This year, the NFL increased its credential allotment to “non-traditional” media by 20 percent, and Bleacher Report was fortunate enough to be one of those groups credentialed in.
But on Saturday morning, I (along with my good friend Scott Engel, a former CBSSports.com and ESPN.com fantasy writer who is now the managing director of Rotoexperts.com) got the exclusive chance to interview NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the fourth round of the draft.
While there are literally a million questions you’d think to ask Mr. Goodell, Scott and I were only afforded 10 minutes of the Commissioner’s time—and the slides that follow contain his answers to the dozen questions we were able to throw at him.
Q: How do you think moving the first round to Thursday night in prime time worked out?
Goodell: The response from our fans was tremendous. We made the game available to more viewers and that’s a good thing. That’s what we’re in the business of doing; bringing our game to more people. I haven’t talked to a lot of clubs yet, but it’s having a tremendous reaction for our fans.
Q: Do you think the three-day format encouraged more movement in the draft?
Goodell: Absolutely. Teams had more a chance to address and re-evaluate their boards and have conversations to determine what they’d like to do.
And, these trades are great for the fans. We want our fans to talk about football, and trades allow them to debate whether teams gave up too much or didn’t get enough...that kind of discussion is great for the game.
Q: Whose idea was it to bring in special guests to make selections?
Goodell: I encouraged that and I think it’s great. There are so many people who have done so much for the game...guys like Gil Brandt, our Hall of Famers, the guys that fans chose as our top 75 draft picks of all-time. It’s great.
Q: Why do you feel it’s so important to have the draft in New York City?
Goodell: It’s the No. 1 media market in the country, and this facility is great for us too. Radio City has a great tradition, and it’s a great fan atmosphere; there’s a lot of excitement in here.
We’ve actually talked about the idea of rotating it around a bit, though. If the three-day format is successful, which it seems to be so far, it does give us the opportunity to maybe move one of the days to a different city.
Q: What are your thoughts on the possibility of a Super Bowl in New York?
Goodell: I’m fine with it, because I think our game is designed to play in the elements. That’s part of our tradition, and part of our heritage. Warm-weather teams come up north too; it’s part of the game. Of course, we’d have to do everything we can to make sure that the fan experience is a positive one, but they come expecting to deal with the elements too.
Q: The second Monday night game on opening weekend is usually on the West Coast, but this year it’s in Kansas City. Why did you do that?
Goodell: A couple of reasons. The Chiefs have spent two years renovating their stadium, and we want to help them showcase that. Plus, the midwest has some great fans, and it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the game.
Q: Sam Bradford was drafted this weekend, you had Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez last year, and guys like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan two years ago. Do you think that the league is about to enter the next generation of great quarterbacks?
Goodell: I think so, yes. Every generation has its share of greats; right now we have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, etc., and we’ve had some past great ones here this weekend, like Dan Marino and Joe Montana. I hope these future quarterbacks can live up to that legacy; it can only help the game.
Q: How concerned are you about teams resting starters at the end of the season, and is there anything you’re trying to do to prevent that?
Goodell: I am very concerned about it, because I think we have an obligation to protect the integrity of the game. That means keeping the best players playing, and we have to create the kind of incentive to do that.
One of the things we’ve done is change the final week of the season to be all divisional games; we think that will improve the chances that teams play their starters. It’s good for the fans and good for the game.
Q: But don’t you think it’s important to respect the autonomy of the coaches, whose jobs are on the line if something bad happens?
Goodell: Sure, but I don’t debate where the coach is; that’s why you have to change the system. You have to make them think ‘I’ve got to win; it’s a divisional game.’ Don’t give them that choice (to rest starters).
Believe me, it’s not something they like, because it’s difficult; if they don’t play starters and lose, they get a negative fan reaction—but if they do play the starters and someone gets hurt, the reaction is even worse. If we create the incentive, that solves the problem.
Q: In light of issues like that, as well as the recent reminders of the Personal Conduct Policy, what do you think the fans’ perspective is of you as the commissioner?
Goodell: I think you guys would know that better than I do, right? (laughs) I think the most important thing to me is that they know I’m protecting the integrity of the game. I’m going to do what I think I need to do to do that...we need to protect the game and grow the game. The conduct policy is an element of that. We need to make the game as entertaining as possible, but make sure that those who play it maintain the right standards.
Q: How do you feel about the growth and importance of fantasy football?
Goodell: It’s another way for our fans to engage the game, and it’s great. Fantasy football allows them to follow the game in a different way than a traditional fan would. Even if your team is out of the playoffs, you will continue to follow football because of the fantasy aspect. Again, it’s another way to engage the fans, which I think is a positive.
Q: What do you think the role is for “fan journalists” (like Bleacher Report) in covering the game, as opposed to the mainstream media?
Goodell: From my perspective, you guys are reflecting what the fans are talking about. The media at some point have provided their views...you guys are now changing the media because you represent the fans’ perspective and give the fans a voice, which I love. Now, you have both perspectives.
That’s why I spend a lot of time talking to fans, so I can hear what’s important to them and what they think we need to address. But you guys are doing a great job of helping with that.