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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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Bowl XLII – Spygate everywhere on Super Sunday

On what should the crowning achievement of one of the greatest single seasons by any team in sports history the New England Patriots poised to win Super Bowl XLII and become the second team in NFL history to go through an entire NFL season undefeated; instead find themselves having to deal with the continued fallout from Spygate. After the Patriots opening weekend win at Giants Stadium against the New York Jets, Jets head coach (and former Patriots assistant coach) Eric Mangini charged the Patriots with stealing his teams’ singles.

On September 10, Belichick was accused by the Jets of authorizing his staff to film the Jets' defensive signals from an on-field location, a violation of league rules. The Jets confiscated the video camera used by video assistant Matt Estrella to film the signals during the game and filed a complaint to the league office, detailing the accusations.

Two days later, Belichick issued a statement "to apologize to everyone who has been affected," and also stated that he spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about Belichick's "interpretation of the rule." Page 105 of the 2007 NFL "Game Operations Manual" states, "No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game...All video shooting locations must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead." Belichick stated that he believed that if footage so collected was not used during the game, its collection was legal, as the NFL Constitution and Bylaws stipulate that "...any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited...that might aid a team during the playing of a game."

There have been suggestions that the videotaping goes back at least to the Patriots first Super Bowl winning season of 2001. An unknown source reported that the Patriots secretly videotaped the Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, a game in which they narrowly beat the heavily favored Rams.

On September 13, Belichick was officially fined $500,000–the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in the league's 87-year history, and the maximum permitted under league rules. The Patriots were also fined $250,000. Additionally, the Patriots forfeited their first round draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. If the Patriots had missed the playoffs, they would have instead forfeited their second and third round selections in the 2008 draft. Goodell said that he fined the Patriots as a team because Belichick is effectively the team's general manager as well as head coach, and exercises so much control over the Patriots' on-field operations that "his actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club." Goodell considered suspending Belichick, but decided that taking away draft picks would be more severe in the long run. The Patriots officially clinched their fifth straight AFC East title on November 25, in the process becoming the first NFL team to be docked a first-round pick. However, Goodell allowed the Patriots to keep the high first round pick that the team obtained in a 2007 trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

Belichick later issued a statement in which he apologized for what he called a "mistake" in his interpretation of the rules. However, he denied ever using videotape to gain an advantage while a game was underway.

On September 16, Goodell ordered the Patriots to hand over all notes, tapes, and other materials related to the incident, threatening further discipline if the Patriots did not comply. On September 20, the NFL announced they had received and destroyed the requested materials, but never revealed there contents.

Much of the talk surrounding Spygate died down towards the end of September, with the notable exception of some ill-conceived remarks from Hall of Fame coach Don Shula on November 6. Shula was the head coach for the 1972 Miami Dolphins the only team to go through an entire NFL undefeated, a feat the Patriots hope to accomplish today.

Shula said, "The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished. You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it. ...I guess you got the same thing as putting an asterisk by Barry Bonds' home run record. I guess it will be noted that the Patriots were fined and a number-one draft choice was taken away during that year of accomplishment. The sad thing is Tom Brady looks so good, it doesn't look like he needs any help."

Patriots’ defensive end Richard Seymour responded, saying "I really don’t pay too much attention to it...Nothing that I’ve done or I’ve seen this team do should have an asterisk by it."

Safety Rodney Harrison also dismissed the comments: "It really doesn’t matter. We have a lot of respect for [Shula] and he’s entitled to whatever he thinks. It just doesn’t matter."

After New England completed the regular season unbeaten, Shula commended the Patriots for doing "a great job concentrating on each week's opponent and not letting any other distractions interrupt that focus."

That was until political opportunism reared its ugly head Thursday.

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, commented on the incident and the NFL and Roger Goodell's decision to destroy the video tape evidence to the New York Times.

“That requires an explanation,” Specter told The New York Times. “The N.F.L. has a very preferred status in our country with their antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game. It’s analogous to the C.I.A. destruction of tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed.”

Specter was quoted in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as saying, "I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes."

Specter also said he could call Goodell to attend a congressional hearing on the league's antitrust exemption (not the first time Specter has made that particular threat), at which time Goodell would also be asked to comment on the destruction of the tapes received from the Patriots. Congress maintains the right to subpoena Goodell and further investigate the situation because under this antitrust exemption, the NFL is a federally regulated monopoly subject to the oversight of Congress.

According to The New York Times report Specter first wrote Goodell on November 15. A month later having not heard from Goodell Specter wrote a second letter to Goodell.

