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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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The NFL’s Power Summit: Ownership, Private Equity, DEI Top Agenda

  • A vote on switching principal ownership of the Texans is scheduled.
  • Owners to focus on international efforts as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Hundreds of NFL staff, team owners, executives, and head coaches, many with families in tow, descended on the swanky Ritz-Carlton in Orlando on Sunday to attend the league annual meeting for three days of business and luxury.

Hang out in the marble-tiled lobby with its four thick pillars, arrays of pink roses and adjacent bar area, and one could do a double take at some familiar faces; over there might be a well-known broadcaster, nearby one might spot hard-to-miss coach Andy Reid, and walking through could be Patriots owner Robert Kraft bending Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s ear. 

Agenda Rundown 

Serious business does get done at these resort meetings, which largely rotate among Orlando, the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Biltmore in Scottsdale, Ariz. Here, league staff will brief owners and their execs on the NFL’s businesses, with a heavy focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); flag football; and international efforts. NFL owners meet as a group without staff Monday afternoon, where they are free to discuss matters not on the agenda, such as allowing private equity investments in teams or whether to approve Tom Brady’s agreement to invest in the Raiders. In fact, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam confirmed to Front Office Sports that private equity would be discussed, though he was non-committal to whether he supported loosening the league prohibition of institutional investment in teams. And Raiders owner Mark Davis briefed the finance committee on where the Brady situation stands, The Washington Post reported.

They also are scheduled to vote on switching principal ownership of the Texans from Janice McNair to her son, Cal McNair, and they may vote on a new sideline headset sponsor shared between Verizon and Sony, though the deal is still being finalized, a source says.

Football’s annual meeting is its largest and most important confab of the year, where the commissioner orates a state-of-the-league address, and owners also vote on rule changes (some, like the proposed new kickoff, are sometimes pushed to the smaller May meeting). It was here in Orlando in 2010 that owners altered the overtime rules to give both teams possession, but only after comically scheduling the head coaches to golf at the time of the vote as the conservative bunch was not thrilled with more strategy and decision-making. It was this meeting, too, where commissioner Roger Goodell challenged the league to reach $25 billion in revenue by ’27.

Media Matters

The media gaggles (maybe call them swarms) are part of the decorations of these exclusive getaways. Roughly 400 media credentials were distributed to cover the meeting, the NFL said. Media surging around owners in posh lobbies, TV lights glaring, are frequent spectacles (especially when Jones decides to stop and pontificate). Before he passed, colorful Raiders owner Al Davis’s annual media scrum was dubbed in the press room “The state of the Al,” in reference to Davis himself.

Adding to the theater, most if not all the 32 head coaches are there. Each conference hosts a media breakfast where beat reporters sit-down with the coaches. 

This meeting, which ends Tuesday, is actually a day short of the typical length, a nod to the fact that the NFL, with long-term labor and TV deals in place, and perched atop American entertainment, can wrap its business early. 

A Brief History

That’s a far cry from yesteryear when meetings ate five days, says Jim Steeg, who joined the NFL in 1976 and ran events for more than two decades. Back then the meetings were often in Hawai‘i or Palm Springs. The last resolution voted on by George Halas, the legendary coach and owner of the Bears, before his ’83 death was to put the Biltmore in the annual meeting rotation, Steeg says.

The annual meeting’s biggest challenge, he said, was divvying up posh hotel rooms to owners and their families when supply could be short. He often got berated, Steeg recalls, because so many demanded the president’s suite.

Joe Browne, who ran communications for decades at the NFL, comparing past meetings with today’s version, recalls a simpler time with the late commissioner Pete Rozelle.

“[R]ozelle would lead off those mtgs [sic] on Monday morning with his state of [the] league remarks,” Browne writes in an email. “He gave them while sitting down, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coke at the head table. Those remarks did not last more than 10 or 15 minutes and there usually were no questions after he finished.”

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