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During a wide-ranging interview at the 2012 Intersport Activation Summit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell touched on everything from his relationship with the NFLPA to opportunities in Latin America to making Thursday night an NFL football night every week. He also talked about his personal man cave, and what he thinks of those long hugs on draft night. Here is the interview, which was conducted by Intersport President & CEO Charlie Besser. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Does the NFL plan to make the in-stadium experience it offered at this year’s Super Bowl, which featured accessibility on the big screen, statistics, highlights and replays, more consistent across the league?
Goodell: It’s a very big initiative for us. The experience at home is so great ... it’s challenging to get people to come into stadiums. One of the things we’re concerned about is that we ask our fans to disengage when they come into our stadium: they can’t use their cell phones, they can’t get video, they can’t do a lot of things you can do walking down the street. We have to make that better. Part of it is making sure we bring technology into the stadium so they can get access to the Red Zone, NFL.com or any other app they have. Beyond technology, you have to make sure they’re safe and entertained from the moment they walk in to when they walk home.
Q: Do you run into resistance on that?
Goodell: Some teams take the approach that this is a football game and part of our experience is a very traditional experience. The thing is not: Do we want to entertain our fan? It’s, How do we entertain our fan? It’s technology versus traditional. It’s how we move down that sphere and make it more entertaining without losing that tradition.
Q: What does the NFL do to act less as an administrator for sponsors and more as a partner?
Goodell: It starts with philosophy. It’s not just about slapping a company’s logo with the NFL logo. Do we have the same, common interest? Are we trying to accomplish something that makes sense for the company partnering with us? Is there something the company can provide to help us achieve an objective? One of the things we’re really focused on is how we bring technology into the stadium. We want to find partners that want to help us do that. Along the way they can help our initiatives and we can help their initiatives. I’m a firm believer that a great deal of our success is because of our partners.
Q: What impact do you think the Dodgers sale has on NFL valuation?
Goodell: I don’t think a lot. When people are buying a particular asset, they’re looking at what they’re buying. In the Dodgers, you have a great stadium and great brand and you also have some opportunities on the media side, some of which we don’t have in the NFL. I believe that the sports brands are limited. That has an increase in the value. One of the things we focus on is not how much we can get for a franchise but keeping owners in. We want to keep stability in the league and allow them to get value by owning a franchise, not by selling.
Q: What’s happening in Los Angeles, and how do you see that effort playing out?
Goodell: We do not want to come back in to Los Angeles and fail. We haven’t been there for 17 years now. The NFL has done great. Los Angeles has done great. We can survive without each other. But this is a case of one and one equals three, four, five. It starts with the right facility. We have to have the right facility to make the team successful. Whenever we come back we do it in the right way. It’s got to be big and it’s got to be great. It’s got to have a wow factor because you’re in the entertainment capital of the world.
Q: Where is the NFL’s future growth going to come from?
Goodell: Our game has a great opportunity to grow with the way technology is developing. People are consuming content on every single one of their devices and we’re there. There’s never a better time to be an NFL fan than right now because you can get NFL football anytime you want. What we’re trying to do is build a 365-day calendar of football -- not games -- but we’re building the combine, we’re building the draft, we’re building camps.
Q: Will strong content help grow the sport internationally?
Goodell: That’s another area of growth for us. We don’t have to rely on international broadcasters any more to distribute our product. I can remember in the ‘90s one of my jobs in international was essentially begging broadcasters to put us on. Now we can go directly to fans, and it’s working. This will be our sixth game overseas in London and every year it gets bigger and better. We’re going to potentially expand out to two games next year.
Q: Do you see Latin America as an area for growth?
Goodell: Absolutely. Particularly Mexico. We’d like to get back there with a regular season game. Our broadcast opportunities have continued to grow.
Q: Do you think we’re going to see games on Hulu, Amazon or NetFlix?
Goodell: We just extended our broadcast contracts with all of our broadcast partners. We’re proud of that. Being available on free television is a big factor in the NFL’s growth. We have five different networks promoting the NFL on a weekly basis. That’s a huge advantage for us. What we now want to focus on is how we take complementary media and continue to build that and engage our fans on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week. NFL.com and NFL Network provide a huge opportunity for us.
Q: What is next for the NFL Network?
Goodell: We started with our Thanksgiving Thursday nights. Now we’re going to fill in those other Thursdays for the rest of the season and create Thursday night as a night of football. They’ve done an extraordinary job of promoting the NFL and they’ve forced our other partners to step up their game.
Q: Do you see playoff games on the network?
Goodell: I don’t in the short term. We’ve extended our agreements for the next 11 years. There’s no opportunity within that context to do that. I guess if we expanded our playoffs we’d have the potential for that. But right now we like being available on the broadest possible distribution.