Joe Browne, the N.F.L.’s executive vice president for internal affairs, told the New York Times, “The irony is that we have been in contact with the senator’s office several times in recent weeks.” He added that “the issue of these letters was not discussed.”

Mr. Specter called Mr. Browne’s response “untrue.”

“It’s the same old story,” Mr. Specter said in the New York Times report. “What you did is never as important as the cover-up. This sequence raises more concerns and doubts.”

That led to Friday’s annual NFL commissioner (Roger Goodell’s) State of the National Football League address and question and answer period. With many important issues needing to be addressed – Goodell was forced to defend his actions in regard to Spygate throughout his 45 minute press conference – leading off with the question of the Patriots legacy in the midst of Spygate and Senator Specter’s actions.

“I don’t think it taints their accomplishments. The action that we took was decisive and it was unprecedented. It sent a loud message to not only the Patriots, but every NFL team that you should follow the rules and you better follow the rules. I think what they did this season was certainly done within the rules on a level playing field. I think their record is extraordinary. As we all know, it’s never been done before at 18-0. I think they should be congratulated on that.

“As it relates to Senator Specter, of course I am more than willing to meet with the senator. I think there are very good explanations for the reason why I destroyed the tapes or had them destroyed by our staff. They were totally consistent with what the team told me. There was no purpose for them. I believe it was helpful in making sure our instructions were followed closely, by not only the Patriots, but also by every other team. I think it was the appropriate thing to do. Our discipline sent a loud message, and I think the team should be congratulated on their success.”

This isn’t the first time Senator Specter has set his sights on the National Football League. On December 8, 2006 Senator Specter suggested Specter said he would introduce a bill in the new Congress that would repeal the NFL’s antitrust exemption under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.

He claimed that he wasn’t afraid to tackle the commercially and politically powerful NFL. “I think I’ll have a lot of company, and that is the football fans of America, who are being gouged,” he added after chairing a hearing on sports-programming issues.
Senator Specter represents the State if Pennsylvania – the home of Comcast Communications one of three major cable carriers who refuses to heed to the NFL’s demands the NFL has set for the NFL Network.

The NFL’s cable-carriage demands have upset Specter. "This is the NFL exerting its power … right down to the last nickel,” he told Multichannel News in November 2006.

During his press conference Friday Goodell was asked about the state of the negotiations between the NFL and Comcast.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any new negotiations. We believe that the NFL Network is very important to us. It’s an important strategy. It’s giving more fans more football. It promotes us on a 24-7 basis, 365 days of the year and it’s high-quality programming. It deserves to go to a broader audience. Very few of the cable operators, two or three of the largest cable operators, want to put it on the sports tier, which we don’t believe is the right thing for our fans. They’re just finding another way which they can charge our consumers more money. We think it should be available on a broader basis. We think it’s pretty clear that the demands of the NFL are much broader than a sports tier. We’re objecting to that. I certainly hope it’s going to be resolved in negotiations.”

The media’s focus throughout Friday’s Goodell presser only began with the ‘specter’ of Senator Specter. One erstwhile member of media wanted to know how far back the evidence against the Patriots went, and what if anything did the NFL gain by destroying the infamous Patriots Spygate tapes.

“We did speak to a number of different people who were either directly involved or not directly involved. I believe there were six tapes, and I believe some were from the preseason in 2007, and the rest were primarily in the late 2006 season. In addition, there were notes that had been collected, that I would imagine many teams have from when they scout a team in advance, that we took, that may have been collected by using an illegal activity, according to our rules. We wanted to take that information and destroy that information, also. We did that. They may have collected that information within the rules of the NFL, but we felt it was appropriate, since we couldn’t determine it, that we take all of it.

“I think (destroying the tapes) was the best way to make sure that the Patriots had followed my instructions. I wanted to make sure that that bit of information did not appear again. If it did appear, I would know that they didn’t hand me all the information. They certified to me, in writing, that they gave me all the information on tapes or notes, and that there was no further information relating to this incident or any other taping of games. Not having those tapes out there prevents a potential leak, like unfortunately it did. Now I know that if something arises, that I wasn’t told the truth.”

A fair question – by destroying the Spygate tapes would the NFL in anyway create the impression of a ‘cover-up’?

“In fact, we thought we had locked it up, and it got out five days later. That was one of my concerns. We thought that we had a chain of command that would not have been broken when we discovered that this activity was taking place. We aggressively pursued it. We obviously were the first to tell the media about it, so we’ve been very open about it. Unfortunately, that weekend, it appeared on television and we were disappointed in that. We didn’t want there to be any question about whether this existed. If it shows up again, it would have to be something that came outside of our investigation and what I was told existed.” Goodell commented.

