NFL faces public backlash, unresolved media deals at 2021 fall meetings

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts on October 3, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.

Andrew Pershaw | Icon Sportswear | Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis sat in the lobby of a New York City hotel on Wednesday, quickly being bombarded by members of the media.

Davis was one of the few NFL owners who were in no rush to leave the Intercontinental after the league wrapped up its fall 2021 meetings. He even smiled as he answered about 20 minutes of questions about the state of professional football.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his first in-person meetings with team owners in more than 600 days this week, and the sessions came as numerous scandals swirled around the league’s ownership. There is a public backlash from leaked emails containing racist and anti-gay remarks, which has led to Riders coach John Gruden being impeached. Meanwhile, Congress is looking into the NFL’s handling of the Washington soccer team’s misconduct.

When it comes to revenue, some media rights are still up in the air, and a pre-made NFL may be heading to a new location.

As the NFL entered the eighth week of its season, Davis was asked to describe the state of the NFL.

“I can’t really describe it,” Davis said. “I know where the invaders stand.”

Davis confirmed that the raiders had agreed to a financial settlement with Gruden, who signed a 10-year, $100 million deal to coach the team in 2018. Gruden resigned earlier this month after emails from him containing racist and homophobic language were leaked.

Davis said that if the NFL had learned of the emails, he might have addressed the matter before the season.

“We all have demons in our lives,” he said. “You have to understand that. And then, you also look at salvation as well.”

The emails were disclosed as part of an investigation with the Washington soccer team.

The NFL has obtained more than 600,000 emails stemming from an investigation into workplace culture at WFT, which is owned by Dan Snyder. Last July, an investigation with the team found that the club had offered a “very unprofessional” workplace, especially for women. The NFL fined the team $10 million, and Snyder agreed to step aside, handing day-to-day control over to his wife, Tanya.

The NFL thought the matter was resolved until the New York Times reported that Groden had used offensive comments in emails to then-WFT president Bruce Allen over a seven-year period. That was when Gruden was an ESPN employee.

Former female employees of WFT broke up NFL meetings to request that documents about the investigation be released publicly. The House Oversight and Reform Committee also sent a letter to Goodell requesting that records related to the investigation be turned over by November 4.

Goodell addressed the matter on Tuesday. He said it would be “difficult” to provide additional details, citing the association’s promise to protect the anonymity of more than 150 people interviewed. He said the NFL would cooperate with Congress.

Regarding the WFT investigation, Davis said he would prefer a more detailed report, “particularly regarding some of the things that have been accused.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tried to escape the media, but was completely unsuccessful. He threw his bag down and said briefly that he “approved of the way the league is doing,” without answering additional questions.

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis looks on before a game against the Chicago Bears at Allegiant Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Chris Unger | Getty Images

The future of the NFL Sunday Ticket

On the financial side, the NFL is set with a media rights deal worth more than $100 billion over the next decade. Davis was more than happy to take up this topic.

“We’ve talked about a collective bargaining agreement and a new TV broadcast contract that provides stability to the league – that’s really important to us,” he said. “And we have a lot of other things to work on, too.”

But there is part of the unresolved business – the NFL Sunday ticket. AT&T owns the rights through its ownership of DirecTV. The deal, which pays the NFL more than $1 billion annually, expires in 2023. After that, they can switch platforms.

On Tuesday, Goodell described the Sunday Ticket as a “streaming product” that the NFL wants to take off satellite and make it digital.

“I think it’s best for our fans to make it accessible on a digital platform,” he said.

Goodell said the NFL has not identified a new partner. Amazon is a target of rights, but in league circles, the grumbling suggests that the NFL finally wants to lure Apple to take it.

Apple has distribution with iPhones and iPads and can put games on streaming service. Andy Dolic, longtime sports executive, referred to it as “railroad tracks” when discussing the demise of regional sports networks.

A person familiar with the NFL’s thinking about the Sunday Ticket told CNBC that several tech companies are showing interest, but did not reveal the names. The person discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because the conversations are private.

DirecTV has a streaming service and is trying to raise awareness by sponsoring ESPN shows. This service has not received excellent reviews.

The NFL is studying a few ways to try the Sunday Ticket, including giving consumers the option to purchase one-on-one team games. It can also simulate a TV broadcast package by allowing broadcast services to carry a specific conference. And to increase the value of the Sunday Ticket, the NFL can also include media properties such as and the NFL Network.

Last August, the NFL hired Goldman Sachs to search for real estate investment partners.

The league still has another season with DirectTV, but the NFL likely wants a new deal before the start of the 2022 season.

Defensive linebacker Jeff Okudah of Ohio State prepares to run a 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Combine moving to Dallas

Another property the NFL intends to discuss is the future location of the annual gathering.

The pre-draft event is another potential media asset as it is broadcast primarily on the NFL Network and generates interest among hardcore football fans. On Tuesday, NFL executive director Troy Vincent said the gathering will try to get back to normal in 2022 and be held in Indianapolis after it became virtual during the pandemic.

But there is some mystery about the 2023 event.

The NFL opened the bid for teams to host the gathering, which has been held in Indianapolis since 1987. The event helps attract $10 million in economic impact on the city, according to the Visit Indy tourism website. But that’s far less than the $200 million he’s helping draw the NFL.

Location is key, which is why Dallas and Los Angeles get into the mix. A source told CNBC that Frisco, Texas (outside Dallas) will likely get the winning bid for the 2023 event. It’s home to the Cowboys’ training facility, the Ford Center.

CNBC visited the entertainment grounds last September, which is located on a 91-acre plot that Jones controls. The $1 billion, 12,000-seat sports complex opened in 2016 at The Star. The Ford Center is attached to the luxurious Omni Hotel, which is surrounded by a shopping mall, restaurants, and car dealership, which is an attraction for football fans.

“There was a focus on improving the athlete’s experience,” Vincent said. “We have to do things differently.”


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