Goodell's public approval at all-time low, yet ratings and revenue continue to climb

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Despite NFL commissioner Roger Goodell winning the praises of NFL owners in recent weeks – even Patriots owner Robert Kraft – he has not earned the same level of approval and trust from the fans or the general public, according to prominent NFL writer Peter King. And his Friday column for MMQB suggests that he may need to “save his job” in the face of all that public vitriol.

The problem? Public opinion of NFL fans is meaningless to league owners when viewers are virtually addicted to their product, which continues to grow at an incredible rate.

King’s column published a number of angry emails from fans, most of which are understandably exasperated with the way Goodell has handled not just discipline and PR off the field but the game itself on the field. It’s nice to know that many, many fans across America are as fed up with Goodell as just about everyone in New England is right now, but the unfortunate reality is that viewers are still taking up entire Sundays consuming NFL-related programming en masse – and breaking records, to boot.

If you’re reading this and wondering why Goodell still has a job as NFL commissioner, here’s why … The NFL is expected to report $13 billion in revenue from the 2015 season, which is up from $12 billion in 2014, which was a spike from $9.6 billion in 2013, which was still a huge increase over $6.5 billion in Goodell’s first season in 2006. The league is halfway to Goodell’s stated goal of $25 billion in revenue by the 2027 season.

It’s not just money that’s being generated at record rates – television ratings also continue to rise. Ratings in 2015 went up for games broadcast on FOX, CBS, and NBC. Even the league’s much-maligned Thursday Night Football product grew, drawing an average of 13 million viewers, compared to $12.3 million in 2014. ESPN’s Monday Night Football and surrounding shows took the only notable downturns, dropping in viewership for the second straight year, but MNF still won the ratings battle all 16 weeks it was on the air among the key demographics of males 18-34 and 18-49.

I am far the first person to say this, but it’s the truth: if you really want Goodell out, if you really want a better NFL than is currently constituted, you need to stop watching. Turn the games off. You say “Thanks, captain obvious!” yet you continue to feed the monster. That is the root of the issue: why should the league care about “public opinion” when revenue and ratings say it’s never been greater?

Here is a sampling of some of the emails published by King, along with my smarmy rebuttals.

“If Roger Goodell wants to improve his image with us fans, he needs to stop trying to ruin the game we love.”

There are certainly aspects of the league that are being eroded. But you need to stop ruining the product by watching and feeding into it.

“Between his statement about the players wanting to end discipline, to his comments about the Laremy Tunsil fiasco and how it made the draft interesting, to his engaging and egging on those who were booing him, is it just me or does the NFL have to do something about his behavior?”

The owners are fine with all of that as long as their pockets are being lined at record rates year after year. You are the one who needs to do something, and that’s to stop buying in.

“These days, I can no longer in good faith support the NFL. The main reason? Roger Goodell.”

So that means you’re not watching the games anymore, right?

“Using a wins above replacement-type analysis, couldn’t any competent executive have grown the league at an equal or better pace for far less money? I’m so tired of hearing about how great Roger is because he makes money for the owners. They have a great product. They have great players. They have smart owners who were successful in other businesses. They would have made money with a robot as commissioner. Roger has probably cost the owners money compared to what a competent executive could have accomplished.”

You’ve got the right idea, but how would a different commissioner change anything? You’d basically be banking on him being a man of the people, rather than a man of the owners, which is what Goodell and every commissioner in history ultimately is. Goodell has grown the league astronomically for the owners and takes all their punches in public – that’s his job and to them he’s doing “Triple-A-plus great” at it, to quote Jerry Jones.

“So Goodell, instead of swallowing his pride and admitting a mistake was made, continues to tear down the reputation of one of the all-time great players in the league. So Mr. Goodell, about that integrity thing?”

The league lacks integrity and has an image problem, no doubt. But the owners’ bottom line is going in the opposite direction, and as long as it keeps growing the “integrity” of the product won’t matter.

“Goodell has shown a history of lying and manipulating when it suits him (Ray Rice, Deflategate, Bountygate, 18-game schedule, concussions). If making his father proud was something that the commissioner strived for he has failed miserably. Fathers and parents, or at least decent parents, as I’m sure his were, would care more about the character of their child, not his bloated paycheck.”

Owners care about paychecks more than having high character. Sorry, that’s just the reality of the situation. They might begin to care a bit more about “character” if those paychecks start to shrink.

“I love Roger Goodell. He is exactly why NFL is so powerful. He disciplines these punks that don’t understand it’s a PRIVILEGE to play in the NFL! Lets hope Goodell is commissioner 20 more years!”

The one guy in the whole article who is pro-Goodell. And, clearly, one who is quite happy to continue feeding the monster.

“I predict he crashes and burns this year when owners turn on him.”

Not even Mr. Kraft has turned on Goodell at this point. Why would anyone else?

Roger Goodell hugs New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft  after he is named to succeed retiring  NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue  at an owners meeting  in suburban Chicago August 8, 2006.   (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Roger Goodell hugs New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft after he is named to succeed retiring NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue at an owners meeting in suburban Chicago August 8, 2006. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Look, I’m not denying that I’m also part of the problem. I have no plans to stop watching football games anytime soon. This is the problem: the owners know that the odds of a downturn in viewership large enough to really hurt them in the wallets are depressingly low. There’s no need to give a second of thought to public opinion of the commissioner when the vast majority of those voices are gluing their eyes to their TV screens for hundreds of hours every season. I’m just accepting this harsh reality.

Surely, this is not the first time you’ve seen someone tell you that the only way to get Goodell in trouble is to stop the upward trend in ratings and revenue. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it really is the only way. You need to stop paying attention to the $13 billion monster. Are you ready to look away?

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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