or city officials from at least five sites of NFL teams have written letters to the league or a club official to argue against a lockout.

And in yet another letter, the advocacy group Sports Fan Coalition wrote Tuesday to the NFL and union, asking that its leadership be allowed to listen in on bargaining sessions between the sides.

"We are not asking for a seat at the negotiating table -- although we believe fans deserve one -- but merely to be present in the room," the letter said, "so that we may inform fans across the country about the state of ongoing negotiations and ensure that progress is being made towards an agreement that ensures a central consideration of fans."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.