Somehow the NFL survived what was nearly a nuclear situation for their business, the prolonged lockout in the spring and summer months of 2011. However, when the lockout was lifted in August, the NFL didn’t skip a beat, as the entire season was played and fan interest remained undiminished. At least some of the credit belongs to Roger Goodell.The Commissioner was able to strike a fair enough deal for both sides to be happy as Super Bowl XLVI was the highest watched television program in history. The NFL is booming right now. The billionaire machine is higher than it has ever been before with players like Roddy White not happy about Goodell pocketing $20 million a year. Here’s Goodell’s take on what the NFL needs to improve on when the league itself couldn’t look any better from a business standpoint.
Roger Goodell joined ESPN Radio New York with Ruocco and Lundberg to discuss the NFL being even stronger despite the lockout over the summer, the biggest obstacle the NFL faces right now as it prepares for the future, the possibility of the league expanding to 34 teams in the next few years, potentially abolishing the Pro Bowl, and an 18-game season happening anytime soon.
How was the NFL able to move past the lockout so swiftly this season?
“I think fans wanted to move past it. Fans are not interested in lockouts or other businesses. They are focused on football. Our job is to give them more football and I think the season was fantastic and we captured a great free agency period in a very condensed period of time and the fans wanted to get back into football and that’s what they always wanted.”
What is the biggest obstacle facing the league going forward?
“Well I think they are several things we always say. This is not a time to get complacent. We’re fortunate to have labor peace for 10 years. We’re fortunate enough to have our television agreements in place, so that we can stay on free television for the next 11 years. That gives you a foundation, but you really gotta focus on how you are going to grow the game and keeping the game as popular as it is. We certainly have challenges. We want to make the game as safe as possible for our players and we will continue to evaluate how we can do that either through rules or equipment or continuing to pioneer research. We certainly will do everything we can to make sure the stadium experience is a positive one. I have been very open about the fact that as the home experience in front of high definition and super slow motion white screen television sets is a great experience. We have to make the experience in our stadiums just as great for our fans and I think there is great international opportunities for us to continue to grow our game and again broaden our fan base.”
You have said you don’t want to move any current NFL franchises to LA and would rather use expansion. So my guess is if Los Angeles is the 33rd team then who is the 34th team? Is that something where you would put a team outside of the United States since you mentioned the international appeal?
“Well let’s go back to the first one. We are not considering expansion. I’ve tried to make that clear when I was asked by Bob Costas recently. He said you just go to 33 teams. I said I don’t think you would ever expand by 1 team. You would expand by 2 teams, but I was very clear that expansion is not something we have considered. It is something we can potentially do down the road having the kind of stability that we have, but we like our structure right now. We like the 32 teams. We think the scheduling is in a good place. We want to keep our teams where they are. We are working hard to make sure we either get the stadiums built or do the kinds of things that are necessary to build the fans support to make those teams successful in those communities and we’ll look at the Los Angeles opportunity as it comes and try to figure out the right way to solve that problem if a solution can be determined. I do believe international growth is a big part of our future including expanding our regular season series in the United Kingdom and maybe potentially in Canada.”
How real is abolishing the Pro Bowl and trying something new?
“Well it goes back to quality. It’s important for us whatever we do that we do it well. That is reflects well on the game and the players and the coaches and the NFL. I don’t think the Pro Bowl the last couple of years reflected well on the NFL or the players. I said to the union leadership that I’ll be meeting with the players at the combine next week to further these discussions that if we can’t improve what we are doing then we’ll have to consider eliminating the game and we are serious about that because we are going to make sure whatever we do is going to be of the highest quality.”
What is the likelihood we get an 18-game season in the near future?
“Well I appreciate the enthusiasm for it and I hear it from the fans consistently. People want more football. I think they want less preseason and more regular season and that’s the concept we are talking about here. We wouldn’t add an extra two games without reducing the preseason and we are not going to do it without the players support, so we did that in the collective bargaining agreement instead of having the unilateral right, which we had. We determined that we were going to do this together. We are going to make changes in the offseason and during the preseason and during the regular season to make the game safer. If we can accomplish that we’ll look at the idea of restructuring the season and taking two preseason games away and the potential of adding regular season games, but I don’t think that will happen until at least 2013 or 14.”