SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Opinion

Watching Roger Goodell

A question asked over dinner was, “Does Roger Goodell have the easiest job of any major league commissioner?”

Despite the NFL having labor peace and long-term media rights deals locked in for the next decade, I can’t say that any league commissioner job is “easy,” but I got the gist of the question. Goodell has set a foundation for stability in the league and can turn the focus to the game on the field and to revenue growth.

In watching Goodell recently on “60 Minutes” and at the Super Bowl, it’s clear how in command and comfortable he is as leader of America’s biggest sports property. He was constantly in control: comfortable in challenging the media, but also self-aware on certain issues, as when he acknowledged that fans’ booing during the Pro Bowl was a sign that the game should change. The only stumble was his confusing response to the open L.A. market, where he seemed to indicate expansion was an option during the “Costas Tonight” show on NBC Sports Network but the next day said, “We have not talked about expansion in the league at all.”

But clearly he and the league left Indy on a high — just read some of the post-mortems. “The NFL has a beat, and millions of us move to it,” said the Charlotte Observer, while the Washington Times noted “[it’s] scary how gigantic the NFL has gotten.”

But while it seems like easy street at the league, it isn’t. The persistent challenge for Goodell will be his political navigation skills and maintaining balance among an agenda-driven ownership group. He, of course, must focus on the product on the field, something I believe he does; he is obviously a fan first. There are still valuable content packages, such as mobile, that the league can further monetize. There is a possible new TV package but that seems reliant on an 18-game schedule, which remains an area of contention with the players. Goodell also must be mindful of the league’s relationship with its former players and the constant threat of concussions.

There is also what to do in Los Angeles, as well as what the league’s international growth strategy is. It seems that until international revenue becomes a major part of the league’s financials, it will be treated as a “nice to have,” not a “must have,” part of the agenda. Finally, the in-venue experience and effectively selling tickets to an “event” and not just a “game” will be a priority.

Goodell works tirelessly. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson once said Goodell’s exhausting schedule could be the greatest threat to his leadership. It’s certainly not an “easy” job, but a path has been established where Goodell can focus on the game and its growth.
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Last year, it was easy to criticize Super Bowl planning and operations — and we did. So, it’s with great pleasure that we can credit the leaders of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, the league and the locales that made this year’s experience special. Operationally, organizationally and functionally — and with a welcoming spirit through it all — Super Bowl XLVI excelled.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.


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