NFL owners lobby in advance of big vote

May 20, 2008

ATLANTA - The streets of Atlanta's Buckhead district were quiet late last night, but the atmosphere inside the Ritz-Carlton was like a New Year's Eve party.

The 32 NFL team owners met and mingled mostly behind closed doors, but the entourages spilled into the lobby and bar area as officials from Indianapolis, Houston and Phoenix made their final lobbying efforts to land the Super Bowl in 2012.

Local TV stations, meanwhile, did live shots just outside the hotel for their late-night news.

The Indianapolis contingent rehearsed its presentation one last time from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. A sub-committee of team owners met earlier yesterday and gave Indianapolis leaders feedback on the written portion of their bid.

Central Indiana Corporate Partnership President Mark Miles, who is leading the local contingent, said there would be few adjustments to today's presentation.

Local leaders outlined a number of Indianapolis' strengths in an executive summary released to the media early this morning.

One point not mentioned in the bid but nevertheless discussed yesterday by locals was the importance of the $10 million indoor connector linking the new Lucas Oil Stadium to the expanded Indiana Convention Center and nearby hotels. David Frick, Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority chairman, said the connector is critical to Indianapolis' landing the 2012 game.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and other owners arrived with little fanfare around 7 a.m. today for a group breakfast before meetings began at 8 a.m. Owners slipped in side and back doors out of site of most media members.

Owners are tackling several other issues during the meetings, including the possible expansion of team rosters from 80 to 86 players and a proposed rule to require players with long hair to either cut it or tuck it up under the helmet.

One of the most crucial issues owners will discuss is the collective bargaining agreement that governs teams' salary cap. The salary cap - which stands at $116 million for the 2008 season - is critical, Irsay said, because it has a big impact on how competitive small market teams can remain.

In addition to negotiating with players over how much money each side gets, owners are at odds with each other, with large-market teams wanting to keep more of their own revenue and small-market teams like the Colts arguing for more revenue sharing among all the teams to maintain a level playing field.

Late this morning, word leaked out that owners had voted to shorten the collective bargaining agreement with players by two years, ending the agreement after the 2010 season.

The full impact of the termination is not yet clear, but league officials said the deal was shortened because its terms penalize teams for investing in new stadiums and other revenue-producing businesses.

Owners also were displeased because the current agreement lacked a rookie pay structure and does not deal with teams' ability to withhold bonuses from players who do not perform to their contracts.

Watch www.IBJ.com for news about the bowl bid.

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