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Irsay: NFL owners, players 'have to find a solution'

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National Football League owners are looking for ways to reach a new labor deal with players and preparing for what happens if those efforts don’t succeed, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday.

Goodell said owners discussed the financial contingencies of a work stoppage in the U.S.’s most-watched television sport during their last regularly scheduled meeting before the collective bargaining agreement with players expires in March.

“We’re prepared for all alternatives,” Goodell said at a news conference following the meeting in Chicago. “Our hope and our plan is to reach a CBA before expiration, but we’re prepared for all alternatives.”

Owners voted in May 2008 to end their collective bargaining agreement with players after the 2010 season, paving the way for a strike or lockout in 2011 if talks with the NFL Players Association on a new contract fail. Owners said the existing deal doesn’t account for costs, such as those of building stadiums.

The union has asked for financial records supporting the owners’ position and union leaders have said they won’t ask players to take a pay cut so owners can make more. Along with what portion of league revenue players should receive, points of contention include rookie salaries, the length of the season, health coverage and drug testing.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he remembers previous work stoppages and remains optimistic players and owners can avoid another one. He declined to comment on the day’s discussions.

“It’s taken a lot of time and energy to build the league into what it is and we want to keep it going,” Irsay told reporters. “From my perspective, the key thing is you have to find a solution. That’s where both sides are.”

George Atallah, a spokesman for the union, said that while he shares that optimism, “We have a lot of work to do.”

The discussion of a work stoppage comes as the league has seen record television ratings—last year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. television history—and at a time when more Americans call themselves football fans than at any time since 1999, according to The Harris Poll. About 66 percent of men and 41 percent of women said they follow the sport.

A strike or lockout could affect Indianapolis' plans to host the 2012 Super Bowl.

Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., said owners are thinking about the labor fight instead of celebrating the sport’s success and popularity.

“These guys ought to be patting themselves on the back,” Ganis said in an interview. “Instead, there’s this black cloud hanging over them.”

Goodell said it’s realistic to think that the league and the union may reach a new agreement before March.

“Let’s get it done,” he said. “I think our fans are focused on football and the exciting season that we’ve had and that shows in the numbers.”

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