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Robert Kraft on The Big Show

03.09.10 at 9:00 pm ET
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared on The Big Show on Tuesday and touched on a wide variety of topics, most notably free agency and the negotiations for a a new collective bargaining agreement. Here is the transcript ‘€” to listen to the interview, click here.

Anything big happening?

“Well, we formally know that Leigh Bodden has agreed ‘€” I think his agent might have signed the contract, it’€™s in the process of sending it in now. You guys remember Adrian Murrell? Well, his brother has agreed to join us on special teams, Marques. I think he’€™s been there a couple years. He’€™s down in the Big Apple where our favorite long snapper, Jake Ingram’€™s relative Zach is. So he’€™s coming out of the Big Apple up to New England. That’€™s good. I know he’€™s won some awards, so that’€™s great.

“A little disappointing news is that we’€™re told that Jarvis Green is going to be out there in Denver. He has always been a very high-grade special guy and it’€™s unfortunate in this business you can’€™t keep everyone that you want to keep. You have to make decisions and there are a lot of things that you have to balance. But this is still an exciting time in the evolution and the development of this team for the upcoming season.”

On not getting big names:

“Well, we’€™re in the business of quality depth management. When I first bought the team in the early 90’€™s we would sign a lot of stars and we, I think, we had seven or eight that were all in the top three and four in their positions in the league. This is a business where it’€™s a very physical sport. If you lose someone to injury you have to have depth and if you don’€™t have depth you have a real problem. We learned early on how important the bottom third of the roster was and how it’€™s like a stock portfolio that you’€™re always trying to improve and move the pieces.

“Actually, when we start to develop a team and we have a pretty good system now. Believe it or not we’€™re starting our seventeenth season since our family bought the team and it’€™s flown by. We sort of look at like pieces of a puzzle that we’€™re developing and putting together. Every year is different. You mentioned some name players that we didn’€™t get and I understand some fans and talk radio experts, it creates issues. In the end we’€™re always comparing the players that we have and what the status of their contracts are with what the market place is because everything in life is, you’€™ve got to say, ‘€˜What’€™s the alternative? How do we improve?’€™ This year we feel that the players we’€™ve re-signed ‘€” take Vince Wilfork. We don’€™t feel that there’€™s a better player in the marketplace for this team. It’€™s not just on the field, it’€™s the practice, it’€™s the chemistry in the locker room. You guys know how many games are lost in the locker room [when] you’€™ve got a few bad apples who lead people along the wrong way. So we have to put all that together and we’€™ve been able to sign a number of our guys this year who we felt were No. 1 and 2 in the market place. If we had to go out and bring someone else in here we wouldn’€™t have the same knowledge of that individual.”

On being called ‘€œcheap.’€

“Well, the way I look at it, why did we buy this entity? We were fans in this area and we looked forward to buying this team and trying to create something special. We’€™ve had 16 years that we’€™ve owned the team. There is no team that has won more football games the last 16 years than the New England Patriots. We’€™ve gone to six championship games; we’€™ve won five. We’€™ve gone to five Super Bowls; we’€™ve won three. So people might find fault with the way we do something, but life is about execution and not chit chat and chatter. Lots of people can talk a lot, but in the end you judge us by our results in the last 16 years and the fact that there are 32 teams, I’€™m pretty proud that we have the best won-loss record in that period. We don’€™t always do the right thing, but this is a dynamic business that we have to be flexible, go with the flow, and I think that 16 year record is pretty cool.

“If people want to say we’€™re cheap, I don’€™t know what that means. I understand certain players wanting to position themselves to maybe tell the market place, ‘€˜I think I’€™m going to be available.’€™ That’€™s OK, but in the end, we’€™re concerned about how many football games we win at the end of the year. The headlines now, the discussions now, that’€™s all parts of the puzzle, but in the end what happens in December, January, and February is what really matters to us.”