A feature in Sunday’s New York Times asked several prosecutors their reaction to how Goodell dealt with Spygate.

“Generally speaking, an investigator would not leave it up to the subject of the investigation to voluntarily select what evidence it wishes to turn over,” said Mathew Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor who helped investigate a cabinet member in the Clinton administration. “Allowing the subject of an investigation to determine what is incriminating can obviously undermine the integrity and credibility of the investigation.”

“Just because the request was made that way doesn’t mean the investigation is completely bogus, but it puts an awful lot of responsibility about the subject of the request to be as truthful as possible, and if they are not, then it undermines the investigation,” said Tony West, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor in Northern California.

One of the silliest questions Goodell was asked relating to Patriots Spygate – was the Patriots Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles legitimate. Goodell sidestepped the question but sent a clear message regarding how he feels about Patriots Spygate five months after he believed the incident had ended.

“I’d give it to you, and the same way I’ve said it from day one. This incident is now almost five or six months old and I think we’ve been very forthright in it, and I don’t believe it affected the outcome of any game. Coaches prepare for people being able to intercept their signals and they make modifications and changes. Andy Reid is a very smart coach and I’m sure he did the same.”

At the same time Goodell made it clear – he believed the Patriots had crossed a line and had to pay a price.

“Because you have rules that will promote fair sportsmanship. You have to have that in the game of football. You have to have that in most sports, and it’s important that everyone work and operate on a level playing field. In this case, that didn’t happen and that’s why we issued unprecedented discipline.”

Saturday former Matt Walsh former Patriots ‘video assistant’ added more than his two cents to the debate telling ESPN he was surprised the NFL didn’t contact him during their investigation into the Patriots practice of videotaping NFL games.

"If they're doing a thorough investigation -- they didn't contact me," Walsh told ESPN.com. "So draw your own conclusions. Maybe they felt they didn't need to. Maybe the league feels they got satisfactory answers from everything the Patriots sent them."

"No, the league has never called me," he said. "Neither have the Patriots. And really, I would be surprised if they did. Then all of a sudden -- I don't know how much the league or Patriots know about my stance or how I feel about things -- for them to put in a call to me, what are they going to say? Are they going to try and threaten me? Or say, don't talk about it? Then, they are putting themselves out there and looking bad as far as if I turn around and say, 'Hey, guess what, the league called me and said [we're] gonna take away your pension if you say anything about this.'"

"Obviously, Mangini knew what was going on and it had been going on for a while," Walsh told ESPN. "They tried to catch them doing it last year and weren't able to. So they were just waiting for them to throw the camera up this year on the sideline. But afterwards, I get the impression the league said to them, 'Hey, kind of back down from this; let us take care of it,' because Mangini probably could have come out and said more, made more of a deal out of it if he wanted to."

If Specter is serious about holding Congressional Hearings into Patriots Spygate – Walsh told ESPN he is prepared to testify.

"I wouldn't lie to them about anything, and especially because I don't know what they have," Walsh said. "I don't know what evidence they have. So there is no reason for me to lie to anybody, anyways. It is one thing for me to say, 'Hey, look, just not gonna talk about it.' It is not like a felony or crime or something where I got to go on a stand in court and swear on a Bible or something. It is the kind of thing where for me, personally, it could potentially do more harm to talk about it than not talk about it.

"But if the league contacted me and said, 'Did you do this? Did you do that? …' Maybe they have evidence I did, so I am not going to say, 'No, I didn't.'"

Is Spygate much to do about nothing? Absolutely not! At the heart of any sports event played at any level is the belief of a fair contest. The sports industry faced a number of difficult issues in 2007. From the use of performance-enhancement drugs, too the field actions of Michael Vick too disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleading guilty to charges he had worked with gamblers on fixing NBA games -- 2007 wasn’t a year to remember for sports and let’s be clear – Patriots Spygate was near the top of sports major transgressions in 2007.

Will Spygate taint the Patriots legacy? Not to a great extent. The sad truth about what the Patriots did during their season opening game against the New York Jets, the Patriots where a better team than the Jets and didn’t need any help to beat the Jets that day. The same goes for the Patriots Super Bowl XXXIX win, the Patriots where a better team that day than the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots are a once in a generation sports team and should be appreciated for their excellence.

What about the actions of Arlen Specter. Sports and politics make strange bedfellows. What exactly is a highest ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee paying any attention to Patriots Spygate?

The United States of America is in the midst of a determining who will represent the Democrat and Republican parties in November’s Presidential election. The United States of America is currently fighting to defending ‘lady liberty’ in Iraq, an action that continues to divide many Americans. The American dollar continues to lose its value against most major international currencies. Millions of Americans are facing the real possibilities of losing their homes forced to default on their mortgages.

