This week the National Football League (NFL) owners finally confirmed what was long understood but never concretely confirmed: their utter contempt for football fans. Despite the open hatred shown by fans for Commissioner Roger Goodell for years, the owners agreed to a five-year contract extension worth nearly $40 million a year. It has long been assumed that Goodell was a handy shill for the owners in taking actions that were distinctly anti-fan. Goodell has taken the criticism while the owners kept their distance. Now however they have established that they were behind Goodell’s unpopular actions all along and cemented the NFL as the most hostile business toward its own customers in the world. As a lifelong football (Bears) fan, I have been torn between my growing dissatisfaction with the NFL and my love for the game. Like many fans, this move at least brings clarity to the position of the owners.
Goodell is without question the most unpopular commissioner. A recent poll shows that 60 percent of fans object to Goodell’s handling of the protest controversy. However, the owners decided to renew his contract (he demanded $50 million a year plus the lifetime use of a private plane from the NFL). Many were shocked by Goodell’s demand for a lifetime private plane but Goodell is so hated by fans that he may be reluctant to even walk through an airport.
Goodell has been widely denounced for his alleged covering up of the dangers of concussions until there was no way to avoid addressing the serious medical problem facing players. He is also responsible for contracts that routinely ripped off fans like his recurring contracts with DishTV that requires fans to hand over their cable contracts at ridiculous prices if they want to watch their teams play (a contract denounced by consumer advocates). Then he was widely criticized for his own obscene salary, shaking down artists, and corrupt contracts and demands from cities who might want to host the Superbowl.
There is an interesting potential problem for the NFL owners. They tied most of Goodell’s contract to performance. Thus, if fans continue to boycott the games, he could well face a reduction of salary. Given the deep antagonism for Goodell, that prospect might be even more attractive for fans in boycotting games. Otherwise Goodell is on track to earn more than Brady and Brees.
It is fascinating to see the gamble of the owners at a time from fan attendance is down and viewership is down over the anthem protests. The owners clearly believe that fans have short attention spans that there is nothing that they cannot charge or insult that they can deliver that would significantly decrease profits. The question is whether they are right but fans are forced to watch Goodell for the next five years.