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Monday, February 26, 2024
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In His Annual Address, Roger Goodell Worked His Home-field Advantage

  • A (sort of) kinder, gentler commissioner spoke to a thinned-down crowd Monday about Taylor Swift, conspiracy theories, and streaming.
  • But he also dodged a few queries, per usual.
Roger Goodell
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — Maybe it was the locker room setting. Maybe it was the smaller crowd and the exclusion of certain journalists. Whatever the cause, on Monday NFL commissioner Roger Goodell produced one of the more relaxed Super Bowl press conferences I can recall of his tenure. He had fun with questions about Taylor Swift and had a good laugh about the harebrained conspiracy theory that the Super Bowl is rigged for the Chiefs to ensure a Swift endorsement of Joe Biden. (I think I have that right.)

Distinctly missing from his vocabulary yesterday was a phrase that in the past he used routinely: “I disagree with the premise of your question”—as in, WTF are you talking about? Asked how much money was too much for the NFL, in the context of the league’s putting a playoff game exclusively on Peacock, Goodell ignored the jibe and expounded on the need to meet younger viewers where they are.

“Well, this is developing platforms, just to be clear, this is building a platform that a lot of consumers are on, a lot of our fans are moving in that direction,” said Goodell, dressed casually in black pants and a blue sports jacket. Typically, for Super Bowl press conferences he wears a suit and stands on a stage before a cavernous ballroom; this time there were maybe 150 people in attendance in the Las Vegas Raiders’ locker room.

One questioner described the league’s past efforts to market the game to women as largely cosmetic—all pink shirts and so on. It’s a charge that once was true, though far less so in recent years. The questioner went on to ask Goodell how the NFL would retain female fans brought to the game this year by Swift. And Goodell responded by talking about his 22-year-old twin daughters and their meeting Swift in 2009, injecting a human element into his response.

This is not to say that Goodell broke his old habit of dodging questions. At one point he was queried about how the NFL’s current embrace of gambling meshes with something he said in 2012: “If gambling is permitted freely on sporting events, normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust, and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.”

Goodell’s response: “That’s exactly what I was talking about before, protecting the integrity of the game,” he said before going on to detail the NFL’s gambling education initiatives. But that doesn’t really answer the question—and it doesn’t explain why the NFL embraced sports gambling after the 2018 Supreme Court decision overturning bans. The league did not have to sign deals with casinos and sportsbooks, nor did it have to hold a Super Bowl in Las Vegas, and so forth. It’s all defensible, but Goodell fell back on his mantra about how protecting the integrity of the game is paramount—all without answering why, if that integrity was threatened by gambling in 2012, it is not today. (He did disclose new info, though: Roughly 13 players and 25 employees on both the club and league level, he said, have been disciplined, either through suspension or termination.)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Talking Points

Goodell’s press conference opened with a six-minute moderated interview with CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson in which she asked the commissioner about officiating, Swift, gambling, and TV ratings. (Goodell strongly defended officiating; and ratings are sky high because, well, Americans love football.)

The question and answer portion of the gathering went another 40-plus minutes, with Goodell being asked whether more playoff games would ever go exclusively to streaming. He said the Super Bowl, specifically, would not do so in his lifetime, and he pointed out that the league sees 90% of its games broadcast on TV. … But—a theme—he didn’t answer whether more games or playoff contests will end up exclusively on streaming platforms.

“Our fans are on these platforms; our fans want to access them,” he said. “The technology’s extraordinary. You can do things on some of these platforms that you can’t do on the linear platform. So for us, it’s part of the future. I don’t know where it goes from here, but we’re going to continue to reach our fans where they are, with the best possible production, best possible technology.”

Goodell (above, with USA Today writer Jarrett Bell) also made some news, disclosing that the 2024 Brazil game would be held on Sept. 6, the Friday right after the season opener, with the Eagles playing host.

Despite restricting media access to this year’s event—moving the conference up from Wednesday to Monday, seemingly late, and not inviting certain media members, some of whom are perceived to have contentious relationships with the league—Goodell was not questioned on the logistics of it all. He was, however, asked about the details of a 2022 deposition, exclusively reported by Front Office Sports, in which he said the league needed to challenge the media’s concussion coverage. Answering Monday’s question, Goodell said, “We want reporting that is going to be accurate. It’s based on facts. And to fully understand what we’re doing in the space.”

And in a press conference that went swimmingly for him, no one asked him for specifics about that allegedly poor reporting.

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