Better than questioning Spygate – maybe someone should be asking why the ranking Republican on the Senate Judicial Committee isn’t focused on the real issues the United States of America and Americans are being forced to deal with. Is Arlen Specter acting in the best interests of those who elected him? That will be left to the voters when Senator Specter runs for reelection.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times, ESPN and Wikipedia

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Countdown to Super Bowl XLII – is the NFL headed to war?

On the eve of the sports industries annual orgy of excess the Super Bowl, National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Player Association executive director Gene Upshaw indicated labor Armageddon may indeed be on the horizon for the NFL a sports league that continues to set the bar for the entire sports industry when it comes to generating money.

On March 9, 2006 the NFL reached an agreement to extend their current CBA six years. Notwithstanding NFL owners have the right to opt out of the current CBA in November. The owners have until November 8, 2008 to inform the players of their intention. That would make the 2009 season the last with a salary cap and the 2010 season looming as an uncapped season. The current agreement guarantees the players 59 percent of all football generated revenues.

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.

“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."

"There seems to be pretty good consensus that the owners are going to write us our letter by November and opt out of the CBA," said Redskins guard Pete Kendall, a former player representative with the Jets told the Boston Globe last week. "If they do, I'm sure we'll have a plan. I know we've already talked about it as a board of representatives, and I know we'll be prepared."

The two sides dealt with the looming labor issues and other ‘matters of interest’ the NFL and the NFLPA share in the last few days leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLII.

In a press conference packed with reporters Thursday at the Phoenix Convention Center, NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw made it clear he believes NFL owners plan on terminating the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement in November 2008, so he has been preparing players for the future legal options.

"I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you [what's going to happen]," Upshaw said. "I don't. But I know at the end of the day whatever we agree to is going to be fair for the players. We're not going to agree to a deal that's not fair. We're not going to agree to a deal that rolls back the economics."

Upshaw, who talked to players about the future of the CBA at team meetings last fall, said the topic will be a priority at the player representative meetings in March. He said he and the NFLPA legal team will talk about the four options: a strike, a lockout, decertification and a CBA extension.

"Our players will be prepared for whatever the owners might decide to do, because we can't control that anyway," Upshaw said. "We can only control what we can control. And we can control not accepting a deal that's not fair to us. I can tell you, we're getting 60 percent of the revenues [today]. When it's all said and done, we're not giving any of it back."

Troy Vincent, NFLPA president, also discussed the CBA Thursday and said that in talking to players, he's confident that they are more educated than ever about the issues at hand, and that they are united. "Sometimes we hear a few [other] voices, but the majority, we all sing and praise the same language," Vincent told reporters.

One of the first questions Goodell was asked during his State of the League address Friday and for his part Goodell didn’t back away from the issue.

“I think these issues don’t get resolved by making comments publicly, but rather sitting at the negotiating table and working, and addressing the issues that we may have. I don’t think it is any secret, as you point out, a number of our owners are concerned with many aspects of the current labor deal. That’s something we need to improve, we need to address, and we will do that, directly with the union. I believe we will be able to come to a resolution that is good for the game, good for the players, good for the owners, and good for our fans, most of all. As it relates to what I would say to our fans, I think it is important for our fans to understand that the labor agreement is critically important to our business, and that our business has changed over the last several years.

“The cost of operating an NFL franchise, not only in labor costs that are 60 percent of the gross, but the cost in stadium operations and building stadiums, operating them, and capital improvements, these are all additional costs that we didn’t have just several years ago, and I think they need to be recognized in this labor agreement, and the union has done that. We think there is probably going to have to be some additional consideration in how they do that, but that is the give and take of negotiation. They have, I’m sure, other issues they want us to address. We will do that, we will do that responsibly, and I hope we’ll come to a successful conclusion on that because it’s good for the game.”

For his part Goodell delivered a not so subtle shot at the players and the millions of dollars they’re making. Upshaw might be well advised to take note of this Goodell gem.

“It’s a point that we’ve discussed with our Player Association. We think it is an important thing. We’re not trying, in this case, to pay players less money. What we’re trying to do is make sure that the money that is allocated to the salary cap goes to the players that have earned that, that have done it over a period of time. So I think we want to talk about the impact of the rookie pool, what it should be, how it should provide opportunities for players that come into the league and be paid appropriately and be paid fairly, but also make sure that that money goes to the players that really have performed on an incredible level. I think that’s something that we’ll continue to engage in with the Players Association.”

Among the issues the players and owners are going to be dealing with the matter of retired NFL players and both their personal and financial health. Led by NFL Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Jerry Kramer the problem has made it to Capital Hill. Politicians have made it clear – the NFL had better start showing not only more empathy for those who built the game but had better start showing it with dollars and cents as well.

