DALLAS - Robert Kraft has drawn praise over his 17-year tenure as one of the most forward-thinking, influential owners in the NFL.
Now, with players and owners in an ugly squabble over how to divide the mountain of revenue the game generates, the Patriots owner seems to be taking it personally.
Friday afternoon at the Super Bowl 45 media center in Dallas, Kraft's eyes got glassy when talking about the squabbling that's ongoing.
Asked if would take it as a personal failing if accord can't be reached, Kraft said, "I think I will have failed if I can't help get ... I've never seen the health of a business be as bright as this one. I'm involved in a lot of businesses and this is an awesome business. It's a privilege to be able to own an NFL franchise and to have a labor disruption at this point in time of the evolution of the game, it's criminal. It will be sad. It will fall on both sides."
"It is emotional," he acknowledged. "Most businesses you're in, you're fixing problems where there's not a lot of upside. There's tremendous upside. The whole digital media opportunities and what our content can drive and partnering with the right companies. ... We have the essence of a business that can prosper and flourish for the next 15 years if we get this right. And it's not very hard to do."
Frustrated would probably be the best way to describe Kraft's mood on Friday. Calling repeatedly for the two sides to get the lawyers away from the table and let the businessmen hammer out an accord, Kraft was pointed in many of his comments.
"There's no reason for us to have a lockout, I'll say it again," Kraft stressed. "There's enough elements there that we can do a deal and everyone's going to come out a winner. We've just got to get the lawyers away from the table."
With both sides lawyered up to their eyeballs, how pragmatic is it to think that's possible?
"Put them in the background," Kraft said. "Lawyers are deal-breakers, not deal-makers. That's what my union experience has shown me. I mean, you need them, you play a good role, but they're all there to show how smart they are and always looking at the downside."
Kraft twice raised an instance he thought was evidence of legal-wrangling gone bad. The players, according to Kraft, spent $15 million on a case trying to prove owners were negligent in hammering out the new TV deal and getting provisions to allow the owners to be paid in the event of a stoppage.
"They collected $15 million in fees that the players paid, think about that! If it's coming out of your pockets, and I'm managing our lawyers, if they're not adding value, tell them to zip it," said Kraft. "I need them to keep, to protect me from myself, but business people do business deals, not lawyers."
The problem is, the union does not trust the owners. That's why they are going to battle so hard in the courts and will never get their lawyers off the front line.
In the situation Kraft referenced, the owners were reportedly fined $7 million for doing a deal that had a provision for them to be paid during a work stoppage. To get that provision, they took less from the networks to get that provision. Yet they were supposed to negotiate in good faith to maximize revenues for both owners and players, since players get 60 percent of the revenue.
"The irony," Kraft said. "I worked very hard with the commissioner to extend these contracts when the financial world was falling apart and we realized the main source of our revenue was these media contracts. We went out in a very difficult environment and were able to conclude extensions of these contracts to protect the players income and the owners income. For them to sue over soemthing like that, it just shows you how out of touch....there are so many things we can do to create new partnership opportunities and grow and we have to get the lawyers away from the table and get business leaders on both sides."
Kraft will be in a Saturday negotiating session. What does he plan on saying?
"I'd like to say exactly what I'm saying here," he stated. "From my point of view, how lucky are we to have a business, to be part of a business, we're in today, where the American wants it, where people want to partner with us and they don't want to hear, people don't want to hear about our squabbling And it's criminal if we don't get a deal done. I mean, there's enough business opportunities where the players can make out well, owners can make out well and we can grow the sport. We just gotta sit down and start talking business. It's all legal posturing now."