Tagliabue Gives Praise, Issues Warning


In his 30-minute address, which opened the annual league meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., Monday, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue expressed great pride for the league's successes of the past year.

"Collectively, your talent and great football produced a truly remarkable 2002 season," he told the club presidents, head coaches, front-office employees and league officials in attendance. "It was not a season of 'parity' -- a word that smacks of mediocrity -- it was a season of excellence."

For Tagliabue and the NFL, there is certainly reason to celebrate.

In 2002, touchdowns and scoring went up, along with television viewership. Records were established for overtime games and come-from-behind victories, and 19 of the league's 32 teams were still in contention for the Super Bowl going into the final weekend of the regular season.

But on what was generally a day of optimism, Tagliabue forecast at least one significant challenge ahead.

"Commissioner Tagliabue said that the next five years could be more challenging than the last," Packers President/CEO Bob Harlan said Monday afternoon.

"Because so many new stadiums have come into effect over the past few seasons, we've already benefited from the enhanced revenue streams. Now we have to find different ways to generate revenue."

That's exactly the kind of challenge the Packers hoped to meet when they laid the groundwork for the Lambeau Field redevelopment project.

Receiving a much-needed revenue boost via ticket and suite sales, the redevelopment also saw the birth of the Lambeau Field Atrium, which is designed to make the Packers' historic stadium a tourism destination 365 days a year.

In those terms, the Packers have already taken positive steps. But Tagliabue's warning was yet another reminder for fiscal responsibility, especially for the publicly-owned Packers.

Without a billionaire owner to rescue the franchise if it falls on hard times, the Packers will have to make sure that current success leads to a fattening of the reserve fund, which is essentially the organization's emergency fund.

"With the completion of the Lambeau Field renovation this year, we want to build up the reserve fund as quickly as we can," Harlan said. "We don't have a deep-pockets owner, so we have to capitalize when times are good.

"We have a new stadium, and we have to jump on that."

In essence, that was Tagliabue's message for the league entire: to build on current success with an eye for the future.

"Throughout America, our goal is to assure that NFL football continues to be 'America's Passion' and the No. 1 sport of more fans than any other sport," Tagliabue said. "To achieve that goal, we must consistently attack the status quo by challenging ourselves to improve across the board."

Also Monday, NFL owners and league officials agreed to proceed as scheduled with the NFL Europe season, despite the ongoing war in Iraq, which has increased anti-American sentiment in several European countries.

Ahead at the NFL meeting, team and league officials will discuss proposed changes to the overtime format and to the playoff system.

Under the current sudden-death overtime system, only one team is guaranteed an offensive possession, which is determined by a coin toss. A proposed amendment would ensure one guaranteed possession for each team, with the game decided by sudden death after that point, if necessary.

The playoff system could be amended to see the addition of two more teams.

"I think the expansion of the playoff system is an interesting possibility," Harlan said. "We'll see presentations and hear arguments on that (Tuesday) and decide where to go from there."

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