Thursday Upshaw spoke up – he’ll listen to whatever former players have to say but it isn’t going to effect his decision making process.

"Guess what, I've been reading it, and guess what, it doesn't have any effect on what I will do tomorrow, the next day and the next hour," said Upshaw. "It's just like water off a duck's back. It had no effect before and it will have no effect."

One issue the players seem unified on – if there are any more dollars heading towards those no longer playing football it won’t be coming from the money earned by today’s players.

"Every dollar in the National Football League is spoken for," the retired Oakland Raiders guard and Pro Football Hall of Fame member said. "Everyone can talk about all of the money we have in the pension plan. We have as much liability as we have assets; in fact, we are a little underfunded.

"But we are not going to take a pension from guys that have one coming and give it to someone else. We have to solve it a different way and we will."

During his press conference Thursday Upshaw discussed what he believes are the significant improvements in benefits for retired players in the last year, including the Alliance and the joint replacement program. He said 47 men have applied for the program and a dozen are scheduling replacements (knees, hips and possibly ankles) in the very near future. Upshaw mentioned that there is now a partnership with three assisted living facilities that specialize in the care that NFL players need most. Plan 88 is nearly a year old, and so far, $1.3 million has been spent on the 80 applications that have been approved.

Improvements continue, Upshaw said. There is now a physician’s panel, telephone intake through a toll-free number and the ability to use the Internet for appeals to speed up the process between meetings. "Every day, I fight not only for the retired players, I fight for the active players and I also flight for the future players," he said. "We fight for all players all of the time."

Those sentiments aside – that would play well with Congressional leaders who have made it clear someone had better do something soon.

In late June a House of Representatives subcommittee (Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law) hearing on the N.F.L.’s divisive player-disability plan in Washington made their feelings clear.

In their report The New York Times said: Representative William Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, asked Douglas W. Ell, the lead lawyer for the (NFL’s) plan, whether retired players are represented by the N.F.L. players union. Ell replied, “Understand that legally, under the law ... ” before Delahunt interrupted.

Representative Linda T. Sanchez, Democrat of California, who called the hearing as chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, replied that Congress was prepared to stage more hearings and take legislative action if the N.F.L. and the players union did not agree on a “fair and compassionate plan” on their own.

“I think they do need to be worried that they’ve got someone looking over their shoulder,” Sanchez said. “I don’t want to threaten them and say we’ve got this legislation lined up, because that’s not the case at this point. We’re still in a very preliminary stage. We’re giving them the opportunity, and I hope they’re taking it.”

Friday Goodell remained on message when the question was brought up – he believes the NFL is moving forward in helping retired players.

“We have made some changes that I think will take some of the red tape out and make the process, hopefully, simpler. It will get to the result that we are looking for, which is to have an effective, responsive disability program. We just spent four or five hours with Gene (Upshaw) last week, talking about further changes in our disability program. This is not unusual just to our industry. Disability programs are complicated. You see these come up with veterans—lengthy delays. We don’t have that experience. I think that any delay, though, is unfortunate. Our players, who helped build this game, deserve to have a system that is responsive, professionally done and independently done. That is what we’re working on. I’m confident that we are going to make some changes that are going to be beneficial to our former players.”

The use of performance-enhancement drugs was an issue for both the players and Goodell.

"We all know there is no reliable test for HGH," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said Thursday at the union's Super Bowl news conference. "Until a test is developed for HGH, there's really not an awful lot to talk about. And when that test is developed, we really believe it should be a urine test. No one is interested in a blood test. We got a lot of big tough guys, but they don't even like to be pricked on the finger to give blood."

“I don’t, because I’m not involved in developing that test. Obviously there are some scientists and some personnel we have engaged, that we’ve invested in, just recently $3 million with the United States Olympic Committee, to develop a test for HGH. It’s not at the point where there’s a valid test that is widely distributed, that we can use, that we can be comfortable with, but when there is, we certainly will evaluate that, and in fact, we are investing in trying to develop that test. I don’t think there is a significant amount of HGH use, but I have no factual basis for saying that. I think our athletes are extremely well trained. I don’t think they want HGH or performance enhancing drugs in the game.

“I think that is why our drug program has been so effective, and the gold standard in sports, because our union supports it, wants it eliminated from the game because it is good for all players. So I think we’ll continue to take that leadership role in how we develop our policies, our drug program, so it continues to be the gold standard.” Goodell noted Friday

Vincent the President of the NFLPA Thursday also said the issue of player conduct will be an important topic at the upcoming meetings. "It's a serious issue, one we need to take a hard and close look at about what we can do to protect ourselves first and foremost, and our families," he said. "We need to sit back, roll up our sleeves and just think about how do we keep these men on the field, out of the courtrooms and not going to funerals."

