Multiple outlets reported late last week that Roger Goodell made over $44 million in total compensation for the 2012 calendar year. For the commissioner to make that much money — about twice what the league’s highest paid player, Aaron Rodgers, makes annually on average — provided by a class of oligarchical owners whose least favorite thing in the world is high employee wages, the NFL’s business sure must’ve been booming that year.
The timing of Goodell’s gigantic pay is a little bit curious, though, given the massive concessions that he and NFL ownership were clamoring for in the lead-up to the lockout during the 2011 offseason. A rookie wage scale, an 18-game season, and a clawback of the percentage of league revenue paid to players were, it was implied at the time, necessary to prevent the league from falling into an economic abyss. This was some of the rhetoric from NFL management:
Eric Grubman, NFL EVP of business operations, January 2011
We have a healthy business. We’re not losing money. But we don’t have a healthy business model.
Roger Goodell, January 2011
Yes, NFL players deserve to be paid well. Unfortunately, economic realities are forcing everyone to make tough choices and the NFL is no different. These are not easy negotiations, but the outcome can be positive. If both sides give a little, everyone, including fans, will get a lot and the game will improve through innovation. Even in difficult economic times, a new CBA presents us with the opportunity to secure the future of our game.
Bob Batterman, NFL outside labor counsel, January 2011
We are looking for a deal. Is that deal going to require some concessions from the players? Yes, it is going to require some concessions from the players because the balance has gotten out of whack.
Roger Goodell, February 2011
This is an opportunity to create a better future for the NFL, to improve the game for our fans, and to expand the economic benefits for the players and teams. Staying with the status quo is not an option. The world has changed for everyone, including the NFL and our fans. We must get better in everything we do … If both sides compromise and give a little, everyone will get a lot, especially the fans.
Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president, February 2011
The players have gotten 70 percent of the incremental revenue that the NFL clubs have generated since 2006. They know that’s not a sustainable model. They know that. They have sat in meetings with us and said, ‘We know you’re being squeezed. We know your profits are being squeezed.’ They have sat in meetings with us and said quote, ‘You’re getting crushed.’ Close quote, by non-player costs. They’ve said that too us. They know.
Mike Brown, Bengals Owner, March 2011
It came down to the obvious point that all the union cared about was the money and these other things certainly didn’t matter enough. It’s a tremendous situation that they have and it has become burdensome for the teams. Yes, we’re asking for some relief going forward. I don’t think that was unreasonable.
Jeff Pash, March 2011
It’s not a question of popularity or of revenue. It’s a question of having enough of a return and enough of a proportionate sharing of the financial risk in the sport that the game can continue to grow and benefit fans and players.
Roger Goodell, March 2011
Our consumers and fans are impacted by what’s going on in the economy. We have challenges getting people into the stadiums. It’s costing more money to build those stadiums, maintain those stadiums, operate those stadiums. It’s costing more money to get those fans into the stadium, and quite frankly we’re very concerned about what the cost of attending our events is. It cannot continue to escalate at the rates it has. We have to be responsible in recognizing that we have to not only put out a great product but also create great value for our fans. That’s what we’re trying to address here, not only in our collective bargaining but also in our operations.
Jerry Jones, Cowboys Owner, May 2011
Every operating enterprise in the world is redoing their business model at this time. Everyone. It’s happening all over the world. And it probably should’ve happened sooner. Our job is to be a custodian to that and see that this model needs change. We believe it does, and that’s the basis of this need to get a new agreement … We need to change the system we’re in right now to impact the business model positively. Ultimately, this will grow the pie and make a great opportunity for the players that are here and the players in the future. But more important than anything, it’ll be better for the fans.”
John Mara, Giants Owner, May 2011
The NFL’s business model needs to be fixed. Of that, there is no doubt. The 2006 collective bargaining agreement was not balanced. Players have readily acknowledged they “got a great deal.” Then the economy went south, adding to the problem. A fair adjustment must be negotiated in a new CBA.
It is, again, a bit curious that in such a short period NFL management went from being so alarmed about the league’s financial circumstances that they were willing to risk missing games to so enamored with the status quo that Goodell’s total compensation rose from $11.5 million before the lockout to $44.2 million just one year after it. That the NFL rationalizes these figures by stressing that $9 million from 2012 was actually deferred from the lockout period (in which Goodell staged a dog and pony show about earning just $1) is cynical, not explanatory.
It’s not unreasonable to surmise that Goodell’s substantial pay bump was ostensibly earned by putting the screws to the players in the labor deal. The salary cap has been rising a modest 2-3% annually the last couple years, to a projected $126.3 million next season from $120 million in 2011. During the lockout, Goodell initially claimed, in an open letter posturing at the outset of the lockout, that “player compensation would increase by as much as $20 million by 2014.” The NFLPA, at the time, called that public posturing a lie and that the NFL’s proposal made no provisions about what the players would receive in 2014.
“I consider [Goodell] to be one of the most outstanding managers in the country,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. In terms of making money for his shareholders, Goodell has proven exceptional. However, there are some glaring issues with Kraft’s opinion from a pure operational perspective.
Goodell’s heavy-handed decision on Bountygate punishments for Saints players was summarily reversed by his former boss Paul Tagliabue, the NFL’s referee lockout in 2013 resulted in three weeks of excruciating regular season play (and the owners caving in embarrassment), and the league’s avaricious decision to restrict the modes of transportation to the Super Bowl earlier this month resulted in such an abject bottleneck that several fans passed out.
Still, we’ve perpetually proven that no matter how odious we find NFL management to be — whether from anonymous front office quotes about Michael Sam, comically low charitable outlays, or their steadfast refusal to take genuine accountability for their ex-players’ health — we just can’t quit football. The NFL thrives not just in spite of their consistent PR scandals, but perhaps even because of them, and Roger Goodell reaps the rewards.