Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time for sports version of Romano Pontifici Eligendo and Universi Dominici Gregis

The most coveted job in sports – National Football League commissioner, could be decided today in Chicago. While current NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue hasn’t died, the process for the election of a new Pope is eerily similar to the election of a new NFL commissioner.

In the last 50 plus years the NFL has had two commissioners, Pete Rozelle and Tagliabue and like the amazing reign of Pope John Paul II, the NFL prospered during the long ‘period of influence’ Rozelle and Tagliabue had as commissioners. First Rozelle and then Tagliabue forever changed the landscape of the sports industry, moving the overall dollars involved in the sports industry to the $500 billion figure. As NFL owners begin the voting for a new commissioner this afternoon, they won’t be burning ballots after each vote offering black smoke until they elect a new commissioner, but they would be wise to consider all of their options for what is arguably the most important opportunity in the sports industry today.

The five finalists each had an opportunity to present their case as to why NFL owners should have their vote Monday. In what has the overtones of a major political convention (or at least The West Wing), Paul Tagliabue drew lots as to the speaking order.

The owners first heard from Gregg Levy. Its interesting with so many media pundits suggesting Roger Goddell is the ‘obvious choice’ with Goddell’s strong NFL connections; Levy is the candidate who has a background that almost mirrors Paul Tagliabue. Like Tagliabue, Levy currently is the lead counsel for the NFL.

He’s proven himself to NFL owners winning the leagues case against Maurice Clarett, when Clarett unsuccessfully petitioned the NFL for entry into the leagues draft after he left Ohio State after his sophomore year. If Clarett had won, the precedent could have changed the NFL’s relationship with college football. The current CBA dictates once a student’s ‘class’ has completed their Junior year, he can make himself eligible for the NFL draft. Levy ensured the status quo would remain.

Levy is also a Partner in the Washington, DC, law firm of Covington & Burling (Tagliabue’s former law firm).

Next came the first of the three so called “outsiders’ candidates without NFL backgrounds. Comments made last week by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver illustrated the uphill battle the outsiders faced before they had their chance to dazzle NFL owners Monday.

“I know [the outside candidates] have been prepped … on the pressing league issues," owner Wayne Weaver said last week in a Yahoo Sports report. "But I wouldn't expect them to have the in-depth knowledge of those issues, and I wouldn't expect them to come forward with a solution for some of those issues.

"I think the most important thing is that these outside candidates have the intellectual capacity to grasp these issues and understand the importance of these issues. They certainly have to have some understanding of the media landscape and understand how important this whole media piece is because it's our biggest revenue driver, by far."

Up next was Mayo A. Shattuck III. If the owners are looking for a man who may have married the ultimate ‘trophy wife’ Shattuck’s wife Molly, is a Baltimore Raven cheerleader for the second consecutive season. Imagine the scene if Shattuck presents the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Steve Bisciotti and Molly pom-poms and all is part of the scene – if a picture can speak a thousand words, well you might have an encyclopedia.

Shattuck’s better half aside, President & CEO of Constellation Energy Group, Inc., and has the right education getting his MBA from the Stanford Business School (Phil Knight’s personal favorite).

If the NFL is looking to make a statement then Fred Nance will earn a lot of support. Nance is the only minority candidate among the five. Nance has earned the opportunity on merit. While he doesn’t have an ongoing relationship with the NFL office along the lines of the relationship Godell and Levy he played the key role in the NFL’s return to Cleveland, which included the then record $540 million NFL owners realized, and the building of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Nance had to deal with both the complexities of negotiating an expansion agreement and stadium agreement with the bitterness of Art Modell moving the Browns hanging over the talks.

Nance is the Managing Partner at the Cleveland law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, where he focuses on commercial litigation, public sector law and construction.

The most recent NFL racial and gender equity report published by UCF’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in May 2005 the NFL received a B for race and a D+ for gender. The B for race was third among the big three men’s sports, after the NBA’s A and MLB’s B+. Its D+ for gender also followed the NBA’s B and MLB’s C.

The NFLPA maintained its A+ for race and gender and was the best among the professional players associations reviewed. It goes without saying, Nance being elected as NFL commissioner could dramatically change the landscape of the sports industry. However it needs to be reinforced that Nance is an outstanding candidate on merit and his accomplishments will earn him many votes among NFL owners.

The owners then took a break around 3:30 before hearing from the last two finalists, Roger Goodell and finally Robert Reynolds.

When George Bush (Senior) successfully ran for President in 1988 (bonus points if you don’t have to Google the internet for who the Democrats had as their nominee) one of the messages the Bush campaign consistently made was Bush’s experience and he (President Bush had worked a lifetime for the opportunity to lead his country). It worked in 1988 and failed in 1992. Roger Goodell has focused much of his professional career on replacing Paul Tagliabue.

