The State of The League address has become something of a Presidential tradition for the National Football League leading up to its (and the modern society’s) marquee event, The Super Bowl. This year’s speech by current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, after a season of crisis and controversy, was an opportunity for the Commissioner and the League to articulate a commitment to listen to its customers and start doing some form of The Right Things. In short, Goodell, squandered that opportunity.
If there was ever a character who looked and sounded the part of the arrogant, out-of-touch, silver spoon, blue blood, East Coast mansion millionaire, it would be Roger Goodell. All of that was on full display in today’s speech, which really wasn’t a speech, rather an ultra-stilted opening statement followed by mostly half and non answers to journalist questions. When he was scripted, he really sounded scripted. When he was extemporaneous, he also sounded scripted. That is when he wasn’t patronizing a respected reporter.
The public expects leaders, especially in sports, to fit into at least one of two categories. They need to be relatable and/or command respect. Roger Goodell does neither. He lacks both affability and credibility. But he exemplifies an important lesson in business and PR that we see frequently – those who make the most money are those most reticent to change.
The $40 million dollar man who helps billionaire owners become multi-billionaires likely doesn’t listen to PR counsel. He likely doesn’t seek extra advice to practice and to try to “win” on a day like today. An educated guess is that if he is like others we have seen, unless he feels like his job or his windfall is at risk, he likely doesn’t see a need to change.
PR has become the lead story in the NFL, America’s most popular media content. If the League’s owners only want their Commissioner to be successful making them money and landing them TV ratings for their games, then they will keep Goodell. But if they care about him being the “Face of the Game” and restoring credibility and trust to a League filled with stories of brain-injured players, domestic violence and potential cheating – all of which threaten at least some of the fertility of the golden goose – then they’ll find a new Commissioner to meet that reality. So far, though, it seems like the real State of the League is that the status quo will continue to reign.