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Rozelle Sees Expansion on Horizon for the NFL

January 25, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — The sun never sets on the Rozellian empire, although it may duck behind a cloud for a half-decade or so.

But it's out once more, smiling over a National Football League kingdom that may soon stretch from London--site of a future NFL exhibition?--in the East, to who knows where in the West.

Two more lucky cities are being contemplated for league membership. This may happen in a year or two if that pesky U.S. Congress comes up the antitrust exemption that Commissioner Pete Rozelle would like, to keep any more would-be Al Davises in place.

There are new powers, like the Bears, with colorful new personalities, like Jim McMahon. The commissioner just has to make sure that the former don't maim anyone and that the latter refrains from mooning helicopters.

Forgotten are the bad old days of 1982-84, when Davis defied the league and broke the bank; when the players struck, attendance dived, TV ratings swooned, and Sports Illustrated called the NFL "B-o-r-i-n-g" on its cover.

"We had a good year from many standpoints," Rozelle said at his annual state-of-the-NFL press conference Friday. "The television (rating) was up, 4%, 10%, 16% on NBC, CBS and ABC, respectively. Attendance was strong. We were within a couple hundred of our all-time average attendance in 1981.

"The Super Bowl, a few people say, 'Well, it's hype. It's something that's just overdone.'

"But I think it's tremendous. I've often said, if the American public didn't have an entertaining, emotional outlet, we'd have trouble. We'd be a sick society.

"We don't say the Super Bowl is the end of the world. But, naturally, we feel it gives half the country a chance to think of something else, other than our domestic troubles and our international troubles. It's meant to be fun. We think it is."

Rozelle spoke on myriad topics, geared to helping America make it through future autumns.

On Jim McMahon: "I think Jim has been a fascinating folk hero, an individualist whose personality has captivated the country in recent weeks.

"I do, however, feel you can cross that line. And some of you have already written derogatory comments about Jim, which I regret. We're trying to sell him and I want him sold."

On having raised the question of Bear defenders getting "bounties" for knocking out opposing quarterbacks: "There were public statements attributed to some of their players about the possibility of rival quarterbacks being knocked out the game. . . . So I wrote to Michael McCaskey (Bear president), saying I don't think this is proper. Mike told me the players didn't feel that way, and anything expressed in public was in a jocular way.

"The Bears, I think, are a very colorful team and certainly some of these colorful personalities have played a great part in league success. And we love them. We had about a 75 share (of the TV audience) in Chicago for the Ram game."

On headband advertising: "Frankly, we don't want our players looking like racing drivers where they have patches all over them, and you have a center with 'Big Mac' on his fanny.

"This Sunday, 60% of the money this league takes in will come from television. That pays players' salaries, coaches' salaries, commissioners' salaries. Now if you put yourself in the shoes of a corporation spending a million-one a minute to advertise your product, I don't think you'd be very happy if you have all sorts of other logos promoting for free."

On expansion: "It's a simple matter of getting the major problems out of the way, so the owners can feel some stability.

"A year from now, we'll start negotiating new television contracts. We don't know what that will mean. We think we'll have an increase. We think our ratings this year can be duplicated next year. We think we have a good story to tell. But we'll have to wait and see what the situation is.

"Two, we have a collective bargaining agreement coming and the last one was very difficult to negotiate. As you know, we had a strike. The owners would want to have that behind them.

"But I think when some of the immediate problems are over, we will expand, initially by two teams. I think that very likely, if we hadn't had serious problems the last few years after expanding to Tampa Bay and Seattle in '76, we probably would have, by this time, expanded to two more."

On merger talks with the USFL: "Merger talks have been held at the instigation always of the U.S. Football League. It would be one of their owners talking to one of our owners. They also requested a meeting of our attorneys with their attorneys to talk about a merger. In all cases, it came from their side. There are no ongoing discussions."

On a story in The Times that two of three USFL teams might be added as a settlement: "That's erroneous. It may have been something that someone contemplated."

On the possibility that he'll take action in the Patrick Sullivan-Howie Long-Matt Millen affair: "That was a distasteful, unfortunate matter. I don't intend to prejudge it until I've had a chance to review it after the season."

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