Tim Noonan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 February, 2011, 12:00am

Nothing but good is allowed in the fiefdom of Roger Goodell and the man is unwaveringly vigilant in ensuring that. As commissioner of the National Football League, Goodell presides over a massive corporate entity with annual revenue of close to US$10 billion, three billion more than Major League Baseball and more than twice as much as the National Basketball Association, the English Premier League and the National Hockey League. The average value of the 32 teams in Goodell's NFL is US$1 billion. Now crunch those numbers sports fans as you prepare to watch the corporate orgy known as Super Bowl XLV and if, for some ungodly reason, you are unable to watch the big game, you are not alone. The common myth is that more than one billion people globally will tune in to the game at the mega-modern monolith known as Cowboy's Stadium in Dallas, Texas. But I can safely tell you that I have a better chance of reaping untold riches doing shampoo commercials than the Super Bowl does of having one billion viewers.

According to surveys, 75 percent of the US will watch part of the game, roughly 220 million people. I'll give you Canada and parts of the UK where there is significant interest and a few bastions in Europe where they might know the convoluted rules of an NFL game and the most I can come up with is 80 million. Now where are the other 700 million coming from? China, India, Russia, Africa or South America? I figure less than two percent of China and Russia will watch or care so there is roughly 35 million and I'll toss in another 15 for the hell of it, which leaves us with a very generous figure of 350 million viewers worldwide.

As huge as the game is, less than five percent of the world truly cares. Just don't tell that to Mr Goodell and the NFL because they operate under the deluded notion that everything they do is of the utmost significance. Like any self respecting CEO of a multibillion-dollar company, Goodell is concerned with projecting a positive and wholesome image. But unlike the vast majority of those CEOs, 43 per cent of the revenue for Goodell's company is derived from television rights. Perception is everything and Goodell has gone to great lengths to ensure the men who work for his league are perceived as fine, upstanding individuals. Growing up in the comfortably affluent New York suburb of Westchester County, I wouldn't necessarily say Goodell was a child of privilege but he certainly had a privileged perspective. His father was Charles E. Goodell, a long time Congressman who was notable for his appointment as the Senator for New York State to succeed the assassinated Bobby Kennedy.

The overwhelming majority of players in the NFL were not blessed with Goodell's upbringing. Most come from modest means and are suddenly thrust into riches and the limelight. Not surprisingly, a number have run afoul of the law and that is why Goodell implemented a personal conduct policy in 2007. 'It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff,' he said. The move came in response to a number of high profile scandals involving NFL players. This past season Goodell also became involved when the number of brutal on-field hits started to accumulate. 'It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasise the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and of playing within the rules,' he said and promptly began fining a number of so-called offenders. But this is football, right? A brutal game played by brutal men. For better or worse, it's enormously na?ve to think that the ferocity of their trade can only be limited to three hours every Sunday afternoon. It would be nice if you could simply hit a switch to turn off all that aggression when the game ends. Nice but unrealistic. Still, Goodell received high praise for attempting to clean up the game's image and, presumably, keep it wildly profitable for everyone.

Far more insidious is the business of the game. The NFL has the strictest ownership rules in sports and passed a resolution in 1970 banning either corporate or public companies from owning a franchise, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers who were already publicly owned. The reason for their clandestine action was simple. Everything they do financially stays private. They are not required by law to show their books to anybody and are now looking for an 18 percent cut in the revenue currently going towards players to offset their, ahem, rising operational costs. The players want to see the books that verify this loss. The owners have said our books are private and none of your business. The current labour deal expires on March 3 of this year and, interestingly, the NFL owners will get their billions in TV revenue even if there is a lock-out or work stoppage. The players may still be the game, but the owners clearly have the leverage.

I am curious if Mr. Goodell will order the owners to open their books for 'the good of the game' and to ensure they are 'playing within the rules.' After all, it's quite important to the commissioner that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great players. The integrity of the game is at risk. Oh yeah the game, I almost forgot. Super Bowl XLV, the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Green Bay Packers. Let's go Packers, the only non-profit, community owned team in the NFL.