Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why isn't Paul Tagliabue in the Football Hall of Fame!

One of the stories that went largely unreported over the weekend was former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s omission as a first ballot nominee for the hall of fame. Guard Gene Hickerson, wide receiver Michael Irvin, guard/tackle/center Bruce Matthews, tight end Charlie Sanders, running back Thurman Thomas, and cornerback Roger Wehrli make up the Class of 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees. Not only wasn’t Tagliabue recognized for his outstanding contributions to the evolution of football as the leading brand in sports, adding insult to injury Tagliabue included on the list of 17 finalists wasn’t included when the 17 finalists where cut down to ten names.

Trying to understand the decision it’s important to understand how one is elected into the hallowed halls of Canton. 40 football writers get together the Saturday before the Super Bowl (you’d think they’d be filing their day before reports) and talk about the names of the finalists. According to ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli who was one of the 40 involved in Saturday’s Football Hall of Fame debate, the discussion surrounding Paul Tagliabue lasted 57 minutes longer than anyone else in history.

To be eligible for the nominating process, a player must have been retired at least five years, and a coach must be retired. Any other contributor such as a team owner or executive can be elected at any time.

Fans may nominate any player, coach or contributor by simply writing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Selection Committee is then polled three times by mail to eventually narrow the list to 25 semifinalists: once in March, one in September, and one in October. In November, the committee then selects 15 finalists by mail balloting.

Nine members of the Selection Committee also serve as a subcommittee known as the Seniors Committee to screen candidates who finished their careers 25 or more years prior. The Seniors Committee then adds two finalists from prior to the modern era, making a final ballot of 17.

The Selection Committee then meets the day before each Super Bowl game to elect a new class. To be elected, a finalist must receive at least 80 percent support from the Board, with at least three, but no more than six, candidates being elected annually.

Pasquarelli doing his very best to ‘report’ on how the Selection Committee without revealing the confidentiality process that all 40 voters agree to, Pasquarelli raised a number of issues relating to Tagliabue. It had taken the late Pete Rozelle eight years to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That makes no sense whatsoever. Rozelle should have been a first ballot electee, Rozelle shouldn’t have had to wait eight years. As wrong as it was to make Rozelle wait, some perverted view of making two of the most important contributors to the development of the National Football League into the biggest brand in sports doesn’t make any sense. (This wasn’t necessarily a belief Pasquarelli had, just an opinion he felt he could share).

Saturday morning’s Hall of Fame debate according to Pasquarelli lasted six hours ended less than 25 minutes before the start of the NFL Network’s 2:30 PM live broadcast window.

It’s interesting to note some of the other suggestions Pasquarelli and others who were involved with Saturday’s vote believe Tagliabue wasn’t honored Saturday. While it’s clear Tagliabue has retired and moved on, the sentiment in the room Saturday was that Tagliabue’s legacy isn’t quite finished and when all is said and done Tagliabue’s last major accomplishment, the newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement, less than a year old may blow-up in the NFL’s face.

Pasquarelli raises one interesting point – 11 months after the CBA was agreed to last March the agreement has yet to have been put to paper. Interesting yes, but in reality the agreement is in fact in place and while a few NFL owners (notably Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson) have publicly voiced their displeasure over the current financial state of their franchise in retrospect to the NFL, the last time anyone checked the NFL’s current television agreements collectively represent $3.75 billion to the NFL’s current 32 owners.

The media (Pasquarelli not being signaled out in anyway) continuously demonstrate a lack of understanding when it comes to the business of sports. The second media person to ask a question during Friday’s State of the NFL press conference, demonstrated the lack of understanding some media members have of the business of the National Football League: “You haven't got revenue sharing,” Goodell answered the question politely but could have simply corrected the person who asked the question: National Football League owners share 83 percent of all league revenues.

In his 17-years at the helm of the NFL, Tagliabue took a business that was running on all cylinders under Pete Rozelle’s leadership, to a business that annually generates $6 billion, an example the entire sports industry should stand and applaud.

When Tagliabue exited the National Football League on September 1, the NFL as a sports property has become a global brand. The league played a regular season game in Mexico City last year, has plans to play a regular season game in London and next year will send the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks to Beijing. And NFL Properties now generates more then $1 billon annually.

