At the commissioner’s annual “State of the Union” address last year at the Super Bowl in Dallas, Roger Goodell stood in front of a room of starving reporters, each one eager to feast on a host of pressing league issues.
With the dark clouds of a looming lockout hovering over his head, NFLPA Ppesident DeMaurice Smith holding equally attended press conferences each day and a pending Super Bowl ticket fiasco ahead, Goodell fended off reporters’ queries like Reggie Bush evading tacklers.
If last year’s Super Bowl Friday news conference was a scene from a bloodthirsty jungle, this year’s was a landscape Photoshopped right from a beach. Soft questions, respected reporters from cities across the country essentially begging King Roger to bless their town with Super Bowls of their own, and a smiling — almost jovial — Goodell made for what has to go down as one of easiest “State of the Union” news conferences a commissioner’s ever presided over.
Any why wouldn’t it be easy?
King Roger’s got it pretty good these days.
In a matter of 12 months, the league went from being an overstuffed rocky ship on choppy waters to the most successful American business not named Facebook. Locked up with labor peace and record TV contracts for the next 10 years, the NFL is in incredible shape. The league’s never made more money, and that faucet doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. Players are happy, owners are happy, the TV networks are happy, the fans are happy and, hell, the commissioner seems downright cheery.
So on Friday, a week after a glowing "60 Minutes" profile left America wondering why Roger Goodell wasn’t in the running for the US presidency in 2012, the commissioner handled questions around looming “issues” with ease.
Safety issues? “Safety is the No. 1 priority in the NFL. In the recent collective bargaining agreement, we committed over $1 billion to retired players, including over $600 million just to The Legacy Fund for improvements in pensions. We continue to address medical issues and we will not quit. We are not done yet.”
Concussions? “When I was in high school, I suffered a concussion playing baseball. The treatment was simply flashing a flashlight in my eye. What we’ve done now is made this into a significant issue and a serious issue that needs to be tended to. And not just football but all sports. We’re sharing our information and our data with the United States military, where they’re treating concussions and it’s a huge issue for the military.”
The much-discussed 18-game season? “We agreed that we’d make that decision with the players. We respect their decision on it. We’ll make that decision collectively.”
Some of the other hot-button “issues” raised Friday were the current state of the trading deadline (“I do not recommend we make any changes”), Miami getting another Super Bowl down the road (“It’s a great place to have a Super Bowl.”) and a new San Diego stadium (“I hope so”). Not exactly the types of issues that will keep a man up at night.
Let’s face it: Things are good for the NFL these days. Very, very good.
Though critiqued heavily in media circles when originally announced, fans willingly bought tickets to Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day at Lucas Oil Stadium. And guess what? They loved it. One young fan with whom I spoke Thursday said he got to wear a headset and bounce from the audio of one podium to the next for the full three hours. “It was awesome. I got to watch it all and listen in on what I wanted to hear.”
For the first time ever, fans have access to Radio Row at the Super Bowl. Fans got to walk among the likes of Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and Drew Brees on Friday afternoon at the JW Marriott, interacting and engaging with their favorite players in a very real and very personal way. Jim Rome, Rich Eisen and other nationally recognized TV personalities exchanged waves and hellos with fans on set.
Everyone is laughing and smiling everywhere in Indianapolis this week. From the commissioner to the players to the bevy of network executives swirling around town, it’s almost unsettling just how pleased everyone is.
The TV ratings are as high as they’ve ever been, the game has become an ATM in which every party involved has a working PIN, and the future appears to be getting only brighter. Goodell announced Friday that the NFL Network would be adding five more Thursday night games, ensuring all 32 teams play in prime time at least once during the NFL season. There’s going to be a new Spanish-language "NFL RedZone" channel next season, too.
Is there a tipping point? A moment down the road where the NFL simply overextends and outsizes its own product? If so, I don’t see it. The fans want their football, the fans are getting their football — and they’re getting their football in a million ways from a multitude of platforms. The more the better. Feed the beast.
It’s amazing to think how drastically different things are in Indianapolis this week than they were in snowy Dallas a year ago. The sun is shining, everybody’s smiling, and there’s nothing but blue skies up ahead.
King Roger’s enjoying himself. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t.