Saturday, February 03, 2007

Countdown to Kickoff – Roger Goodell shines on the Super Bowl XLI stage

Roger Goodell offered his first “state of the National Football League” to the assembled media at Super Bowl XLI. Showing the poise and confidence that belied his rookie status on center-stage Goodell made it clear to the media that he’s at the helm of the National Football League and all is well with the good ship NFL.

Much has been made of the shining moment that will take place Sunday during Super Bowl XLI when Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy become the first African Americans to lead their teams’ as head coaches in a Super Bowl game. Earlier Friday, Smith and Dungy shared another Super Bowl first earlier Friday, they became the first two head coaches to be photographed together with the Vince Lombardi Trophy days before one of the two men will hoist the trophy as Super Bowl winning head coach Sunday evening.

“We’re proud of Tony (Dungy) and Lovie (Smith) as great football coaches. They have meant a great deal to the NFL. They're people of incredibly high character, and to see the success they're having on the field as NFL coaches is very rewarding for all of us. It is obviously of particular note that they are African Americans, and the success that they are having on the field is something that we're very proud of. And I know they're proud of it as African Americans, but I know they want to be remembered and thought of as great football coaches, and they are, I think, in the NFL's minds.
”I think it will lead to greater opportunities, because the whole basis of the Rooney Rule was to make sure we had the best possible people in those positions. And whether it's coaching for an office or anything associated with the NFL, we want to have a sophisticated process that is open and diverse that will find the best possible candidate for those positions. These are two great examples and it's happening across the league and we're proud of it.” Goodell told the media.

One issue Goodell was grilled on, his reaction to the problems the NFL continues to face off the field. From Chicago Bears defensive lineman’s Tank Johnson’s house arrest, to nine members of the Cincinnati Bengals facing legal issues during their teams current NFL season. Goodell and NFL officials are well aware the image of the league has taken a tremendous hit throughout the 2006 NFL season.

“Well, we have to do something about it. I think it's an incredibly important issue. One incident is too many, in my book. I think we need to reevaluate all of our programs. We have a tremendous number of programs that I think have been quite successful to help our players. But I think we've got to do more. We are going to start that process, one, by evaluating our policies; but two, Gene and I are going to put together a group of players we're going to meet with in the next several weeks to give us their perspective on what's really happening and what are the issues, so we can try to learn something first.

“But I think our focus has to be on reevaluating our policies, make sure we educate our players to what's out there. We continually tell our players and our coaches that we are raised to a higher standard in the NFL and we have to exceed that standard. I firmly believe that and I think Gene does, also.

“We have to make sure our players are more accountable, but I think also our clubs have to be more accountable and we will be reevaluating our position to see if there are ways we should make our clubs more accountable in the offseason.” Goodell said.

It’s next to impossible for Goodell to address the behavior of NFL players away from the football field under the current collective bargaining agreement. At the same time, Goodell is well aware the league’s image is under fire because of the criminal activity of far too many NFL players.

“I see it differently. I don't see it in droves. I think there are very few. But a few is too many in my book. I think when you have the outstanding athletes that we have, and we have two of them here today, that won the Walter Payton Award, Drew Brees and LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). These are two of the finest people I know. Not just football players, but outstanding people.

“We're proud of our players. We recognize that at times some of our players don't do what we would hope they do. When that happens we will be very aggressive in dealing with that and we have stepped up our discipline this year, and I intend to continue to do that, “Goodell offered in a glass is half full view of the problem.

That didn’t stop Goodell from narrowing in on the problems with the Bengals. Nine different players have been arrested in the last 13 months, an ungodly number even for the National Football League.

“I think we all take it personally. I think it's something we have to address. From our standpoint we have talked with Mike on several occasions. We have offered services and he has taken those services to try to address these issues. It's part of what Gene and I are going to be talking about with the players in the next several weeks to understand a little bit what's happening in these particular markets.

