Dana Point, Calif. – Upon conclusion of the recent NFL owners’ meeting, Falcons owner Arthur Blank addressed the league’s labor situation, the new $4 billion television deal, selling out the Georgia Dome and the league’s plan to grant more access to the media with.
Q: How was the update on the league’s labor situation?
A: Certainly, we are optimistic that the owners and players will do the right thing in terms of being able to come to an agreement. Obviously, we want to do the right thing for the fans. I think we’re working hard on that. We are led by the commissioner, our labor committee and staff. The NFLPA has a new executive director, who apparently is a very competent guy. He’s had an initial very good meeting with the commissioner. So we hope that it’s the first step in the process that will continue with labor peace for all of us.
Q: How will getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement done help the Falcons?
A: I would just say that the agreement, as we look at an extension, it has to work for all of the partners in the league. Our partners are certainly our fans, players, owners, staff and all of our supplier partners and our media partners. We just need a structure that works for everybody. This has been a healthy industry, a growing industry and one that should have enough resources to accommodate that.
Q: How does the big — $4 billion – DirectTV deal help the owners out?
A: It’s great. It’s another signal of how healthy our league is and the demand for the product, the demand for our fans to see it. For last year’s Super Bowl we had 150 million people watch the game, the biggest single event in the history of television. We get 125 to 150 million fans every week that watch football. The DirectTV deal was a function of the people wanting to see the product and people wanting to see as many games as they can. Certainly, in our home, when we finish with our game, as a family we are sitting their flipping channels watching as many games as we can as well.
Q: What’s the Falcons position on the possible extension of the schedule to 17 or 18 games?
A: We would support that. The broadcast committee is looking at that. Clearly, the preseason games are not the most attractive games to our fans. We have been very public on that. Our fans have been very clear on that as well, in terms of the percentage of fans that don’t show up for those games. So, the league is looking at all of the logistics and dynamics that it would take to extend our season whether if it will be for one more game or two more games. We’ll have to see how that plays out. We are looking at it in a very thoughtful way.
Q: How was the meeting with league coaches?
A: That’s one of my very favorite sessions because you have the opportunity to get all of the coaches in the very same room. We spent the session talking about a number of issues, anything relating to the collective bargaining agreement and giving them the current view on that situation. What direction we are going in from a medical standpoint. We talked about a variety of things from our engagement with our fans to having our coaches being open to the community and ours fans, being more responsive than we’ve been in the past. With these difficult times in the economy, we want to work hard to give the fans more. More exposure, more access. I think our head coaches and our coaching staffs are an important part of that. So we discussed that as well.
Q: How have the rule changes been received?
A: (Rich McKay) co-chairs the competition committee. It’s a compliment to Rich McKay because in most cases, the chairs of these committees will chair for two or three years at the most. Rich has been chairing or co-chairing the competition committee for 15 years now, which is unheard of in the National Football League. He’s been through two commissioners now. It’s a credit to Rich and shows the trust and confidence that he brings to that. Obviously, from an Atlanta perspective it helps because he’s able to give insight to our coaches and general manager on why things are structured the way they are and interpretation of the rules. From that standpoint, it’s nice to have one of the officers in-house.
Q: There was a uproar from fans when the season ticket plan was unveiled. How are the ticket sells going?
A: We have gotten tremendous response from our fans. Our renewal rate is even higher than we projected. But we still have tickets to sale. We are operating on a very low base coming off the difficulty the franchise had in 2007. We had a wonderful year last year. It was the first time in the history of the National Football League where you had the head coach, general manager and a player — the quarterback who was named the rookie of the year – win awards. That just doesn’t happen. So we are blessed going into 2009 with a lot of hope. I think when the schedule is released you’ll see some national (television) games on it. So we are doing whatever we can to speak to our fans, to service our fans both in terms of season ticket holders, our club seat holders and suite holders. We want to make sure that we meet them where they are. As opposed to asking them to meet us where we are. We want to understand what their constraints are and eliminate any constraints or barriers or issues. We are looking forward this year to selling out like we did this last year, but in this economy that challenge is real. While it’s going to be difficult, I think between the efforts that we are putting forth internally and with the responsiveness of the fans that we’ll be fine. But it’s not going to be easy.
Q: Are you all hoping to never get to the uncapped year?
A: All of our lines are open.
Q: When the owner’s opted out of the CBA, it sent an ominous tone that a possible strike was coming. How has that changed?
A: The tone now is that we want to have an extension of this collective bargaining agreement. That’s the commitment of our commissioner. The commitment of our labor committee. It’s a commitment that I believe exist on behalf of DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA and our players.
Do you pay attention to the labor strife? Do you think an uncapped year in 2010 would hurt the Falcons? Are you going to throw out your cable operator and order DirectTV before next season? Renewed your season tickets yet?