Commentary

Roger Goodell earned every penny

Yes, he made a lot of money -- but thanks to him, so did owners and players

Originally Published: February 19, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

GoodellKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe people who hired Roger Goodell -- like the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers -- have to be pleased with the league's financial situation.

No wonder Roger Goodell didn't mind working for one dollar during the National Football League's lockout of its players in 2011. He more than made up for it by the end of the year.

Goodell's executive compensation package as commissioner of this country's most popular professional sports league is extravagant. Roddy White no doubt thinks it is outrageous. According to a tax return the league filed last week, in 2011 Goodell made $29.49 million, more than double the $11.6 million he made in 2010. It is a staggering number at first blush.

According to ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, Goodell made $3,117,000 in salary, $22,309,000 in bonuses and $3,993,000 in additional compensation. So Goodell was paid for his performance, just the way players prefer to be paid. Was it outrageous? Hardly, given the financial windfall that Goodell, who turned 54 on Tuesday, provided the NFL's 32 owners and the players. Compared to the money Goodell has made the owners, his compensation looks like a bargain. Just based on the economics, the owners should have paid him more.

Goodell got a new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement hammered out with the players, ending a four-month lockout before any real damage was done. No games were missed. Training camps were abbreviated but not canceled. There were preseason games and plenty of time for players to earn roster spots. Players did not lose a single game check.

Once labor peace was guaranteed for a decade, Goodell secured television contract extensions with ESPN, NBC, FOX, CBS and DirecTV that were unprecedented in their length and value. He kept the NFL's media partners in place and at a ridiculously high price that guarantees the owners and players will split $7 billion annually during the life of the deals.

Goodell made everybody rich. The owners are making so much money that kicking in approximately $921,000 apiece to cover Goodell's compensation must seem like a bargain. And it is. Given the health and popularity of the league, the television ratings, the packed stadiums, the parity, the stability and the television contracts, the owners should consider paying him more.

Look at what the other major professional sports commissioners in this country make. David Stern reportedly earns $23 million as commissioner of the National Basketball Association. His league had a prolonged work stoppage a season ago and is nowhere near as profitable as the NFL, which made $9.5 billion in 2012. Bud Selig reportedly earns $22 million as commissioner of Major League Baseball. And if Gary Bettman is earning more than $1 as commissioner of the National Hockey League, he's grossly overpaid, given that he has presided over three work stoppages, including the loss of the 2004-05 season and the incomprehensible loss of games at the start of this season.

[+] Enlarge New Orleans Saints fans
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Getty ImagesRoger Goodell's handling of the New Orleans bounty case angered players and New Orleans fans -- one of the worst stumbles in his tenure.

Yes, Goodell has stumbled. His heavy-handed discipline for off-field infractions, fines for hard hits on the field and rules tweaks to benefit offensive players have made him unpopular with players. A USA Today poll released during the week of the Super Bowl found that 61 percent of players disapproved of Goodell's performance since he became commissioner in 2006.

That's going to happen. But the average player salary has steadily risen under Goodell; last season it was about $1.2 million.

Goodell's reputation took a hit with his handling of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue supported Goodell's punishments of four players involved but vacated the suspensions Goodell levied in what appeared to be a backhanded admission that Goodell had acted too harshly given the evidence.

Goodell also allowed replacement officials to work the first three weeks of last season. They were horrible, and he didn't really care until Seattle beat Green Bay on the "Fail Mary" that ended up costing the Packers a first-round bye in the playoffs. The games were compromised because the players had zero respect for the fill-in officials, many of whom were underqualified and not fit enough to handle the speed of the NFL game.

Many former players question Goodell's sincerity on player safety and supporting players in retirement. Goodell sounds good preaching about protecting players and instituting more thorough concussion testing and procedures, but many players think it is all talk. They believe Goodell is bracing for his toughest fight yet, when he will be the league's face in the ever-growing lawsuits by former players against the NFL.

Goodell will really earn his money then.

But Goodell has succeeded in his top two priorities so far into his tenure: Securing extended labor peace and financial health even in a down economy. That was worth way more than $30 million to the owners.

Maybe Goodell's 2011 windfall will prove to be a one-time thing, a bonus for a tough job well done in a single year. But if Goodell makes good on his desire to grow the NFL into a $25 billion business by 2025, when he would be 65 years old, his big annual bonuses won't disappear.

To players who sacrifice their bodies and futures for a game that pays them handsomely, it might seem blasphemous that the league's top executive makes more than the top player. But they should remember this: The more money Goodell makes the league, the more money the players will make. It goes hand in hand. Goodell is getting rich, but so is everybody else.