Q: What’s your feeling about an 18-game schedule?
Goodell: We don’t need four preseason games. We probably need two at the most. The fans don’t like the preseason product. It’s not up to NFL standards. We have to think about whether or not we can flip two preseason games for two regular-season games. The factor you have to analyze there is player safety. We had the chance to do that unilaterally, but we want to do it with our partners. As we continue our efforts to make the game safer, we’ll do that. Otherwise, we’ll look at other opportunities like 16 and two.
Q: It was announced this week that the Pro Bowl will take place again in Hawaii. How was that decision made?
Goodell: There was a lot of discussion with the players. The last three Pro Bowls we saw declining quality of play. We said, ‘We’re not going to continue to do this.’ The players felt strongly they could make the game more competitive. They had ideas to do that. We’re going to support them in doing that.
Q: So this is about protecting the brand?
Goodell: It is. The Pro Bowl still got an 8 rating. My view is just because you can get an 8 rating doesn’t mean its good for your brand. We have to represent quality in every opportunity. If it’s not representing quality, I’d rather not do it.
Q: How have the New Orleans decisions reflected your belief about the culture of the league?
Goodell: In this case, it was creating a culture of safety. It’s about making sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure our players are as safe as possible in a tough game. It was clear to me when we discovered there was a bounty program that we had to take a strong stand. People need to understand its not acceptable in football, it’s not part of football in any part of the game. We made it clear we weren’t going to accept it. We wanted to make sure if anybody decided this was the way to go they understood the consequences were very real.
Q: You consistently face tough decisions. Who do you go to when you have a hard decision to make?
Goodell: I rely on our staff and our club people. We have 32 clubs with tremendous resources, from ownership right across the organization, that has an important perspective. Anytime you isolate yourself and think you have the all the answers and go in a room and come out with an answer, you have a problem. Our issue is to listen to other perspectives, most importantly the ones you disagree with. Sometimes it moves you to a third solution, and it’s better. Don’t rush to judgment. Try to make sure you have all the facts straight and do the right thing regardless of the consequences. It’s not easy to suspend someone but ultimately it’s in the best interest of the sport long term.
Q: What is the status of the relationship with the NFLPA?
Goodell: I’ve read recently that we can’t agree on anything. We agreed on the Pro Bowl yesterday. My predecessor was being accused of being too close to Gene Upshaw and Gene Upshaw was accused of being too close to Paul (Tagliabue). I don’t know if there’s ever a right relationship there other than respect. We’re interested in doing what’s best for the game at all times. We may not agree on everything but we’ll work it out. I think we proved that last year. We went through a difficult labor issue but we came through it.
Q: Do you get a chance to get out to games?
Goodell: I do have a man cave at home, which has a lot of dolls around because I have twin girls who are 10. I try and stay one weekend at home. It’s important to see the experience on TV. I probably go to 25 games a year.
Q: As you look out, what do you view as your biggest challenge?
Goodell: Safety. We’ve been very open about the challenges we have on that front, making rule changes, getting better equipment, pioneering research that makes the game better for our athletes. Not just our game. The things we’ve learned in football and things we’re bringing to the game are helping other sports. Concussions aren’t solely a football issue. Other sports have them. In fact, women’s soccer has the second highest level of concussions.
Q: What’s up with the NFL draft hugs? They’re getting uncomfortably long.
Goodell: It’s funny. I meet with all the draft-eligible players the day before. They always ask: what’s that moment like? These kids have been dreaming about this and working towards this. This is their moment. They’ve finally made it into the NFL. There was no surprise for Andrew [Luck]. He knew the Colts were taking him but when he walked out on the stage it was that moment of achievement and triumph. For me, to be part of that, is a cool thing. But these guys, they wrap you up. The first guys that did it to me was Gerald McCoy a few years ago. He hit me so hard I thought I was going off the stage.
Long-term naming-rights deals, though elusive for some new venues, continue to be a vital tool for some companies, not as a short-term marketing fix but as the underpinning of a relationship with both consumers and business partners, said panelists at the 2012 Intersport Activation Summit. “If you designed it to fit a marketing campaign that’s going to come and go, then you’ve missed the mark,” said Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment Exec VP Jeff Knapple. “It’s a long-term proposition. Building brand value with consumers is an every day of the year, every year of the decade job.” U.S. Cellular Exec VP and Chief Strategy & Brand Officer Alan Ferber said that the target when his company originally signed a naming-rights deal with the White Sox nine years ago was to raise awareness about the brand, which was new to the Chicago market. “Naming-rights deals for an existing stadium are particularly tricky,” he said, “especially one with a long-held name like Comiskey Park. We were really specific that we wanted the money to go toward something that created a better fan experience. We said all the money needs to go to renovating the stadium. That’s exactly what happened.” MetLife VP/Global Brand Marketing Richard Hong said that one of the challenges in making a long-term commitment for the stadium that houses the NFL Giants and Jets was future-proofing the deal. “It’s the part where people get awfully creative about what the future may bring in terms of changes to the sport, how it’s broadcast [and] what technology may bring,” he said.
