Monday, February 04, 2008

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

For the second consecutive year instead of being able to write an Insider Report recognizing the announcement that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be honored with enshrinement in the Football Hall of Fame, once again the question is why. Why is one arguably one of the most important people in sports in the last 50 years not being recognized for his accomplishments in building the National Football League into the most powerful economic force in professional sports?

Trying to understand the decision it’s important to know 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 Super Bowl reports) and talk about the names of the finalists.

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.

According to ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli who was one of the 40 involved in the 2007 Football Hall of Fame debate, the discussion surrounding Paul Tagliabue last year lasted 57 minutes longer than anyone else in history.

Somewhat not surprisingly it appears looming NFL labor issues according to Pasquarelli may have played a role in the decision to bypass Tagliabue for the second straight year.

“Confidentiality guidelines preclude making public specifics from the debate on Tagliabue's candidacy. But in general, the possibility that NFL owners will blow up the 2006 extension to the collective bargaining agreement in November likely damaged Tagliabue's candidacy. Tagliabue pushed through the CBA extension in 2006 after months of bargaining.

“In recent weeks, several owners have strongly suggested that they consider the labor agreement too lopsided. If the owners do opt out of the deal, the NFL would face a season without a salary cap in 2010. NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw reiterated this week that if the NFL ever gets to an uncapped season, there will never be a spending ceiling again. Such a move could result in labor chaos.

“Selectors also seemed to indicate that they think Tagliabue -- who presided over a term in which NFL revenues, particularly from its television contracts, increased exponentially -- was not proactive enough in areas such as player discipline and the hiring of minority candidates for head coach positions.

“The debate over Tagliabue's merits wasn't as rancorous as a year ago, when selectors spent a record 58 minutes discussing him. This time, the discussion consumed 41 minutes.”

Notwithstanding – as Pasquarelli pointed it it’s not a matter of if, but when Tagliabue’s long list of accomplishments will be recognized.

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, 1959-2006
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.''

An issue Pasquarelli didn’t mention as to why Tagliabue wasn’t honored Saturday – the former commissioner’s longtime relationship with the media. Yahoo Sports columnist Charles Robinson like Pasquarelli believes the looking labor problems the NFL is facing played a major role but Robinson also suggested Tagliabue’s distain for the media played an important role along Tagliabue’s leadership style as commissioner.

“Tagliabue was more of a reactionary leader, seizing on the downfall of other major sports leagues around him. That doesn't sit well with some voters who saw Pete Rozelle as more of an innovator, who grew the league at a time when other major sports such as baseball and basketball saw flourishing periods.

“Still others offer what has been a far smaller issue – the fact that a spare few voters still hold a grudge against the commissioner for his wooden personality and overall disdain for the media.”

Its unfortunate the Hall of Fame vote and Gene Upshaw’s announcement Thursday that the NFL Players Association are ready to “go to war” with the NFL later this year had to impact Saturday’s decision. Many media pundits have also been very critical of Tagliabue’s relationship with Upshaw (Bryant Gumbel’s 2006 comments on HBO’s Real Sports). And what about the media’s relationship with Tagliabue?

NFL owners stared at the edge of the abyss on March 9, 2006 when they agreed to a six-year CBA extension with the NFLPA. Earlier this month influential Denver Broncos owner told The Rocky Mountain News he expects the owners to opt-out of the current CBA when the opportunity presents itself later this year. (The owners have until November 8, 2008 to inform the players of their intention)

“Cash is an issue in the National Football League. I think it's pretty common knowledge our last labor agreement is not our smartest move, and that we're way beyond, and I'm not talking about just the Denver Broncos, I'm talking about just the league in general . . . we being we collectively, 32 teams, can't live with this deal."

The NFL continues to be a money-making machine. The current broadcast agreement guarantees each NFL franchise $106 million annually in national television revenues alone. One of the keys to the NFL’s amazing growth in broadcast dollars was the 17 years of labor peace Tagliabue’s leadership provided the NFL with.

During Tagliabue’s tenure Major League Baseball lost part of the 1994 season, that season’s World Series and MLB owners where forced to pay the MLB Players Association hundreds of millions of dollars in damages when the MLBPA successfully won a collusion lawsuit against MLB owners. (The MLB owners where levied fines in excess of $280 million dollars.)

During Tagliabue’s tenure the National Basketball Association nearly lost the 1998-99 season to a labor dispute.

During Tagliabue’s tenure the National Hockey League lost their 2004-05 season to a labor dispute and nearly lost the 1994-95 season to another labor dispute.

The bottom line – there where no labor disputes that nearly crippled the National Football League during the 17 years Paul Tagliabue was responsible for managing the affairs of the National Football League. That alone speaks volumes when it comes to his leadership style – he kept the engine going.

As for Tagliabue’s relationship with the media – if that played any factor in the decision shame, shame, shame on those entrusted with the responsibility of deciding who gets in the Football Hall of Fame. Next time leave you “baggage” at the door when you’re decided who deserves to be in the Football Hall of Fame

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN and Yahoo Sports

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