Fourteen months into his term as commissioner Tagliabue as he would be forced to deal with the terrible aftermath of The Gulf War, Tagliabue had to consider how the NFL would react to ‘events beyond the scope of football'; Operation Desert Storm. Days after the first President Bush sent Americans into battle, the NFC and AFC championship games where scheduled for Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The following Sunday, the Super Bowl, was scheduled to be played before 75,000 fans in Tampa Stadium.

As he told The New York Times’ Ira Berkow, there was no doubt whatsoever in his thought process as to what the NFL would do.

"We can't be paralyzed as a nation," Tagliabue said, "and can't act out of fear. We have to maintain appropriate respect for the situation, and keep appropriate proportion. So we've decided to play the games, but we're going to follow events right up until the kickoffs. There could be a change at any moment."

A month later, Tagliabue started setting the table for the dramatic moves forward the league has made in increasing their television rights fees. The NFL was in the final year of the league's four-year, $3.6 billion contract with five networks: the Big 3 of ABC, CBS and NBC, and the cable networks ESPN and TNT. The vision Tagliabue had was to develop the NFL as a sports property capable of moving beyond the barriers of offering their games on over-the-air carriers in each NFL market.

"We're thinking of something like a season's-ticket concept," said Tagliabue. "Maybe take an attractive game at the end of September, October, November, and December, a four-game package. You get the fans' attention by putting it on a regular basis, just like you do with 'Monday Night Football.' "

Tagliabue’s idea would be the birth of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the NCAA for both men’s football and basketball each now offer and generate tremendous sources of revenue from a concept first thought of by Paul Tagliabue. The league would wait a few years before moving forward with a ‘season-ticket package’ but it was the NFL who created the opportunity.

The next landmark date during Paul Tagliabue’s tenure took place on January 6, 1993. It took nearly two years, but Tagliabue led the NFL to the finish line with a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. Tagliabue had been beside Rozelle when NFL players went on strike early in the 1987 season leading the owners to use replacement players. Years of litigation followed. Tagliabue was determined to find a solution that didn’t include litigation, a strike, or replacement players.

The key to the NFL’s 1993 CBA, changing the rules of free agency, allowing each team to designate only one player as their franchise player. Every other player could become a free agent once their contract had been completed. The essence of the 1993 CBA remains a key component to the CBA the NFLPA and the league agreed to in March.

Labor peace allowed Tagliabue’s vision of a bigger National Football League to move forward. The league expanded to Charlotte and Jacksonville in 1995 ($140 million for each franchise). The NFL also expanded into Houston ($700 million in 2002) and Cleveland ($540 million in 1999). The four expansion franchises have generated $1.54 billion in expansion fees for NFL owners.

It was Pete Rozelle who convinced NFL owners in 1963 for the good of the league the league’s television rights should be sold nationally with each franchise sharing in the revenues equally. The 32 NFL franchises will each receive $106 million annually for the league’s current TV agreement

September 11, 2001 a date will remain etched in the conscious of everyone who was alive that terrible day. Two days later, Tagliabue made the only decision he could concerning the NFL games scheduled for Sunday, September 16, 2001, the second Sunday of the regular season – Tagliabue postponed the 15 scheduled games.

''We wanted to be sensitive, certain, and right,'' a tired Tagliabue said in a conference call with the news media, ''and certainly not superficial.''

He added: ''At a certain point playing our games can contribute to the healing process. Just not at this time.''

Five hours after Tagliabue announced he was postponing the NFL’s slate of games, Major League Baseball announced they would follow the NFL’s lead and postpone their games for the entire week. All Division I-A college football conferences -- some of which earlier had said they would play that week -- called off their weekend games. NASCAR called off its Winston Cup race in New Hampshire this weekend. In each and every case, it was leadership by example; the sports industry followed the decision Paul Tagliabue believed was in the best interest of the National Football League.

''This was our commissioner's finest hour,'' said Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell to the New York Times. ''He did the right thing. I wanted our league to take the initiative, to be the pace-setter by making the correct decision quickly and decisively. Paul did just that.''

Forbes Magazine released their 2006 Business of Football Report the day before Tagliabue’s last day as NFL commissioner August 31 adding this note relating to Tagliabue’s legacy: This year the average NFL team is worth $898 million, 212% more than when Forbes began calculating team values eight years ago. Look at it this way: Football team values have increased 11 times more than the S&P 500 since 1998. Profitability? In 2005, the average NFL team posted $30.8 million in operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), versus $5.3 million in 1997.

