LONDON - Player and fan conduct, officiating, the economy, $1,000 Super Bowl tickets, the increased crackdown on illegal hits, the state of labor talks to avoid a 2011 work stoppage and his own long-term future as NFL commissioner.
Roger Goodell didn't leave those issues behind when traveling to London to promote the NFL's second regular-season game here Sunday between New Orleans and San Diego. Goodell addressed such hot-button topics—and more—in a Thursday interview with FOXSports.com.
FOXSports.com: What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment in 2008?
Goodell: "We made some significant changes in the offseason with respect to the integrity of the game. We began some important policies [regarding] in-stadium behavior. I think we've managed through the economic crisis quite successfully, but we still have a lot of work there. We've said before that we're not impervious and those are issues that are going to face us for what looks like the foreseeable future."
FOXSports.com: What are some specific examples?
Goodell: "We look at it in three buckets. The first is how it affects the teams and the league directly. That could be in financing. We have credit lines out. Teams have stadium financing. They're all subject to the volatility of the markets right now. Certain securities, those markets have evaporated. That has caused increased risks and costs to our clubs and the league.
The second [bucket] is our business partners. How does it affect the advertising market, our sponsors and licensees? The third, which is probably the most important to us, is how is this affecting our fans? The (disposable) income they have and pressures they feel, that's a significant issue. We've been talking about it for well over a year now."
FOXSports.com: Saying that, there's been a lot of talk about the new $1,000 Super Bowl ticket the league has unveiled. When you first became commissioner, you talked about trying to keep ticket prices viable for the average fan who wants to attend.
Goodell: "It's a limited number of tickets for $1,000, first off. Second, those tickets are trading on secondary markets for more than 4½ times that price. To say [$1,000] is overpriced, I would disagree with anybody. We have an $800 ticket and we're taking 1,000 tickets that are going to be offered at $500.
The real trick, though, is getting them into the hands of fans who aren't going to re-sell them. They buy them at a decreased price because we want them to have the opportunity to come to the game but they then get offered four, five, 10 times the value. That's not what we're trying to create. We're trying to be sure they get to those who want to go to the game and experience a Super Bowl."
FOXSports.com: How much has the August death of NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw affected Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations and how do you categorize where things are right now in labor talks?
Goodell: "We terminated the agreement back in May and that was a signal of two things: The deal was not working for the owners and we needed to get to work on trying to address those issues and resolve them. Gene's untimely death was a tragic loss because he was not only a great player but a great leader and did so many great things for the game of football.
[The NFLPA] is focused on finding a permanent replacement. [Interim director] Richard Berthelsen is in there and we continue to have dialogue with him on a regular basis about various issues that have come up. We're working hard on both sides to make sure we get a deal that works for the players and owners.
It's hard to say the pace [of negotiations] was slowed because there really wasn't a pace to it. We're not wasting time. At this point, we're doing our own internal analysis on the priorities we have and how we feel they can be addressed. At the appropriate time, we'll sit down with the NFLPA and hopefully resolve the matters. The good news is we still have two more seasons before there can be any negative consequences to fans."
FOXSports.com: Officiating has become such a hot-button topic this season...
Goodell: [Laughs] "This season?"
FOXSports.com: I think it's more so now.
Goodell: "I don't agree with that. Every year, people talk about officiating because technology gets better. High-definition [telecasting] gets better. You can see these calls so much more closely. The game is difficult to officiate, but I think our guys do a terrific job. I don't think it's any different."
FOXSports.com: Do you think there's a perception about the officiating having slipped? There have been increased fines on players who have knocked the officiating.
Goodell: "That doesn't mean the officiating is not up to the same quality or standards as in the past because you've had a few people pop off. We've had a couple unique circumstances but I don't believe the officiating is any different. I think it has been outstanding. We continue to look at how we improve it. This is my 27th season [in the NFL] and I don't think there hasn't been a season where we've talked an extensive amount about officiating."
FOXSports.com: Speaking of increased fines, why did you feel the need to further crack down on borderline or illegal hits?
Goodell: "First, I don't think they are borderline hits. When there are hits that involve illegal techniques, we're going to aggressively discipline because they unfortunately result in some serious consequences to not only the player who gets hit but the player who does the striking. We've seen that and we've had an emphasis on player safety for a couple of years.
We have had a lot of focus on concussions and what we can do to make our game safer. Some of these helmet-to-helmet hits are completely unnecessary or use tactics that have already been deemed by our membership to be outside the rules and should be eliminated from the game. I think they've been very clear violations."
FOXSports.com: Sometimes they're not being called on the field.
Goodell: "That happens from time to time. It's not unusual for us to take further discipline whether it's [called] on the field or not. It doesn't affect our view on that. We look at the tape every Monday and our teams and officials go through every play methodically. That's a very in-depth review that could not be done on the field alone."
FOXSports.com: When it comes to the NFL's personal conduct policy, you've suspended players and are now fining teams [i.e. the Dallas Cowboys] when there are multiple player transgressions. At what point do you start taking away draft picks from teams with continuing problems?
Goodell: "We just made the change in the policy this year to include team fines. The reality of it is I think the policy is having an impact. You're seeing that throughout the league and that's what we're looking for. We knew when we embarked on this that this wasn't going to be solved just by declaring a new policy.
This is going to be an ongoing issue we have to deal with. We have a lot of young men who come into this league with a lot of different issues. We're trying to deal with those proactively by getting involved at an early stage and providing resources to help them make better decisions. I think it's helping them and they're getting a clear message of their responsibilities if they want to represent the NFL.
If increased discipline is necessary down the road, we certainly won't hesitate to do that. But I think the policy is working."
FOXSports.com: Can you cite one thing specifically that will be a top priority for you in 2009?
Goodell: "It's not an agenda for me, but I've said very clearly I don't think the preseason is up to our quality and our fans deserve more relative to that. We're looking at various ways in which we can address that issue."
FOXSports.com: Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney was quoted by the Washington Post earlier this week as saying he felt you deserved a contract extension. How much interest do you have in being commissioner beyond when your current deal expires in 2011?
Goodell: "I've had no [extension] discussions. I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I'm doing what I love to do. Working for the NFL is a great honor. Being commissioner is an extremely important responsibility and I take it seriously. As long as I can contribute something to the games, fans, owners and players, I want to continue to do it. But I'm not thinking about another contract right now. That's the furthest thing from my mind. We've got work to do."
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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