Goodell was asked about the NFL player conduct he instituted in April – a season later what about the results?

“I believe that our policy – in respect to player conduct and personal conduct for everybody involved in the National Football League – was well communicated. I think they understand the policy. I think that we made progress. I think that we are beginning to understand that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Everybody associated with the league must do that. As I said when I first came out with the policy, I didn’t expect it to solve all of our problems in one quick moment. It was going to take some time for people to understand. One of the most encouraging things in addition to there being a 20 percent reduction in incidents this year is that we saw a tremendous reduction in rookie incidents because I think we were able to do programs that educated players on what we expect of them and to help them and to make them understand. I must tell you, none of this would have been successful without the support of the NFL Players Association and the players. They wanted this and they helped make this an important priority for us. I think it was effective.”

One of the most important issues the NFL is facing – NFL players become targets. The death of Sean Taylor shook the sports industry to its foundation, something Goodell noted Friday.

“The tragedy of losing Sean Taylor, and in fact we lost four players, all 24 years old, in the past year, which is clearly the lowlight of the season for me. It’s a tragedy. We have to do everything that we can to educate our players of the simple things that they can do to protect themselves and their families. They are celebrities. There are people that want to associate with our players, our coaches, and they have to understand that there is some risk involved with that. There are some very simple things that we can do and we have been doing with our security department just to make sure that they understand that you need to lock your homes, put your alarm on. If you have the ability to live in a secured environment, in a community that has private security, that’s a benefit. There are a lot of things that we can do, that we are doing with our players. I think we will help them make better decisions, and more importantly, protect them.”

The challenges Goodell and Upshaw are facing in the months leading to the November 8 deadline are considerable. Paul Tagliabue who served as NFL commissioner from 1989 to 2006 had a great relationship with Upshaw. In some circles many believed the two men worked too closely together. But that said in the 17 years Tagliabue and Upshaw worked together the NFL enjoyed labor peace a key to the success the NFL has enjoyed.

Maybe some of the comments coming from both sides are much too do about nothing. After all as has been well documented the two sides have reached where they appear to be headed (the edge of a cliff) before and managed to settle their differences. It remains to be seen if this will be the case this year, but its well worth paying attention too.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Countdown to Super Bowl XLII Kickoff – Robert Kraft the best owner in sports today

Sunday after the New England Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years and become only the second team in National Football League history to go through an entire NFL season unbeaten Patriots owner Robert Kraft should be honored and recognized for what he is – the best owner in professional sports today. In an industry plagued at times with inane, inept and incompetent ownership that at times has proven to be the ruination of sports franchises – Kraft’s record both on and off the field speaks for itself. The Patriots are the best organization in sports today, the Patriots have become the example not only sports organizations should follow but most businesses might emulate if they want to enjoy the success both on and off the field the New England Patriots have experienced with Robert Kraft at the helm.

What Robert Kraft understands better than most owners the delicate balance between being a fan and being the owner of a sports franchise.

"I think when I came in, I was probably more of a fan and I probably did things that broke some of my cardinal rules of business. I think maybe I might have been governed by friends in the media. I think I might have been governed by what I thought was the right short-term solution. Every business we are involved in we think long term. Thinking long term means you are making tough decisions that people are going to criticize you (for) in the short term. You can't let the media or fans or people who don't know what you know, and with all due respect; I mean, it's like when I started really seeing film and seeing Belichick put something up and explain it, I realized how we don't have a clue as fans. We have no clue. Fans and with all due respect, many members of the media, are making judgments on issues that they don't have all of the facts. It is like any other business; you try to find people that you respect that they know what you are doing that's in keeping with your values. And then you give them the autonomy. And when things don't go well, you don't buckle. You make sure that it runs its course."

Two of the more recent business ventures Kraft has initiated -- Patriots Place and Kraft’s innovative plans to work with the CBS network. Announced in May Patriot Place, the project has 1.3 million square feet, anchored by powerhouse merchants such as outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops. Other major attractions include a Patriots museum, a sports medicine and healthcare clinic, a 500-seat jazz club, and a high-end movie theater with reserved seating and concierge service. The first phase is set opened this fall just in time for the football season..

"For me, this is a legacy project," said Robert Kraft , the 65-year-old chairman and chief executive of The Kraft Group and the New England Patriots, during an interview at Gillette Stadium with the Boston Globe.

"This is where I come to work every day. We want to build something special," he said, speaking for the first time about his vision and motivation for the project.

