PHOENIX -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is now going to try to convince the NFL owners that less is really more.
Tagliabue closed the annual March meetings yesterday by putting the immediate focus on a special meeting he has called for March 30 in Dallas to discuss giving the television networks a rebate for 1993 in return for a two-year extension of their contract in 1994-95.
"This is the most important business decision that'll be made in this decade," Tagliabue said.
The 28 NFL teams are scheduled to make $34 million each in TV revenue this year and are slated to get a boost to $41 million next year -- $39 million in the $3.64 billion contract negotiated in 1990 and a $2 million Super Bowl bonus.
Since the television networks insist they are losing money, Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns and head of the NFL television committee, negotiated a deal in which the NFL owners would accept an $8.5 million reduction from $41 million to $32.5 million in the final year of the contract in 1993 and then add two more years onto the deal at the same figure.
In an attempt to get $1.5 million more so the teams would stay at the $34 million figure they will get this year, they would scramble the TV signals to owners of satellite dishes and make them pay to get the signals unscrambled.
But at least 10 owners are opposing the reduction, which is why Tagliabue tabled the matter and scheduled a special meeting.
It will give him more time to lobby the owners. He needs to change the minds of at least three owners to get the 21 needed to pass the measure.
In an attempt to make the deal more palatable, Tagliabue is pointing out that the $32.5 million figure is more than the $32 million a year each club is averaging in the current deal that escalates each year. Tagliabue is overlooking next year's $41 million figure and stressing that the average will be higher.
"It's not a rebate. It's the biggest contract in history," Tagliabue said.
"The contract extension is bigger than the [the average of the] original contract we had in 1990 and that was far and away the biggest contract in history. The contract we're talking about is bigger than that," he said.
The league has to make a decision one way or another quickly because if the extension is approved, the schedule will remain at 17 weeks with one off-week for each team. If it is not approved, it will go to 18 weeks with two off-weeks for each team as originally scheduled.
The 18-week schedule was supposed to give the networks more product to sell, but they are having trouble selling it in this depressed market.
"We've glutted the market," Modell said.
Now the question is whether Tagliabue and Modell can sell this argument in the next 10 days with the opponents determined to block it.
The opponents are the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers.
The Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins have joined them in opposition.
Norman Braman of the Eagles and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys both want the league to wait a year before even considering accepting a reduction for 1993.