“Why is it happening in one market versus another market? What it is that players need as support or what they need as education? And we'll do that very aggressively over the next several months. But I don't know the answer to that, but we want to find it and we're going to find it.”

Goodell wasn’t asked a great deal about the NFL Network, other than the availability of games and the anger football fans have about the lack of cable carriers offering the NFL Network.

“First off we're very proud of the NFL Network. It has been extremely high quality programming. We think it's been terrific in giving fans another perspective of football that they wouldn't ordinarily see, because it's 365 days, 24 hours a day. That's what we're trying to build is giving fans an opportunity to experience football in ways that they haven't been able to do in the past. We think it's going to be extremely successful.

“I think I'd point out for the fans that it's part of our building process, but we show every one of our football games on live, free television. And that's important. And we will continue to make sure that that's an emphasis going forward.” Goodell commented.

While Goodell wasn’t asked if the NFL will consider adding more games to the NFL Network in the future, it’s clear unless and until the NFL Network has more leverage with cable carriers the network will be unable to grow its subscriber base. It makes perfect sense for the NFL to consider a full Thursday and Saturday night schedule of games when the current television contracts run out in six years. For that to take place the NFL will have to expand by two teams. The NFL will need to expand by two franchises to preserve the integrity of their Sunday schedule. If the NFL hopes to continue to generate $3.75 billion annually in television rights fees and add more games to the NFL Network, expansion has to take place in the next six years.

Goodell addressed not only if the NFL is looking at expansion into Los Angeles, but addressed the future of the San Diego Chargers at the same time.

“In San Diego I've been in close touch with Mr. Spanos and his management team. I was out there for the playoff game. I have not met with any of the local officials. I have offered to do that if I can be of any help.

“But from the NFL standpoint, we want to do whatever we can to support the team in that market. They are working hard to stay in that market. They have, for several years, been focused on various stadium alternatives that they think will work for the stadium and the team. My hat's off for him. I'm happy to play any role in doing that.

“On your second question in Los Angeles. Los Angeles, again, we need to find a solution in Los Angeles that works for both the community and the NFL. It's important to us to be in Los Angeles long-term, but we have survived quite well without Los Angeles, Los Angeles has survived quite well without the NFL. But I think we would be better together. I want to find a way to do that that would be best for all parties.”

Along with Los Angeles the only other city brought up in regard to NFL expansion was Toronto. Recently retired NFL commissioner usually mocked the annual Toronto expansion NFL franchise question during his Super Bowl press conference. Goodell didn’t come out and say Toronto would be getting an NFL franchise, in fact Goodell made it clear he has tremendous respect for the Toronto market and what it represents to the NFL’s future plans not only for expansion, but for the NFL’s upcoming series of international regular season games the league will begin next year in London.

“We've had a great deal of interest from Toronto to host a regular season game. We agreed with the officials in Toronto and the CFL, because they have a Grey Cup. We've had a long-standing relationship with the CFL and hope to continue that. They are a part of the history and tradition.

“We're not in an expansion mode right now. We're making sure our 32 teams succeed at the highest-possible level at their current markets. And Toronto is a great city and would be a great host if they had an NFL team. But that's for another day.”

Goodell was asked if the NFL has any future in Las Vegas. Given the NBA is taking their All-Star Weekend to Las Vegas in two weeks time, and basketball’s Tournament of the Americas will be played in Las Vegas in late August, is the NFL softening its stance on Las Vegas?

“I feel strongly about keeping a very strong line between the NFL and sports gambling, and sports betting. I think it's a real issue. I have my personal views about gambling and I don't think it's in the best interests of the NFL to have any association with sports betting. I think we are working hard with all of our franchises now to stay where they are, to stay competitive and successful in those communities and make those communities even better. I do not, from my standpoint, have any dialogue with anybody about that -- that hypothetical, but we're going to work hard to try to keep our teams where they are.”

