See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Will love of money drive the NFL out of control?

When legendary NFL head coach Vince Lombardi opened the Green Bay Packers training camp in 1959, he famously told his players, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Fifty-five years later, for the biggest sports league in the country it seems winning has been usurped by money. Now, it seems, “Money isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

How else are we to interpret the strange actions of the NFL – from commissioner, to owners, to team executives, to players – over the first half of the season? Is the league so flush with cash that it is turning a blind eye to vile behavior from its members?

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“Defending the shield” (i.e. brand) and “protecting the integrity of the game” have been buzz phrases of Roger Goodell’s since he became NFL commissioner in 2006.  But his tenure has been anything but an exhibition of upstanding citizenry. In the NFL’s “worst week ever” earlier this season, video of one player battering his spouse and photos of a four-year-old child beaten at the hands of his NFL-playing father emerged. In both cases, the powers that be with the league and their respective teams did not appear to recognize how repulsive their players’ actions were; doling out miniscule discipline, they seemed willing to let them represent the league and their franchises with little more penalty than a suspension of a game or two.

It wasn’t until big-money sponsors, like Anheuser-Busch, which has had a six-year, $1.2 billion contract in place with the league since 2011, pulled or threatened to pull their advertising dollars that the NFL changed course and began bungling through mea culpas.


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Easy, money.

When Goodell took over as commissioner the league made $6 billion a year. Now it makes $10 billion annually, and Goodell’s goal is to reach $25 billion.

According to Forbes magazine, in 2013 the average NFL team generated record revenue of $299 million and record operating income of $53 million. The average team was worth $1.43 billion, 23 percent more than a year ago. That is the biggest year-over-year increase in profits since 1999. The 32 franchises range in value from the Dallas Cowboys at $3.2 billion, with $560 million in revenue and $246 million in operating income, to the St. Louis Rams at $930 million, with $250 million in revenue and $16 million in operating income.

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It is expected that after next season the Rams will move back to Los Angeles, the country’s second largest media market, further increasing the league’s opportunity for growth.

Consider this – professional sports ownership has been very good to Tom Benson. He bought the New Orleans Saints for $70 million in 1985. Today, the team is valued at $1.11 billion, with an estimated $278 million in revenue and $50 million in operating income last year. That’s a 1,485 percent increase in value in 30 years; 60 percent of that increase is estimated to have come since 2006 when Goodell became commissioner.

With one of the most complex stadium lease agreements in place for the Superdome, Benson parlayed his winnings into purchasing the city’s NBA franchise for $340 million two years ago. Today the Pelicans are worth $420 million, with $116 million in revenue and $11.2 million in income. In two years he’s seen a 23 percent increase in the value of his second sports franchise.

Benson, like his brethren in owner’s suites across the league, has remained relatively silent on the actions of players and the performance of the commissioner this season, other than to say Goodell has his full support. Social change is hard. Making money as a team owner hasn’t been. Why rock the boat? If the second half of the season produces great games and poster boy moments, memories of this incident will fade with time, the league will be forgiven and the gravy train will chug on toward that $25 billion goal.

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors and Saints, Ole Miss & Chelsea football.



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