NFL television ratings and ad revenue are the envy of the sports world. But many teams have struggled at the gate.
One big reason? Football is a hell of a lot more convenient to watch at home, thanks to everything from TiVo to instant replays to NFL Red Zone to your own food, beer and bathroom.
The NFL knows it has a problem with the live product, too. In fact, in Tuesday’s spring meeting press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that the NFL is looking to bring wi-fi into stadiums.
“We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and use the same kind of technology,” said Goodell.
Here is the transcript of Goodell’s press conference, provided by the NFL:
We had a very productive day. We talked a lot about and took a lot of action towards our continuing commitment to the game. We spent most of the morning on player health and safety and player engagement.
We had a report from our medical committee and medical advisors, and Dr. Satcher was here. Troy Vincent took the lead on player engagement. He talked a lot about the programs we have in place to help our active players and also our retired players with the transition out of the game of football.
We spent a fair amount of time this morning on the Competition Committee and some rules we had to follow up on from March and some issues that still needed to be addressed that were tabled at the March meetings. The rest of the morning and the afternoon focused primarily on fan initiatives -- what we can do to continue to grow the game and make the game better for our fans.
A lot of that was stadium related. We updated our membership on stadium developments including two new waivers with respect to projects in Green Bay and Pittsburgh and also had updates on San Francisco and Minnesota.
The stadium experience:
Then we spent some time on Wi-Fi.We believe that it’s important for us to bring technology into the stadiums. We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and use the same kind of technology. We also talked about the expansion of the game internationally. There was a discussion about the Buffalo-Toronto series and how that will continue for the future and will be bigger and better than it was in the past, and also our International Series, particularly in London.
On Pro Bowl and New Orleans:
We did have a lengthy discussion about the Pro Bowl, not specifically about a site. The discussion was about the quality of the Pro Bowl, including the commitments we have with our network partners; where we could play the game and about all of our discussions with the Players Association, how to make the game better. We’ve had numerous discussions over several months about what we can do to make the game more competitive. I’ve said it repeatedly, particularly since the last game that we have to improve the quality of that game. If we can’t improve it and can’t make it more competitive, then we shouldn’t play.
Is the Pro Bowl going to exist for next year?
We had a full discussion about that. I would like to have another discussion with De[Maurice Smith] and the players to give them the feedback we got today on what aspects of the game we should address. But I hope to be making a decision pretty quickly after that conversation with De.
On changes to Atlanta stadium plan:
We didn’t get an update on that today because no action was required. I’ve had some informal conversations with both Arthur [Blank] and Rich [McKay]. I think it’s like any of our stadium projects. There’s a process of working through that, finding a solution that works in the community that will also work for the club, of course. I think those discussions seem to be going along in a way where there’s good give and take.
If Atlanta builds a retractable roof, will it get a Super Bowl?
This is an issue that is always raised and this came up in Minnesota, where they’re building a closed roof stadium it appears, and they have the same interests. The reality of what is happening is it’s becoming more and more competitive to host the Super Bowl. But these stadiums are our stage and they are one of the key components in hosting a Super Bowl along with having the infrastructure. Certainly if it gets done, we will encourage them to apply.
On the league participating in the Atlanta stadium through the G4 fund:
We’re a little early in that, but, of course, from what we’ve seen so far we would expect so. That’s why we created the G-4 program, so we can participate.
On response to union saying passing of thigh pads and knee pads should have been collectively bargained:
We have raised mandatory pads for at least three years now. We have discussed it with the union as recently as this Spring. And it’s a decision that we are not implementing for this season in part because we want to work with the players, we want to work with the Players Association. We believe the technology has improved, and, in fact, the pads are far better than they were even a decade ago. They’re more protective. They allow better performance. We also think it’s important. Every other level of football requires these pads and the NFL doesn’t. We think that’s part of sending the right signal to other levels of football.
If there is a Pro Bowl after this coming season, would New Orleans be the likely site?
I wouldn’t say that. I would say New Orleans and Honolulu are the two sites.
On if Jonathan Vilma suit was discussed:
I don’t think it was discussed. I think they reported that it existed. I don’t think there was any discussion.
Any comment on the Vilma suit?