On building for future vs. winning now:

“That’€™s the balance that we’€™re always doing. I know this immodest to say because I’€™ve already said we’€™ve had the best won-loss record the last 16 years, but I don’€™t think anyone’€™s had the consistency. I mean, you look at the last decade. The two years that we missed making the playoffs, we were dependent on other teams. We were very close to making it. We’€™ve been a pretty consistency throughout and I think that’€™s a real management struggle in this league’€”how to be good year in, year out, that’€™s what we want to do. We’€™re never going to sell our soul out for one season and say, ‘€˜this is the year.’€™ We want to have a chance of making the playoffs and doing well year in, year out.’€

On temptation to go after star players and overpay:

“Well I am very competitive and I’€™ll tell you after that Baltimore game it was very depressing. I never remember a game starting out like that where the opening play the guy goes down and Tom [Brady] gets strip-sacked and things unravel. I don’€™t ever remember having a feeling like that and believe me, we don’€™t want to see it repeated. We’€™re trying to do the things that put us in the position not to have that happen this upcoming year. In the end, it’€™s such a dynamic business and things chance and teams change. You always have to be on your toes and try to be a couple steps ahead.”

On direction of team:

“We’€™re doing things at this point in time where I’€™m excited that we have a lot of opportunities to improve our team. The draft this year is a deep draft. We have four picks in the first 54 picks, which I believe is more than any other team. I’€™m hoping that those four people can be on our 45-man roster. That’€™s 10 percent of your team with an upgrade, hopefully in that area.”

On becoming a model franchise and dealing with it through recession:

“I think America is changing. I think the Western world economically is changing. I would encourage our people who are running this country that the most important thing we can do is create jobs. We can’€™t afford a country that has permanent 10 percent unemployment. We have to make sure small and medium size companies can get loans because they’€™re the ones that are going to hire people and be entrepreneurial. With that as a backdrop we take Fred and Steve, who played on this team. They remember when they used to come to the old stadium, get in their cars and drive over to the hospital grounds and, like Pop Warner, play.

“I remember coming when I was looking into buying the team and saying, ‘€˜this is an NFL team and it’€™s like Pop Warner.’€™ You remember we had the racetrack and the dirt, so the family is very proud when we come down here that we’€™ve been able to develop and build this stadium. It’€™s the only one without any public money. We didn’€™t use PSLs and it’€™s really because of the great fan base we have here. We’€™re now privileged to have over 60,000 people on the waiting list. We have to be very careful that we’€™re continuously meeting the demands of the fans ant that were putting a quality product on and it’€™s something that they feel comfortable coming here and make it a full day of entertainment. That’€™s been out stress, that people aren’€™t just coming here to watch a game. It’€™s camaraderie. We have 20,000 parking spaces. We’€™ve built Patriot place to help support it. For those who haven’€™t been to the Hall, I hope they get there and see that.

“This is our dream of an experience that we as fans dreamt about having and trying to make this place special. Now, the economy has complicated things, so I think every business has to make sure that they’€™re delivering a quality product. People in this environment, I think there’€™s a flight to quality. The NFL ratings across the country are the highest ratings in over 20 years. I think people are staying at home more. We’€™re the only mass audience TV product and we have to be careful not to mess it up.”

Could improved technology/bad economy potentially hurt future ticket sales?

“We’€™re trying to add new features and do things. Fred and Steve and speak to it that there’€™s a certain sense of camaraderie of being with the people in the stands that you’€™ve been with. Making it comfortable, tailgating, spending the time here and having it be more than just a game. We have some plans for vanities in the stadium that I think will continue to improve.

“It’€™s the same issue if you think about movie theatres. ‘€¦ More people are going to movies in America today than ever did, so it’€™s something about a communal experience if you’€™re giving it in a wuality kind of way. Our family is going to continue to strive and push that. If we’€™re winning, it makes it a lot more fun to come, because we all know how it felt after that Baltimore game. We don’€™t like that feeling.

“I actually think since we’€™ve opened Gillette, I think we might have the best won-loss record in this stadium, and a lot of that is the fan support and what they do.”

Why do people write that Patriot Place is a ‘€œdrain’€ on the Patriots?

