Roger Goodell’s Income…

Last week, there was a report that NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, had earned – – well, at least he was paid – – a total of $125M in salary and bonuses over the last two years.  I have had differences with Goodell and some of his decisions over the years, but I am here to say today that he deserves that $125M.  Let me try to justify that statement…

Back in 2014 in the aftermath of the “Ray Rice Incident”, I and many others found fault with the NFL and Roger Goodell in the handling of that matter and the discipline handed down.  However, on reflection, I then came to realize that the root of my problem with Goodell was his position as the NFL’s disciplinarian was not with Roger Goodell as the league’s commissioner.  My problem came from the fact that Goodell’s real job has little to nothing to do with handing down discipline.  I did a rant on that specific subject in September 2014; if you want to read it in its entirety, here is the link.

Here is what I think is the relevant passage from that rant in 2014:

“The job of the commissioner is to grow the league and the measures of league growth are things like revenue, attendance, public awareness, TV ratings etc. All of those are intertwined but when you take them as a package and add to them the responsibility to deal constructively with the players’ union, you have the modern set of responsibilities for a league commissioner. Unfortunately, they also seem to carry the burden of history with them, and they are also expected to be ‘The Disciplinarian’. That role does not mesh well with ‘grow the league’ and ‘deal constructively with the union’.”

In 2020 and 2021, attendance for the NFL is down from where it was in 2014, and just about everyone knows that the pandemic has a lot to do with that.  Notwithstanding the lower in-stadium attendance, when you measure the NFL on things like revenue (up over 2014), public awareness (try to read a sports section today where there is no mention of the NFL) and TV ratings (the NFL is the highest rated show on all five networks that telecast NFL games), things are more than hunky-dory.

Roger Goodell is not solely responsible for the league’s profitability and popularity, but he was directly involved in two things that made life better for team owners – – and remember, it is the team owners who hire/fire NFL Commissioners.

  1. Goodell oversaw CBA negotiations with the NFLPA resulting in a 10-year deal that guarantees labor peace and guarantees owners generous profits over the time of that labor deal.  The value of franchises just keeps going up and up; owners have to love that.
  2. Goodell also oversaw the negotiations with the TV networks some of which run even longer than the 10-year CBA does.  What those deals do is to lock in about $110-115B in revenue over the life of those deals.

Let me try to put those financial issues into perspective by doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations here:

  • TV deals this year bring in $10B in round numbers.  Suppose the NFL HQs skims 5% off the top of that revenue to help keep the lights on in the league Front Office.
  • That leaves $9.5B to be shared equally among 32 teams meaning each team would get $297M from the TV deals alone.  That money is pocketed by the owners before they ever sell a single ticket or have anyone buy a team jersey or sign a “partnership deal” or a “naming rights deal”.
  • Granted the salary cap figures for 2021 are depressed due to reduced in-game revenues in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the salary cap for 2021 is only $182.5M.
  • So, just from the TV deals, each NFL owner is $114.5M to the good this year.  The next time someone asks you how teams can afford to have 20 assistant coaches and trainers and scouts, remember this ballpark number for 2021.

So, back to Roger Goodell and the reported $125M he got as salary plus bonuses over the last two years.  Previous reports said – and I have no way to corroborate or deny those reports – that Goodell’s base salary was $44M a year.  If correct he would have earned $88M over the past two years simply by managing not to get fired.  So, it would appear as if he earned about 42% of his annual salary in bonuses.  If you are not particularly fond of The Commish, those numbers might be hard to swallow but consider two other points:

  1. Roger Goodell serves another very important function for his employers – the owners.  He takes the blame and makes himself the target for just about any criticism that might come the league’s way.  For example, if the Congress decides to hold public hearings with regard to the NFL’s “investigation” of the toxic work environment that existed for the Washington Football Team, it is going to be Roger Goodell who will be seated in front of the Congressthings listening to their rhetorical flourishes masquerading as questions.  He will be the target of their ire.
  2. Roger Goodell drove the negotiations with the union and with the TV networks and those turned out to be highly beneficial for Goodell’s side of the table.  Perhaps, that is a sign of Goodell’s innate negotiation skills; and if it is, then we should not be so surprised to learn that he negotiated a really beneficial deal for himself when he negotiated with the owners for his salary and benefits package.

I am sure I will continue to have my differences with Roger Goodell over various issues in the future, but I think I understand why he received the money he has over the last two years even though I do think it is just a tad excessive.

Finally, since today has been all about money, let me close with the following observation by Dorothy Parker:

“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………