NFL owners mull reducing TV contract Networks seeking a lower payout

PHOENIX — PHOENIX -- Jack Kent Cooke prides himself on knowing money.

The owner of the Washington Redskins didn't become a billionaire by giving back money on the deals he negotiates.


That's why it wasn't surprising that his son, John Kent Cooke, who is representing his father and the team at the NFL's annual March meeting, didn't sound too enthusiastic yesterday about a proposal that the clubs take less money in the final year of the television contract than the league originally negotiated.

The TV networks, which are losing money on the four-year, $3.6 billion contract negotiated in 1989, are supposed to pay each NFL team $34.2 million this year and $39.5 million next year.


The networks want the NFL to accept reduction to $34 million next year and two more years at the same figure. The schedule would remain at 17 weeks with one bye instead of going to the previous plan of an 18-week schedule with two byes.

Art Modell, the Cleveland Browns owner who heads the television committee, and commissioner Paul Tagliabue decided to try to sell the owners on the idea.

They feel it will give the league stability and avoid a showdown with the networks when the contracts expire after next year.

Baseball owners have rejected the CBS' plea for financial relief, but the network paid extra money for an exclusive contract. The NFL deals with three over-the-air networks and two cable networks and would like to keep a good relationship with all of them.

Modell outlined the plan yesterday when the meetings opened, but the owners delayed a vote until later in the week. Although the majority of the owners supports the idea -- notably such old-line owners as Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- it will take 21 votes to approve the measure.

That means eight negative votes can kill it.

"It's a very close call," said Joe Browne, the league's director of communications and development.

Cooke suggested the league was rushing into it and said the owners shouldn't even vote on the matter at this meeting.


"I want to hear all the facts. I think we should have ample time to have all the facts gathered. We need to know all the ramifications involved. It should be done from independent sources [consultants]. This is our primary source of revenue, and it's something we should not change lightly. I think we should be careful and cautious. It's a very important decision that's about to be made," Cooke said.

It's obvious that Modell and Tagliabue will have to do some arm-twisting to get it passed.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore contingent arrived at the meetings yesterday to lobby for an expansion team. Herbert Belgrad, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, invited the heads of the three ownership groups -- Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer, clothing magnate Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and author Tom Clancy -- to dinner last night.