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August 22, 2017

Complain all you want about Roger Goodell – but get used to him

The owners of the National Football League’s member teams are in the process of renewing the contract of commissioner Roger Goodell for five years, putting them in place until 2024.

Alright, cue the outrage.

For good reason, Goodell has become a piñata for NFL players and fans. The storylines involving the league have gone from game issues to off-field problems such as concussions, anthem protests started by Colin Kaepernick, spousal abuse and on-field disasters such as Spygate and Deflategate.

The fans are livid about the officiating, while both fans and players are upset at the idea of Goodell as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to NFL justice.

And then there is the money. Lots of money. Lots and lots of money. Lots and lots and lots of money.

When Goodell took over in 2006 the NFL was a $6 billion business. Not bad … but spin it forward a decade and now the league is a $14 billion business. Even the most disheartened fan can figure out that when you double the bottom line, you get to sign your name on the dotted line.

Under Goodell, the NFL literally shook money out of the sky and had it land from coast to coast, fattening the wallets of owners such as Jeff Lurie, Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft. With that as a background, you can understand why Jones can be upset about Ezekiel Elliott and Kraft furious about Tom Brady’s suspension, but they know where their considerable bread gets its extremely rich butter.

Goodell took what had been considered lucrative TV deals and added absurd amounts of value to them. All of a sudden the dollars fell from the heavens where there were satellites to bounce games back around the world, there was a RedZone and there were parades of programs about the league around the calendar.

Just think back a few months to the NFL Draft in Philadelphia. It is typical to what has happened to the NFL under Goodell where the draft went from a fairly big event in a hotel ball room to a city festival televised from coast to coast.

And from that event and others just like it, the owners get even more wealthy.

Perhaps the biggest win for Goodell occurred in 2011 when he engineered the current collective bargaining agreement. It was an amazing 10-year deal, and compared to the deals for players in other sports, it was VERY owner friendly, especially with its rookie cap.

The other big win for Goodell occurred when the league’s suspension of Brady for the Deflategate scandal. It took a whole lot of legal wrangling, but the powers of the NFL were spelled out very clearly.

The players don’t have much power in the arrangement as they were run over when this latest CBA was signed, and there is going to be a lot of animosity when the deal is over in the spring of 2021. The owners already have a huge war chest, which will only get bigger.

It might seem a very long way in the distance, but the owners’ hands are already being locked together in preparation for that 2021 date. There is every chance the NFL will come to the brink of a strike/work stoppage/lockout, and there will be no better general on that side of the equation.

Goodell has already banked $210 million during his tenure at the head of the NFL, and when you look at that number in comparison to the profit margins it looks like a bargain. If all goes as planned, the NFL will be a $25 billion business – and you will be lined up to pay $40 to park your car at Eagles games, and then dish out another wad of cash to sit at home and watch the RedZone.

From the owners’ point of view, the biggest value of Goodell is his willingness to take the slings and arrows – from the players, the fans, and even the owners from time to time. It is no small matter that Goodell is happy to play the role of the bad guy to help the bottom line.

For a comparison, take a look at the National Hockey League. There is no league leader more unpopular with fans and players than Gary Bettman. The NHL actually lost an entire season and half of another because of labor strife – but Bettman has been good for the financial stability of the league.

But compared to the NFL, the National Hockey League and all other leagues look like the junior varsity, so you can understand why Roger Goodell is on pretty safe ground.

If you thought you had complaints about Roger Goodell in the past, get ready for your blood to boil even hotter when the labor stoppage is a reality. In the final analysis, the NFL isn’t much different than General Motors, Amazon or Walmart – just follow the money.