There are currently 17 members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame included in the ”contributors” category:

Bert Bell 1933-1959 -- Commissioner - National Football League, 1946-1959; Team Owner - Philadelphia Eagles, 1933-1940, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1941-1946

Charles W. Bidwill, Sr. 1933-1947 -- Team Owner - Chicago Cardinals, 1933-1947

Joe Carr 1921-1939 -- President - National Football League, 1921-1939

Al Davis 1963-present -- Team Owner - Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1966-present; Head Coach - Oakland Raiders, 1963-1965; Commissioner - American Football League, 1966

Jim Finks 1964-1982, 1986-1992 -- Team Administrator - Minnesota Vikings, 1964-1973, Chicago Bears, 1974-1982, New Orleans Saints, 1986-1992

George Halas 1920-1983 -- Founder/Team Owner - Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1983; Head Coach - Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1929, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, 1958-1967; Co-Founder - National Football League, 1920

Lamar Hunt 1959-present -- Co-Founder - American Football League, 1959; Team Owner - Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1959-present

Earl (Curly) Lambeau 1919-1953 -- Team Founder/Coach/General Manager - Green Bay Packers, 1919-1949; Head Coach - Chicago Cardinals, 1950-1951, Washington Redskins, 1952-1953

Tim Mara 1925-1959 -- Founder/Team Owner - New York Giants, 1925-1959

Wellington Mara 1937-2005 -- Team Administrator/Team Owner - New York Giants, 1937-2005

George Preston Marshall 1932-1969 -- Founder/Team Owner - Boston Braves/Boston Redskins/Washington Redskins, 1932-1969

Hugh (Shorty) Ray 1938-1952 -- Technical Advisor on Rules, Supervisor of Officials - National Football League, 1938-1952

Dan Reeves 1941-1971 -- Team Owner - Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams, 1941-1971

Art Rooney 1933-1988 -- Founder/Team Owner - Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers, 1933-1988

Dan Rooney 1955-present -- Team Administrator/Team Owner - Pittsburgh Steelers, 1955-present

Pete Rozelle 1960-1989 -- Commissioner - National Football League, 1960-1989

Tex Schramm 1947-1956, 1960-1990 -- Team Administrator - Los Angeles Rams, 1947-1956, Dallas Cowboys, 1960-1989; President/CEO - World League of American Football, 1989-1990

Without discussing the merits relating to any of the 17 men who have been honored, nor opening a debate to those who haven’t yet been recognized for their contributions to the growth of football as a sport and as a business, one name on the list of those in the Pro Football of Fame Jim Finks stands in direct relationship to Paul Tagliabue.

Tagliabue replaced Rozelle on October 26, 1989. Tagliabue’s hiring is an often told tale. It took 11 ballots, three ownership meetings in three different cities, and a New York based executive-search firm before the NFL made the best decision the league ever made. Tagliabue was elected on the eleventh and final ballot. The NFL’s old guard was steadfast in supporting Jim Finks, then the vice president and general manager of the New Orleans Saints. The new guard believed Tagliabue was the man to lead the NFL into the 21st century.

''I've had the luxury and benefit of working with Pete Rozelle for 20 years,'' Tagliabue said at a news conference after arriving that fateful afternoon from Washington. ''He's the goal standard for all founders and leaders to come. I hope to have Jim Finks working with me. He called and told me he would be supporting me 100 percent. I told him I wouldn't let him off so easily.''

''I have worked with all of the league and feel no favoritism,'' Tagliabue said. ''I hope now that we can talk about the games and competition instead of the old guard and the new guard. I hope we talk about right guards and left guards rather than that.''

There is little if any doubt in the not too distant future Paul Tagliabue will be honored in Canton and a far greater Hall of Fame related injustice is right around the corner when the Hall of Fame veterans committee votes later this month. In all likelihood Marvin Miller who will turn 90 on April 14 will once again be denied his rightful place in Cooperstown.

In his brief remarks Saturday afternoon when he was introduced to the media as a newly member elected of the Football Hall of Fame, Michael Irvin made it clear he found it impossible to believe after all he had contributed to the growth of the National Football League why Tagliabue wasn’t in the Football Hall of Fame. Think about that for one minute, an emotional Michael Irvin twice disappointed that he wasn’t chosen for the Football Hall of Fame takes the time to recognize Paul Tagliabue. Amazing Michael Irvin understands what greatness represents to the National Football League, the 40 Hall of Fame voters totally miss the task they’ve been assigned too do, elect the right people to the Football Hall of Fame.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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