In what is universally agreed to be the National Football League’s worst year, both on and off the field, in anyone’s long-term memory, team owners appear to be ready to reward Commissioner Roger Goodell with a sizable contract extension.
The NFL’s reputation, for many years signified with pride by its “shield” logo, has been diminished by high-profile domestic violence incidents by some of its players; by increasing awareness of long-term brain injuries the game causes; and most of all, by widespread protests during the playing of the National Anthem before games, where many players have refused to stand with respect.
The response from the league’s formerly robust fandom has shown in both stadium attendance and television viewership. For the last several weeks, pointing out the high number of empty seats at games has become a sport in itself. As for those who used to enjoy Sunday afternoons in front of their big TV screens, they increasingly are finding other activities to spend their time on.
“With TV ratings off nearly 20 percent for the season over all, the networks have reportedly lost up to $500 million in ad revenue,” Breitbart reported last week.
Thanksgiving Day, a holiday of which the NFL has long been an intricate part, showed no relief from the downward spiral of viewership for the league. The TV rating for the primetime game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants was down 10 percent compared to last year. Worse, some tickets for the game were selling on the secondary market for $10, well below their $85-$110 face value.
Meanwhile, even our national day to express gratefulness to God for the abundant blessings of living in America were not exempt from the protest-kneelers’ “right to express themselves.” The Giants’ Olivier Vernon seized the occasion and refused to stand – while an Army Master Sergeant sang the anthem – this, after Vernon also took a Star-Spangled knee during the Giants’ game on Veterans Day weekend.
President Trump in September first called upon team owners to “fire” the “SOB” players who refused to stand during the anthem, and he has repeatedly returned to that theme on Twitter, even though fewer players have sat out the anthem since. During a 30-day period that covered most of October, 12 percent of his more than 300 tweets were about the NFL, according to Business Insider.
Frequently the target of his criticism has been Goodell specifically. Trump briefly (and mistakenly) praised the commissioner on October 11 for “demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem,” which was a misreading of a memo Goodell sent to team executives. But then he let him have it over his poor leadership on several occasions:
“The NFL is now thinking about a new idea – keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!” (Nov. 22)
“Can you believe that the disrespect for our Country, our Flag, our Anthem continues without penalty to the players. The Commissioner has lost control of the hemorrhaging league. Players are the boss!” (Nov. 24)
“At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!” (Tuesday)
Most of the 32 team owners seem ready to reward the overseer of this mess with a massive contract extension. Even though Goodell’s current deal does not expire until 2019, the agreement being worked out now would extend until 2024 and earn him up to $200 million over the added five-year period, according to CBSSports.com.
Various committees of NFL owners have met this week, including the compensation committee of six owners who were tasked with negotiating Goodell’s deal. According to USA Today, the league expects his extension to be finalized “soon.”
A detractor among the owners is the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, who threatened to sue the league if the compensation committee completed the commissioner’s extension, which all the owners (including Jones) authorized them to do earlier. Jones takes exception with what he believes is Goodell’s excessive authority in dealing with league matters, which he feels have been dubiously exercised – especially in the six-game suspension of his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, for alleged domestic violence.
Jones was reported to have a few allies among owners in his opposition to Goodell’s extension, but not enough. He has backed off the litigation threat.
Also backing down from an earlier complaint is Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, a top NFL sponsor who blamed the league and its anthem protests for diminished pizza sales earlier this month.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” he said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call. He later apologized, probably because supporters of the protests buy pizza too.
Nonetheless the league, its sponsors, and its broadcast partners are experiencing a market correction at least partly in response to players who are social justice warriors while on the job, that expect their customers to put up with and pay for it.
“The NFL has now succeeded in forcing fans to choose between loyalty to their team and loyalty to their country. Good work Mr. Goodell. I think I know which one is going to win.”