“[The Patriots and Patriot Place] are not connected in any way. They’€™re completely different entities and [why someone would write that] is a complete mystery.

“Patriot Place is doing fine. I don’€™t think retail is booming anywhere, but the restaurants, the Bass Pro, and all the other places in this environment are doing pretty well, so I can’€™t speak to [such reports]. I know the business that my son Danny runs that’€™s international is pretty strong. Knock on wood, once again we’€™ve got to get our government people here to make sure that small and medium size companies are getting loans and that the focus is creating jobs.”

How do you operate with possibility of uncapped year in ‘€™10 and potential lockout in ‘€™11?

“This is a dynamic business. You have to plan for all kinds of contingencies, you have to plan ahead as much as you can. But in every dynamic volatile situation there are inefficiencies. If you’€™re smart, you can take advantage of those situations in the market place. You’€™ve got to stay cool, and I don’€™t want to criticize any of my fellow owners or speak about how they’€™ve managed their operations, but I think this kind of environment creates opportunities if you’€™re cool and you take everything in and strike at the right time. I think that’€™s what we see. As far as the potential of next year, I can just tell you that I’€™m doing everything I can in my power ‘€“ the commissioner has put me on the CC, which is the committee that negotiates our new deal if there is one. I remember ‘€™82 and ‘€™87 and it was a horrible time.

“I think our fans and fans around the country, the last thing they want to hear is squabbles between well-to-do players and well-to-do owners. I can just tell you that I’€™m going to do everything that I can to try to build bridges.

“With all due respect to all the great lawyers out there, you can never let lawyers run your business or run a negotiation without the business people stepping in.

“Sometimes lawyers collect bigger fees when there’€™s litigation. I; m not saying that’€™s the case. Lawyers are trying to protect you and make sure you’€™re covering all the pieces. In the end the business people have to step in at the right time and make a deal.

“We have something great going in America right now. Our fans are really into it, and I think respionsible people on both sides. There’€™s no reason that we shouldn’€™t be able to have a labor deal in place before the ‘€™11 season.”

How do you avoid upsetting fans?

“The fans should not be part of this and we should be smart enough on both sides to work it out. The facts are that we made a bad deal in ‘€™06. It was a four-year deal with a two year option. We had the right to opt out.

“We just did a bad deal. I’€™m sure many of the listeners are small business people or larger business people.. In the end you can’€™t do business without doing a deal that’€™s good for both sides. When it’€™s too one-sided, in the end it’€™s going to cause problems. The ownership made a bad deal, and we’€™ve got to fix it.

“The Patriots are going to be fine no matter what happens because I think the most important thing is we maintain a system with competitive balance. Look at the Super Bowl this year. Indianapolis and New Orleans. Two small market towns, highest rated program in the history of TV. We now have the highest-rated program.

“Look what it did for New Orleans. ‘€¦ It was a great story for America and the power of the NFL and bringing a community together down there in New Orleans. But in the end we have to do what we’€™ve got to do to pull this together.”

Why didn’€™t you object to deal back then?

“We didn’€™t know. It’€™s important that we have competitive balance. It would be a shame if our sport became like some of the other sports. Today in the NFL, 32 teams at the beginning of every season can hope to make it to the big game. I don’€™t think any of the other leagues can say that and I hope we don’€™t mess it up. I promise you I’€™m going to work very hard to do anything I can do to make sure that doesn’€™t happen.”

How difficult is labor situation given how entrenched each side is?

“I just think since we bought the team, I think the salary cap was like $34 [million], and now with fringe benefits it’€™s $150. So in 16 years, income has gone up 500 percent. I don’€™t know how many of your listeners, unless someone is a shareholder of Google or something that their salaries have gone up 500 percent in the last 16 years. I think the players really understand that they’€™ve got something good. We’€™ve got to keep it going. We’€™ve got to figure out a way to keep it growing together. Right now, it’€™s out of whack. We have teams that won’€™t be able to take risks to grow revenue because the margins are too small in this system. So why go out and do things when you’€™re just going to lose money and trade dollars?