On negotiating with the union
The reality is that is part of operating in a pretty complex world. You have to be open about the initiatives you want to undertake. You don’t expect all parties to agree at any point in time, but you have to drive toward solutions. At some point, you have to make some decisions about what is best for the game. Pads are a great example of it. Three years of discussion. The technology has advanced. In fact, the CEO of Nike recently told me when they introduced the new uniforms that NBA players were wearing more pads from the hips down than NFL players. There is something wrong with that. We need to put that protection in. You can discuss all you want; but at some point, you have to reach a conclusion.
On when the CEO of Nike told him about NBA players wearing more leg pads
On the complex nature of negotiating with the union extending to other issues, not just additional padding
Yes. You don’t expect to agree on everything. That is part of the dialogue and part of finding solutions. We have had to do that over the last year as well. The reality is you have to put issues on the table and you have to drive toward solutions that are good for the game, good for the players, good for our fans, good for the growth and are going to maintain the integrity of the game.
On how he would describe the working relationship right now with the NFLPA
I don’t characterize things very often. We continue to address the issues. We don’t always agree; but we seek resolutions on those. Sometimes we will reach a consensus, and sometimes we won’t. If that is the outcome, that is the outcome.
On WiFi fan initiative
The initiative is to get WiFi in all of our stadiums both for mobile devices including telephony. We want to make sure fans when they come into our stadiums don’t have to shut down – they can bring their devices. We want them to have access to the same amount of information, have access to our RedZone channel, have access to highlights, and be able to engage in social media including Fantasy Football. When you come to our stadiums, we want to make it a great experience. That is what it is about.
On how much that would cost and how expansive that would be
That is the trick. We want to put it in all 31 stadiums. We want to make sure the same service is provided and the same technology is there for the fans. The costs vary from the different proposals we have. It is part of the reason we are looking for new technology partners that can help us address what I consider pretty complex problems.
On if it is realistic to expect it to be in for 2012
No. It is possible we could get a stadium or two stadiums in, but it is a pretty big undertaking.
On if he would want them all to launch at the same time
Not necessarily. We have talked about a pilot. We have talked about New Orleans – we are in New Orleans this year having the Super Bowl there. That might be a good start. But there are several teams that are very aggressive in this area that have some very good technology available in their stadiums. We are learning from that, and our fans are engaging with it, which is the best news for us.
On if he has looked at the allegedly constituted USFL and if the NFL has discussed a developmental league
We have talked a great deal about the idea of a developmental league. We actually think that there could be a role for that. Particularly with the changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the limited amount of time the younger players have to either be evaluated or develop their own skills – should we have some sort of developmental league? It is something we will continue to pursue. If we do it, my personal view is it should be defined what the actual objective is. If it is a developmental league, let’s call it a developmental league; let’s design it as a developmental league. If it is going to be a commercial league that is trying to generate fan interest or generate revenue, we should also be clear of that objective. I think our general view right now is to make it a developmental league.
On if there is any talk about releasing the proof of payment in Saints bounty scandal
We released the facts back in early March. We have met with the union a couple of times. The union specifically told the players not to cooperate in the investigation. We are in the midst of challenges on a variety of fronts with respect to the process of these appeals. So as that plays out and as that is concluded how that process will go forward, we will certainly engage and make sure we are fulfilling every aspect of that; including the appeals process itself.
On if he would expect at some point the proof becomes public
Yes, I do.
On how he would characterize player transition to post-football life in light of Junior Seau’s death
This is an area that is not new. We have been focused on this area for several years. Troy [Vincent] has brought a tremendous focus and enthusiasm to this area. It is a challenge. Any transitions for individuals are difficult, much less transitioning out of the NFL into another career. It is something we want to help -- provide the players with the tools, with the resources to be able to make the successful adjustment. For their families, because they are a big part of the adjustment, make sure they have the proper tools. We have several programs. We now want to work to try and improve those, provide greater services, and make sure players are using them.
On players being individually responsible for their mental and physical wellness after retiring:
Ultimately, the responsibility is the individual’s, but that doesn’t mean the NFL shouldn’t be there as a part of it and to help and provide resources. It is a difficult transition. We want to be there to help our players. We believe in them. We believe in the fact that they have a long and healthy life ahead of them and we want to make sure that transition is as smooth as possible and they will be as productive as possible in life.