The first phase includes Circuit City, Bed Bath & Beyond, Christmas Tree Shops, Staples, and New England's first Bass Pro Shops. Phase 2 will include a 4-star hotel, and many other retail and dining outlets.

In December Kraft and the CBS Corporation announced one of the more innovative partnerships in recent memory – CBS Scene.

The concept announced on December 10, 2007 includes a three-story, 15,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art entertainment and sports venue in the heart of Patriot Place - The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar, a first-of-its-kind attraction scheduled to open in Fall 2008. The restaurant, which will anchor the 1.3 million sq. ft. super-regional retail and entertainment destination at Gillette Stadium, will include dining and function space, an extensive memorabilia display and broadcasting facilities for the CBS Network, CBS Sports and the company's local Boston TV and radio properties, including WBZ-TV, WSBK-TV, WBZ-AM 1030, WBCN-FM (the flagship station of the New England Patriots), WBMX-FM, WODS-FM and WZLXFM. Additionally, there will be more than 130 high-definition, flat-screen monitors throughout the venue, broadcasting live CBS programming as well as classic moments of some of television's most beloved shows.

Its easy to appreciate why CBS believed going into business with Robert Kraft, CBS knows Robert Kraft is a winner.

"There is no greater franchise right now in the NFL than the New England Patriots, and there is no better or higher rated broadcaster than CBS Sports, which has become network television's #1 supplier of big ticket events like the NFL," said Leslie Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS Corporation. "The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar represents a terrific opportunity to bring these forces together to launch a first-of-its-kind dining and entertainment destination at what promises to be one of Northeast's most popular attractions.We're very pleased to be partnering with The Kraft Group in bringing this project to life, and creating a venue like nothing else out there."

"When it comes to entertainment and sports programming, CBS is the premier brand in this country and we are proud to partner with them to bring The CBS Scene to Patriot Place," said Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group. "With such a rich history of programming, the limitless potential for CBS-themed entertainment and the opportunity for CBS's local television and radio properties to broadcast live from The CBS Scene, I believe it will quickly become one of the most popular restaurants in New England."

The three-story venue will be located adjacent to The Hall at Patriot Place, just outside Gillette Stadium's signature lighthouse and bridge. Spanning 15,000 square feet over three levels, The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar will include two levels of dining, offering lunch, dinner and dessert menus and featuring seating booths adorned with TV monitors, as well as outdoor terraces open three seasons of the year. In addition, the facility will boast private function space with backdrops and props that can be transformed into popular CBS show settings, like a Survivor-themed birthday party. The CBS Scene will also include state-of-the-art broadcast facilities for the CBS Network, CBS Sports and its New England TV and radio stations to telecast game coverage, pre-game reports, local newscasts and live programming.

Displayed throughout The CBS Scene will be artifacts from the Tiffany Network's storied history, including photos and mementos from some of TV's most cherished programs, as well as a CBS Heritage Wall, which will take visitors on a journey through time with video projections, graphics and artifacts celebrating the 75-year history of the network. In addition, classic moments from shows like "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners," which are part of CBS's voluminous library, will be shown to visitors over 130 high-definition, flat-screen television's spread throughout the restaurant. The centerpiece of the multi-million dollar structure will be a circular stairway designed in the CBS "Eye" motif, in which viewers can enter and watch more classic moments from CBS shows like "Late Show with David Letterman" and "60 Minutes." The venue will also feature a retail store offering a variety of CBS Network's most popular merchandise and apparel.

With the Patriots poised to win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years one might think attending a Super Bowl game might be “old hat” to Kraft –nothing could be further from the truth.

"People have asked that. It doesn't get old. Every time we come it is almost like our post-game party; we plan it like we might not be here ever again. It is very special. Actually each trip is sort of like a different child. Those of us who are blessed to have more than one child know that each child is special and unique. This trip is pretty special coming here 18-0 and doing something that we wouldn't have believed would be possible in today's modern age. It is pretty special."

Long before Robert Kraft turned the Patriots organization into the best in sports, the man who built the billion dollar Kraft food empire was regarded as a titan of industry. From Kraft’s perspective there aren’t many differences between running a business and a sports franchise.

"It is the same principles. It is having a vision for what is right for your organization. Every organization is different in how it runs. Then picking good people. Whether it is picking your life partner or partners in business, it is the same principles. What works for me might not work for other people. In the business of professional football, having trust between ownership, the head coach, their personnel people is very important. What works for me might not work for someone else. The style I bring to manage is different than someone else."