Goodell took the opportunity Friday to announce the two teams who will play a regular season game in London, England on October 28 will be the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins, with the Dolphins giving up a home game at Dolphins Stadium. While that didn’t come as much of a surprise, Goodell was asked why the 2007 NFL international regular season game didn’t end up in Germany. Germany is home to five of the six NFL Europa franchises, the last time England was home to an NFL Europe franchise was in 1999.

“I just met with the Lord Mayor of Dusseldorf just last week and he has a tremendous amount of interest from doing this game. We also do it from Berlin and Frankfurt.

"We understand the growing popularity of the game on a global basis. But we think this has to be done on a limited basis. We have tremendous fans here in the States also, that it's difficult to take a game away from a home team. So we're doing that on a very small basis out of concern for our fans here in the States.

“On the other hand, I think there are new technologies developing or new technologies where we can share our game with fans throughout the globe. And hope to get too many of your readers in Germany.”

And what about Mexico City, is Mexico City part of the NFL’s current plans for one or two games annually through the 2011 season being played on foreign soil?

“It actually was considered. We have had, as you know, we've played our first regular season game in our history in Mexico City last year. It was a great success and it led, frankly, to the fact that our ownership would approve playing regular season games on a more limited basis annually.

“We love Mexico. We have a great fan base there. It's growing every day. We are very interested in going back. And we hope to be dealing with the various officials in Mexico to try to get that done for the 2008 season,” Goodell said.

Goodell was asked a very pointed question relating to the current NFL CBA. There have been suggestions that the players will look at opting out of the CBA after the 2008 season, there are issues with revenue sharing and NFL big and small market NFL owners are not enamored with the current CBA.

“I think the first thing we have to do is do a great deal of analysis. We've had a great system with the Players Association for a long period of time. We have a new agreement we're operating under. It obviously has new mechanisms; it has new aspects of the deal we have to evaluate to make sure they're working, not only to the NFL but also for the players.

“I think, from our standpoint, I know there's some concern about the cost of the deal. But we have to do that evaluation. So I would urge all of us to be patient, to understand it, do the evaluation. It is our job, our responsibility with the players to strike a reasonable agreement that works for all parties. And we are assured, at least, that we will have labor peace through 2010. So we will have a lot of work to do. We will be in great contact with Gene and his team. But I feel confident that we will be able to address the issues as we go forward, because we have a responsibility to do that.”

The National Football League continues to raise the bar in terms of helping franchises build stadiums. The NFL’s G-3 Fund allows teams to borrow against future stadium generated revenues to help finance their portion of whatever stadium agreement they reach with their local and state governments. In the last year alone the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Giants/Jets stadium projects have all benefited from the G-3 Fund. With the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49’ers looking for their share of the G-3 pie, and with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders playing in facilities that no longer offer the revenue generating features newer stadiums have, where is the NFL’s G-3 Fund and how many more teams can go to the well before it runs dry? Goodell delivered the bad news Friday.

“The G-3 Fund has been exhausted. We used that on our last three facilities, Kansas City and -- two facilities, two New York teams in New York and the Kansas City facility. And that represents a huge investment by the league in trying to get these done.

“We have always had a league-wide stadium funding mechanism. I anticipate we will. But this has to be considered within the context of our labor agreement and revenue sharing with the Players Association. They were cooperative and worked with us on the New York stadium and we appreciate that.

“But I think there's a much broader, deeper issue that we're going to have to get to, to be able to continue to have the kind of funding mechanisms we've had on the league level. And we look forward to having those conversations. We'll continue to work with the California authorities to see what we can do to work for both the community and the NFL.”

It has been a great year for the NFL. Record attendance, the first eleven weeks of the schedule completely sold out, the best television ratings in years, there are many challenges ahead for Goodell but overall it’s steady as she goes for the good ship NFL. Sunday night when either the Indianapolis Colts or Chicago Bears get to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a sea of confetti, Roger Goodell’s first year will come to an end. Monday morning the many challenges for year two begin in earnest.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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