On if Saints LB Jonathan Vilma or any other player has the legal ability to sue the NFL commissioner:
You’ll have to talk to our attorneys. That is not something I spend a lot of time on.
On the response from some that the Saints are being targeted:
We have been very clear about our priorities for player health and safety and that we are going to do everything we can to provide the safest and healthiest environment for our players. That is something we are going to continue to do. I don’t expect that everyone is going to agree all the time, particularly when it involves discipline. That is not an objective that I set out for. What I want to do is be fair and make sure we are doing everything we can to provide that kind of safe atmosphere.
On ruling on the Saints players’ appeals:
We have to finish the process, the initiated arbitration, grievances and a variety of other action. As soon as it is concluded, we will proceed. I don’t know when that happens.
On if Vilma’s defamation suit delays the appellate process:
I meant the union grievances and arbitration.
On the International Series in London and the Bills Toronto Series:
In Buffalo, it is part of a series in trying to broaden their reach to make sure that they are a regional franchise. They have been at it for two decades into the southern region, into the Rochester region and now north into southern Ontario. It is a great thing for the franchise. It is a great thing for the fans. More and more fans are coming down to Buffalo, and more and more fans are going up to Toronto. It is a good thing for the franchise in stabilizing it and making sure that the franchise can be successful there.
The London series has continued to be very, very well received. Ticket sales are going extremely well from the reports I have, even in the light of the fact the Olympics are there. In the meantime, we expect that we will be evaluating some time later this year expanding that series next year to more than one game. We believe that market is going to continue to grow for us.
On increasing competition and contact in the Pro Bowl:
That is the issue. We recognize it is an All-Star game, but we also believe the fans expect more from an NFL game. That wasn’t a competitive game. The players acknowledged that in all of our discussions going back this past year that it is not competitive, and they point to a variety of reasons. The money is pretty significant. The risk of injuries is something that is on their mind. All of those things are legitimate, but they believe that they can improve the quality of the game. That is something that we are exploring with them. If we believe we can achieve it, we want to give them every opportunity to do it. It is going to require a competitive game to be successful long-term.
On his personal reaction when players or others criticize his decisions:
I have been around this league for 30 years. You are going to make decisions that are not going to be unanimous. It just doesn’t happen, particularly in a game where there is a lot of emotion, a lot of passion and there are different sides. Saints fans are on one side and there are 31 other teams. What I have to do is what is in the best interest of the game long-term and recognize not everyone is necessarily going to agree with your decisions, but be thoughtful, be fair and try to reach a conclusion that I think is going to be in the best interest of the game long-term.
On preparation for accepting criticism as commissioner:
It is called 24 years. You watch Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue. You are part of their decision-making process. You see how they go about it. You watch other leagues. You try to take in every perspective. You are not always right so you have to listen to other perspectives. The coaches have a perspective. The fans have a perspective. The players have a perspective. Front office executives may. You may not agree with all of it, but you listen to it, you hear it through and you make sure that you are thoughtful, you take your time, and you try to reach a conclusion that you think is best for the game. You don’t worry about a popularity contest. You can’t because you can’t make everybody happy on this.
On the NFL’s evidence against Saints players and re-evaluating decisions following the players’ statements:
Sure, you second guess yourself because that is what an appeals process is for. You want to hear what the players have to say. Some of them indicated they wanted to come in and talk before the decision was made. I invited them in. They decided not to do that, at the NFLPA’s recommendation, I think. I understand that. When we get to the appeals, we will be able to talk about it and we will be able to hear from one another.
On the league and owners being worried about the potential liability of the lawsuits and if the league would look to settle:
The answer to the first part of the question is we obviously believe that any charges that we have not been responsible in this area are not factually correct, and we’re going to defend this. We’re going to do our best to make sure people understand that health and safety is not new to the NFL. We have taken the right steps. We have been leaders in this area. We have not waited for science. We have made changes to our game. We think we’ve done the right things over the last several decades and over our history, and that’s something we’re going to continue to do.