- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The NFL’s old guard, such as the departing Art Modell, built the league on revenue sharing. That way, tiny Green Bay and massive New York receive equal shares of television money.

The NFL’s new wave of owners, such as Washington’s Dan Snyder and Dallas’ Jerry Jones, want each team to keep a higher percentage of revenues earned locally.

As the league’s owners began pondering some adjustment to their revenue-sharing agreement on the first day of their annual spring meeting, they also saluted Modell, one of the fathers of the concept, whose sale of the Baltimore Ravens to Steve Bisciotti becomes official April8. And the league’s 32 owners voted unanimously to extend commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s contract, due to expire in May 2005, up to three years in part because of the job he has done in boosting the shared revenues from television.

“Paul has taken this league to a new level,” said Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, chairman of the compensation committee.

Tagliabue said the push for more local control was a mere codification of recent league practice and wouldn’t have much impact because revenue from suite sales, stadium signage and naming rights isn’t significant enough and the discrepancies between teams in those areas aren’t large enough to amount a major issue.

Jones, who pioneered the idea of teams being allowed to sell different brands of beer and soda in their stadiums than league sponsors Coors and Pepsi, didn’t disagree.

“It’s pretty dramatically changed from the way it was five years ago, [but] I don’t see business changing much from the way we’re operating today,” Jones said. “It’s kind of a work in progress. … I think as we go forward there will be even more tweaking.”

The 78-year-old Modell cringed at the idea of any more erosion of pooled revenues.

“It’s imperative that we continue to share revenue,” Modell said. “[Snyder and Jones] will never do as well on their own as they do as part of our league package. Every team is only as strong as its fellow teams. What do you think the problem is in baseball, basketball and hockey?”

Modell, who bought the Cleveland Browns for $3.925million in 1961 with just $25,000 of his own money, was asked by commissioner Pete Rozelle at the time to spearhead the league’s nascent television committee. In doing so, Modell forged the revenue sharing concept.

“I told Pete that if I could spend some time with George Halas [of Chicago], Dan Reeves [of the Los Angeles Rams] and Jack Mara [of the New York Giants], I could convince them that it was in their interest to come into a revenue-sharing pool,” Modell recalled. “What persuaded them was that I was willing to give up my independent [TV] network, which was very profitable. Each market represents a fraction of the TV coverage in this country. I would say today to [Owner X], ‘What are you going to do if [the Giants] pull out of the TV package? It would destroy you guys.’ We’ve got to stay together.”

Notes — Facing defeat for a second straight year, Kansas City withdrew its proposal to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. …

Tomorrow’s vote on making instant replay permanent is expected to be close. Competition committee co-chairman Jeff Fisher said there will be more emphasis on preventing downfield contact this season because passing yardage was at its lowest in 11 years in 2003. The committee has proposed that once a punt returner signals for a fair catch, the ball can’t be advanced if it hits the ground and that coaches be allowed to call timeouts without having to ask a player to do so. Practice squads also could be increased from five to eight players with approval of 24 of the 32 teams. …

The season will begin Thursday, Sept.9 with a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game between Indianapolis and New England. Dallas-Minnesota (Fox) and Kansas City-Denver (ESPN) will be that Sunday’s national games, while NFC North champion Green Bay will visit NFC champion Carolina in the “Monday Night Football” opener.

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