PHOENIX – The NFL has never been more popular. But there's still room for improvement.
That's the gist of Commissioner Roger Goodell's remarks to reporters on the Friday before the Super Bowl. Goodell took questions for 45 minutes, many of them centered on the Patriots "spygate" scandal, which is making headlines again this week.
But Goodell covered numerous other topics of interest to the NFL and its fans. The main categories included:
Following the success of the Dolphins-Giants game in England this past October, Goodell announced that the NFL is going back across the pond.
On October 26, 2008, the New Orleans Saints will play host to the San Diego Chargers at London's Wembley Stadium
"We had an overwhelming response from our clubs this year in the number of teams that want to go [play overseas]. The [Giants and Dolphins] teams had a great experience when they went to London. We took great care to make sure we don't impact negatively on the competitive consequences of the team, and I think we've prove that this year."
Goodell also confirmed that playing games overseas will not be mandatory, and that a rotating schedule will be worked out on a voluntary basis, with NFL clubs not having to make an overseas journey more than once in a given period.
"I think that's why we're doing it on a voluntary basis because we'll demonstrate to clubs that it can be a great experience for them," he added.
There's also talk of having another regular season game be played south of the border. In 2005, San Francisco and Arizona played their season opener in Mexico City, and Goodell was optimistic about the chances of a return engagement with other NFL clubs.
"We think there's tremendous fan interest in Mexico. We would love to get back to Mexico. We will look at that for the 2009 season."
Expansion, however, is not on the NFL's agenda at the moment, according to Goodell.
"It's not on our front burner," he declared.
Moving a team may be a possibility, though, particularly if it can be in L.A.
"We want to be back in Los Angeles," said Goodell. "We are working on trying to find the right way of doing that which will satisfy the people of the Los Angeles market and community leaders, but also the NFL. If and when we come back, and I expect we will be back, we want to do it successfully. The last thing we want to do is come back and fail.
"We know we have great fans in the southern California area. I think what we have to do is find the right solution."
The Bills are staying in Buffalo, but they'll be playing some of their games elsewhere in coming years. Goodell confirmed that an agreement has been reached to allow the Bills to play a limited number of preseason and regular season games in Toronto, Canada over the next five years.
"I think this proposal was done very thoughtfully, I think it was done to help regionalize the team even broader than it has," Goodell observed. "[The Bills] have regionalized a lot of western New York, which has been helpful in making the team more successful from a business standpoint and marketing themselves more effectively.
"They have a tremendous amount of interest to work into Canada, the Toronto-Hamilton area. And I think this will be great for all fans, because it will give the opportunity for people in Toronto to have a game in their market, and it will also give Buffalo Bills fans an opportunity to go to that game."
Collective Bargaining Agreement
The NFL has been very fortunate to have had several years of labor peace. But that calm could be in jeopardy of being shattered this offseason, as owners and players union leaders debate possible changes to the collective bargaining agreement.
Tempers, as one reporter noted to Goodell, could flare when this issue is addressed.
"I'm not really much into the rhetoric," said the commissioner. "I think these issues don't get resolved my making comments publicly, but rather sitting at the negotiating table and working and addressing the issues we may have.
"I don't think it's any secret that a number of owners are concerned with a number of aspects of the labor deal that we need to improve, that we need to address. And we will do that, directly with the union. And I believe that we will be able to come to a resolution that good for the game, good for the players, good for the owners, and good for our fans most of all."
The NFL's popularity is at its zenith, and as evidence, Goodell cited a record number of media credentials for Super Bowl XLII, through-the-roof TV ratings, and sky-high attendance figures.
He also acknowledged that there might be a discussion about altering the current playoff seeding system. "A number of variations," as he put it, could be looked at in the short term.
Fans having access to NFL Network on their local cable carriers, such as Comcast, was a heated debate this past season, particularly in the days leading up to the Patriots-Giants game in the regular season finale. That issue has yet to be resolved completely.
"Unfortunately, there are no new negotiations," Goodell conceded.
And a growing concern is playoff-bound teams resting their players in late-season games.
Goodell admitted it's a topic that needs to be addressed this offseason.
"The incentive should be for every team to win as many games as possible," Goodell said. "We owe that to our fans."