“It’€™s difficult to explain in this situation, but it’€™s in the best interest of everyone in ownership goes out and takes risks to grow revenue and it’€™s shared appropriately. Right now we made a mistake. People make errors, people make mistakes. The deal doesn’€™t work for both sides. What I’€™m talking about is a deal where we’€™ll have competitive balance. The Patriots are going to be fine no matter what happens. We’€™re in a big market, but I don’€™t think it’€™s good for the sport long-term not to maintain this special balance that we have.

“Gene [Upshaw] did a great deal and we agreed to it, and we lived up to it. And now it’€™s not working and we’€™ve got to change it. We’€™ve got to chance it so for the next 10, 15, 20 years, the business is sound. I think we have a chance to do it.

“The general public [doesn’€™t] understand how great these players are, how it’€™s a sense of team. It’€™s not a sport where one or two guys make a difference. You need a team. That ‘€™01 team, when we won our first Super Bowl, was a bunch of guys who came together. There were no fancy stars, they pulled it together and it was just a great inspiration. That’€™s what the NFL is about at the core.”

What incentive is there to get deal done between now and next March?

“There will be a lot of posturing and that’€™s OK, but in the end there is enough here that I’€™ll be shocked if we can’€™t come to some kind of resolution. I know I’€™m personally going to do everything I can do to try to be a bridge-builder and bring the sides together because I believe the problems are solvable.

“It’€™s not like we’€™re in a dying industry. We’€™re in an industry where people want to see our product, where people want to be part of it and we can’€™t forget and abuse that. That’€™s sort of what’€™s sad about this, but unfortunately we all have problems that come up and you’€™ve got to deal with them and put them on the table and make it happen.

“As long as business people are looking at the facts and making the decisions, we’€™ll get a resolution to this.”

On Wilfork:

“He’€™s a great guy. I’€™ll tell you, he and Bianca are a great team. He has a lot of confidence in his wife and I like to see big, strong guys who feel vulnerable and trust their women partners. You’€™ve got to pick the right one, that’€™s the key, but it’€™s interesting to see the dynamic of the two of them. They work together as a team well.

“We’€™re so lucky to have Vince as part of this team. He’€™s going to be here at least for 11 years and he has great respect in the locker room. He’€™s one of my favorite guys and if you know him, he’€™s just a great guy. And he’€™s good and I hope people get him angry, because when he gets angry he gets a little nasty.”

On paying him his asking price and not being ‘€œcheap’€

“I don’€™t think we’€™ve ever been in that category. Here’€™s the thing, we pay for quality. Just because you spend a lot of money doesn’€™t mean you’€™re going to be successful. The trick is to spend it wisely and prudently and let it build on it so you can get other things around it that can flow from it. I think this move with Vince and Tully ‘€“ I don’€™t think Tully gets the full appreciation — and then Leigh Bodden. Basically after Dunta Robinson, he was really the top cornerback out there. When you think about how important that position is and what he’€™s meant to our team and have him back as a guy we know. We know how they are in the locker room. We know all these guys want to win, so I’€™m pretty excited about that.”

On almost going after Belichick instead of Pete Carroll in ‘€˜97

“I labored with it very, very hard. I probably wasn’€™t ready. I had had so much of what had gone on at the Super Bowl and Bill Parcells didn’€™t comply with the team and I just wanted a change of pace. Pete Carroll was great and having had the experience with both Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll, I think I was more ready for ownership with a guy like Bill Belichick. I also think Belichick evolved in New York in ways that got him ready for the position.

“That’€™s the only thing [I question about what I’€™ve done as an owner], but in retrospect it’€™s probably better that we connected when we connected than if we had done it right then. I also think Pete Carroll was a great coach and did a lot, and I wish him well except when he plays us.

“Pete had had experience with the Jets and he had the experience with both. He was a great guy and it was a great experience for three years. It was a rebound kind of thing. Life is about relationships developed. In business you learn every year. Hopefully, intelligent people try to learn.”

Read More: Leigh Bodden, Robert Kraft, Vince Wilfork,
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