Poised to join Chuck Noll with four Super Bowl’s to his credit as a head coach Sunday, one of the best hires Kraft made was Bill Belichick. Say whatever you want about Coach Belichick – Bill Belichick is the best coach of any team in sports today – anywhere.

"When I was thinking of hiring Bill, I know a lot of people thought that I was making an error and they based it on how he dealt with the media and they sent me tapes from his experience in Cleveland. But in the end, I am into substance; I am not into lipstick and powder. When I spent time with Bill in 1996 when he was on our staff, I found him to be someone I could relate to who I felt good about.

“Maybe part of it was his training in college in economics, but to be good in the business of football today, and good to me is not being good one year but try to sustain it year in and year out, you have to understand economics and you have to understand value and you have to understand the salary cap and how it works and know that if you make bad decisions, you will be penalized for many, not just quarters. I am trying to put it in Wall Street terms. You know how management is thrown out when they don't do well; you have the same thing here. What you have to guard against is if you have a management team with a short term focus, they'll do whatever they have to do to win in the short term and maybe cripple your cap in the long term. If they leave or get fired, you are in deep trouble. I think every discussion I had with Bill he understood value and players and how they fit under the cap. And if we've had any success, I think a great part of it is his judgment in knowing players and how they fit in a system in the salary cap era."

As has been well documented the Patriots undefeated season began with an opening weekend win against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium. When sports historians look back at the Patriots 2007 undefeated season the teams’ opening weekend win will be remembered more for spygate than anything else. Through it all, Kraft has stood by Belichick.

"We had just won a great game and that was not my first choice of what would happen. I think we covered that pretty well. I am not sure all of the facts are out on that. We all know that it had no impact on any game this season. We have moved on from it. But it did do one thing: I think in a way it helped solidify the relationship that Bill and I have developed. And it has evolved because we did stand together and he explained it to me and he had my full support."

Thursday’s Insider looked at a landmark decision in Patriots history, when Kraft bounced the franchises’ fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter after Kraft’s wife told her husband the team had just drafted a player arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former cheerleader. Robert Kraft made a very clear statement that day – character was going to be an issue if you wanted to wear the Patriots red, white and blue. Interestingly Randy Moss’ past indiscressions were never really an issue when the Patriots traded their fourth round pick for Moss never factored into Kraft’s decision to allow the team to pick up Moss on NFL draft day 2007.

"I met with him personally. Bill and I had a discussion and he told me how he felt and I told him I wanted to have an opportunity to meet with him and talk with him and I did. I spoke with him for an hour the morning of the trade before we signed the contract. We had a good heart-to-heart and I found him to be someone who looked me straight in the eye. He is very intelligent in my opinion. He told me he just wanted to come and win and it wasn't about the money, and you know he took a big pay cut to come to us. And a lot of players say that it is not about the money, it is about respect; but it's about the money. In his case, he came to us and wanted to be part of a team that could win and he said to me, ‘Mr. Kraft, I have made a lot of money, more money probably than I need. This is about winning.' He's lived up to every commitment that he has made and he also treats people very well in the organization. Everything that I've seen he has conducted himself very well."

One interesting observation from Robert Kraft – he seems to understand the relationship between fans and the sports team they follow.

"People who aren't fans don't understand one thing. I don't think there is anything like the power of a franchise that can bind and bring a community together. I went to a company that has 5,000 employees up on the North Shore of Boston and they had made it Patriot Day the Friday before we played the Chargers (in the AFC Championship Game). Everyone was dressed in Patriot gear. They all felt a sense of community. Everything today with technology, I don't think there are that many things that bind families and community together. And I think teams do that.

“When you are privileged to be doing pretty well, like we are doing okay this year, it brings a special feeling and emotion in a community. If you saw how people treat us or treat our players, they are just so enthused and excited about what is going on. And I don't think there a lot of things that bring a community together like that. Look at the political process we are going through now. It is so divisive and it is rancorous. I remember after we won our first Super Bowl we had a million and a half people come to the streets of Boston; a city of 600,000 people. And it was people from all walks of life, whether it was money managers, factory workers, people of all genders, all skin colors, all religions, all coming together to celebrate the team. It is pretty special.”

Sunday Patriot Nation can look forward to celebrating the teams’ fourth Super Bowl in seven years. Remember this about the 2007 New England Patriots they are a once in a lifetime sports team, love them or loathe them but appreciate true greatness because it comes along so very few times in sports. Robert Kraft won’t take any of the credit when he accepts the Vince Lombardi Trophy Sunday evening at University of Phoneix Stadium from Roger Goodell, he’ll praise his coaches, his players and Patriots fans but be very sure of this – without the leadership Robert Kraft has demonstrated the New England Patriots would not be the best organization in professional sports today.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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