CHANGING ENVIRONMENT: Hong suggested that companies “assume that the environment will change and program some kind of open period where the parties can come back together and, in the spirit of the partnership, reassess what is going on.” Gillette Sports Marketing Global Dir Greg Via said his company did just that, renegotiating its naming-rights deal for the Patriots’ stadium and then recently renewing the contract. Gillette had originally signed the deal in '02 when it was a stand-alone company, but after being bought by Procter & Gamble in '05, Gillette execs met again with the Patriots to add terms. “When P&G came and bought the company, the dynamics changed, the sales force changed,” Via said. “We don’t activate locally, we now have to activate nationally. So it was a little more complex operation.” Gillette also added signage for the practice field, interview backdrops and practice jerseys into the contract.
** Populous Associate Principle Brian Mirakian, on the inventory of sports venues: “The landscape has evolved pretty rapidly. What we have to continually challenge ourselves with is, if we’re going to create buildings and we’re going to bring people from their homes, where they are comfortable and they have their 65-inch plasma and they’re able to check their fantasy stats during a football game, what are we going to do to bring people to these buildings and to create an environment that’s connectable?”
** Knapple, on the future of sports venues: “If we’re going to build these stadiums, new ones specifically, then the more technology drives decision making, the more activation can happen, the more social media can happen, the more a building has to try to be alive 365 days a year. The owners need to think though -- they can’t just build seats any longer, they can’t just build premium spaces anymore -- it’s how they can create a destination.”
Maximizing hospitality as a return on investment hinges on one major issue -- creating for clients unforgettable experiences that will continue long after the game ends, according to panelists at the '12 Intersport Activation Summit. “Things that last beyond the event are the key to success,” said JP Morgan Chase Head of Sports & Entertainment Marketing Steve Pamon. “You have to know who you are talking to and what motivates them.” At Wrigley Field, the Cubs are pushing hospitality experiences and opportunities beyond the 81 regular-season home games. “We are doing different events to create emotional experiences that are customized to deliver results,” said Cubs Exec VP and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Wally Hayward. But even the best planned events can fail if there is a lack of execution. “We bring hundreds of people to the Super Bowl every year,” said Pepsi Dir of Sports Marketing Todd Kaplan. “The devil is in the details. There is a lot of planning to do.” Intersport Senior VP/Strategic Partnerships Chuck Johnsen said that leveraging hospitality into new business is based on the quality of relationships between the client and company. “It all boils down to relationships,” he said. “How well you know your customer.” Today, with more pressure to deliver results on hospitality spending, companies are more closely tracking who is sitting in their suites and seats. "We make sure we have the right person there,” said KPMG Dir of Sports Marketing & Sponsorships Shawn Quill. “We have steps along the way to do that. We have found that quality has gone dramatically up.”
Properties and teams are doing a better job of understanding companies’ retail needs and working to customize opportunities that allow brands to get a better return on their investment. During a panel at the 2012 Intersport Activation Summit on retail activation, Muscle Milk Senior VP/Marketing John Peirano pointed to new packaging that Muscle Milk will roll out this summer as an example of the flexibility that properties and teams are beginning to show. Though they are archrivals, the logos of both USC and UCLA will be featured together on Muscle Milk in California. “Getting those two schools on board to use co-marks was very difficult, but in the end it was worth it,” Peirano said. Hershey Co. Senior Manager of Consumer Promotions Drew Iddings agreed that properties had made some strides in their willingness to cooperate, but said they still struggle to understand that companies like Hershey need customized POS promotions for different retailers. “The Walmarts and Targets of the world want a unique activation,” Iddings said. “We can’t sell the same thing to Target we sell to Walmart. We need a program we can activate nationally, but can customize.” The power of sports as a platform to appeal to consumers at retail is taking on global importance at Subway. The company has found so much value in its designation as “the official training restaurant” of athletes that it is beginning to use some of the athletes it endorses, like U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, in markets ranging from Africa to Mexico. “It’s a best practice for us,” said Subway Dir of Sports Marketing, PR & Partnerships Paul Bamundo. “You’re going to see us look for athletes more and more we can use internationally.” But sports are not the only platform that brands are activating at retail. Dunkin’ Donuts has partnered with movies in recent years and uses the national appeal of Hollywood to expand its brand awareness outside the Northeast. “It’s really helped our brand become more of a national brand and be seen nationally versus some of the local initiatives we’ve done,” said Dunkin’ Brands VP/Field Marketing Tom Manchester.