National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media and fielded questions on numerous topics at the annual Owners Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. Here are some of the things we learned during his time at the podium:
Commissioner Goodell: As we've talked all week, we're coming off one of the greatest years in the history of the NFL, but we've also emphasized that was last year. Our entire focus this week was on: what do we do to continue to make our game great? What do we continue to make it safer for our players? How do we continue to use innovation to improve every aspect of the league? How do we continue to look forward to how our fans are changing and evolving, and using technology to continue to be able to reach them.
The game got better this week. We had significant changes to improve the safety of the game for our players. We certainly made some other changes that are going to improve the quality of the game also. So very positive changes and a very strong commitment on behalf of the ownership to continue to focus and continue to be aggressive in these changes.
Engaging the fans, going back to that - we focus on the stadium experience. That's critically important to us. So how do we engage our fans in the stadium, continue to make that the best experience in all of sports, but also how do we use technology, and how do we continue to make that experience at home better? Our network partners and our digital partners all do a terrific job in improving that experience, but we want to make sure that we continue to see where the fan is going, how we can reach the fans with our games and with our content, and make that even a better experience, and allow them to engage even more.
We'll continue to have our London series of three games, we're playing in Mexico this November [Oakland Raiders vs Houston Texans], and we also talked about within the next couple of years the potential for a game in China - a regular-season game in China. We're excited about that potential, and we'll continue to have dialogue on that.
Of the nine rule changes adopted by the NFL owners this week, player safety continues to be a focus of concern.
Goodell: Three of the rule changes are safety related. There's two more that are clarifications, on the use of the crown of the helmet that was a clarification I would consider being a rule change. And the other was low hits to the quarterback. We modified how that rule will be implemented. It's not voted as a rule change, but it will be changed as far as the way it's going to be implemented next year.
The new rule about two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties resulting in an automatic ejection could evolve further.
Goodell: They did consider also expanding it into personal fouls and chose not to do that. That was not the intent, but it was, I think we were clear about this at the Super Bowl, that's for the competition committee to consider. Weigh all of those issues, determine what should be considered and in what context, and then make a recommendation to the membership. They did and I think they came to a good place. I think when you're implementing a new rule like this, you go in increments. It's progress in the sense of trying to deal with a particular issue, unsportsmanlike conduct. At some point in time will this rule evolve into something that will incorporate other issues? I'm sure the competition committee will consider that. It's probably no different that instant replay, Tom. When we started with instant replay it was very limited, and look where it's gone today. So I think that's part of how we evolve. That's how we get better is we start with a particular objective and see what the impact is, and then we go from there.
Expanding the reach of professional football globally is a major point of emphasis for the NFL. A regular season game played in China is a real possibility in the next few years.
Goodell: The size and the influence of China in the global marketplace is obviously something that you can't ignore. You can't ignore that as a sport, or a business, or as a nation. We know we have lots of fans over there, and more importantly, potential fans over there. So we've had a number of activities that are designed to increase the popularity of our game over there, to give them a better sense of our game, and a regular season game has proven to be a real driver to that type of activity. As far as the teams, we actually have multiple teams that are interested in playing. We have more than we can handle at this point in time, which is a good issue. I think teams are interested in participating in how we expand our game on a global basis, but in particular in China. We will have to go through that process over the next several months, and again, continue to get to the point where we believe if we do this, we can be successful. At this point we do, and that's why we spoke about it publicly this week.