Goodell is 47, the youngest of the five candidates (although the oldest is 53). He is the NFL’s Chief Operating Officer; the leagues number three man, and the individual many believe Tagliabue has groomed as his replacement. Goodell likely has the right political connections a factor that will go a long way towards determining if he is the next NFL commissioner. He is the son of former U.S. Rep. and Sen. Charles Goodell (R-NY). Charles Goodell served as a congressman from western New York for ten years and was then appointed to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

After graduating from Washington & Jefferson College in 1981 with a degree in economics, Goodell moved into the NFL offices in 1982 as an intern. His first job – clipping articles out of newspapers about the league, a precursor to the day’s interns spent before services like SportsBusinessNews.com and other similar services made life easier for the sports industry. His next move was to the New York Jets in 1983 before moving back to the league’s offices in 1984. Tagliabue appointed Goodell COO in 2001.

Goodell clearly would represent the safe choice to NFL owners. His entire professional career has been spent working for the National Football League. His experience is on both the business and communications departments for the league, clearly the two key economic engines that drive the NFL. The key is Goodell is not only the safe choice but the right person for the job. Similar to Fred Nance earning his opportunity and at the same time offering the NFL a minority candidate with the right background, Roger Goodell has earned the opportunity. No one has brought up this issue, but if Goodell where to not be elected, he’d likely move on to another opportunity. The loss of Tagliabue is going to be tough enough for the NFL, losing Goodell as well could hurt how corporate America looks at the NFL.

Robert L. Reynolds was the fifth and final candidate to meet with NFL owners Monday, the end of what was a long and hopefully important day in NFL history. As the Vice chairman and COO of Fidelity Investments in Boston, Reynolds reportedly has the support of New England Patriots owners Robert Kraft. Kraft continues to move the Patriots brand and business forward. If Kraft positions himself as Reynolds “Rabbi” the classic kingmaker role any serious candidate needs to win, do not underestimate Reynolds chances of winning. Kraft has a great deal of respect among his NFL brethren, and that respect will move Reynolds candidacy forward.

If one of the final five can have a wife as an NFL cheerleader (Shattuck) Reynolds 15 years as a college football referee will help him earn votes. However, as his bio indicates, Reynolds business background is second to none (as are each of the candidates). He was a trust officer at Wheeling Dollar Bank. He joined NCNB Corp. of Charlotte, NC, in 1977. He later became Senior VP of NCNB, now Bank of America. He was also Exec VP of Fidelity Management Trust Company and president of Fidelity Institutional Retirement Services Company.

The first vote isn’t expected to take place until mid to late afternoon. The magic number to be elected as the next NFL commissioner is 22.

By a unanimous 32-0 vote, NFL owners on Monday adopted the following resolution, which establishes the procedure for electing a commissioner, with balloting possibly beginning as early as Tuesday afternoon:

Whereas, the ability of the league's membership to reach a decision to select the next commissioner may be enhanced with specified procedures, be it resolved that:

1. The initial rounds of voting will be conducted by secret ballot;
2. If no candidate receives the necessary 22 votes on any of the first three ballots, those three ballots, at a minimum, will include all five candidates nominated by the search committee;
3. During the voting process, it may become evident that additional voting procedures should be implemented in order to reach a membership consensus; and
4. The commissioner, in consultation with the search committee, will weigh membership views and determine whether to follow procedures such as (for example) the following:
a) dropping the candidate(s) with the fewest votes from one or more subsequent ballots;
b) implementing an open roll-call vote;
c) having the full membership rank the candidates in order of preference; and
d) other similar procedural steps

Tagliabue made it clear to the media, without anointing Goodell, who he believed would be his replacement, saying -- "I'm not going to be surprised by anything this week."

"I think it's been a very balanced process," Tagliabue added. "There was no contention. There were different points of view, but nothing out of the ordinary."

Some NFL owners went on and off the record with ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli.

"It's been a good and thorough process," said Jets owner Woody Johnson, a member of the search committee, "and that process is moving forward here today. But in matters this important, I'm not going to be drawn into making any predictions."

One unnamed NFC owner told ESPN.com: "No matter how worthy or viable the rest of the candidates appear to be, I just can't fathom us putting the league in the hands of a guy we've only known for a couple hours. You can read all the reports in the world, complete all the due diligence, but the bottom line is, they're outsiders. And I don't know that it's prudent to stir the pot with a person who isn't very familiar with us, and with whom we are not all that familiar, either. So, yeah, I'd say the tea leaves look pretty good [for Goodell]."

"I think there's a chance that we'll be done [on Tuesday]," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, co-chairman of the eight-man selection committee which winnowed the list. "A good chance."

The National Football League is a $6 billion business. Its television contracts are valued at $3.75 billion, more then every other sports television rights agreement – combined together. NFL expansion fees (when and if the league expands again) will likely top $1 billion. In the next decade most NFL franchises will be likely be worth an average of $1 billion or more. If you’re an NFL owner business is good, it’s been very good under the leadership of Paul Tagliabue. When business is good it only makes sense to keep the status quo – therefore elect Roger Goodell as the next NFL commissioner today. And make it clear Goodell is the only choice – except an announcement sometime later today that Roger Goodell is the new commissioner of the National Football League. White smoke won’t be coming out of a chimney, but it would be appropriate if green smoke, the color of money did.
For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: ESPN.com and Yahoo Sports.