NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks ahead to the new season and beyond in our exclusive one on one interview. For more on the NFL, including a preview of the upcoming season, order our NFL special collector's issue here!
TV Guide Magazine: As new stadiums are being built, how much are you involved in making certain each stadium offers the right kind of multi-media viewing experience, and how will 3D fit into all the plans?
Goodell: In getting the stadiums built, we have a lot of input. We play various roles in getting them approved. They are complex, complicated and they each are unique to their communities. As it relates to some of the key features, we continually focus on how we make each of our stadiums more inviting, and offer our fans a greater experience when they come into the stadium. You saw that last year with Dallas and the scoreboard; this year with the Jets and Giants stadium opening you'll see the same types of features where you'll see them making the game more convenient, making it more entertaining and giving our fans a greater experience, and we've stressed that repeatedly with our clubs and they have had a tremendous focus on that.
TV Guide Magazine: And 3D?
Goodell: A lot of that's technology and that includes 3D. I don't think 3D in the stadium is something that you'll see in the very near future, we have four or five teams that are improving their scoreboards this off-season. We are looking at using technology to bring in more replays, to bring in RedZone, as an example for this off-season, to make sure that our fans don't miss any action when they come to an NFL stadium.
TV Guide Magazine: There has been a lot of talk about moving from 16 regular season games and 4 preseason games to an 18 and 2 format. How would the fan benefit, and when could we expect that to happen?
Goodell: We think the fan would benefit, because it's higher quality games, games that are meaningful and then they'll see the best players. We did a similar type of approach to this in the late '70s, when we went from 14 regular season games and 6 preseason games to now the 16 and 4, to looking at the 18 and 2. Because the game of football has changed — the way we prepare our players, the health and safety of our players — we have to look at all of that, staying within the 20-game framework to make sure that we're providing the best possible entertainment for our fans, making sure that we look at the best way of providing player health and safety for our players, so that we can continue to be the leaders in sports.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you see players in favor of it?
Goodell: Yes! I've talked to a lot of players that are in favor; again, with the right kind of modifications. You have to look at the off-season, you have to look at the idea you're removing two pre-season games, so you're staying within the 20-game format. I think there are a lot of benefits to that, and of course, it provides greater opportunities for the players to make more money if you are able to grow the game.
TV Guide Magazine: The NFL has been innovative in moving the draft to prime time and spanning three days. Was that even more successful than you imagined, and why?
Goodell: I think it was because we were willing to not be satisfied with the success we had with our draft. We recognize that the fans want more NFL and we're trying to find innovative ways to bring them more NFL, and that includes the draft, that includes the Pro Bowl and that includes what we're doing on the NFL Network and nfl.com with our new RedZone, which is one of the greatest innovations in television I think in several years.
TV Guide Magazine: You've also changed the overtime rule for post-season, but what is the reasoning behind not adopting the same rule for the regular season?
Goodell: Essentially, we accomplished what we wanted, which was to make sure that we protected the games in the playoffs, where it's 'you win or you go home.' We wanted to make sure at the conclusion of that game that our fans believed it was a fair outcome, based on what happened on the field. We think we've come up with an innovative solution for that after a great deal of thinking. And we'll see how it works and decide whether we want to extend it into the regular season. But there are 16 regular season games, so not any single game determines your success or your ability to get to the playoffs.
TV Guide Magazine: So you don't need to have uniformity?
Goodell: I don't think so. You don't have uniformity right now. You keep playing in the post-season.
TV Guide Magazine: How successful is the NFL at increasing overseas popularity, and even recruitment, since that's so huge in baseball and basketball?
Goodell: I think our game is tremendously popular in international markets. We continue to have successful regular season games in the UK. The fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We also play in Canada. We are looking to play a regular season game in Mexico again, but between our media coverage, between our games, between our efforts on the grassroots, the game continues to grow. The grassroots also gives us the opportunity to develop players. We've seen more and more players have the ability to play and hopefully are going to have the ability to play on the NFL level. And that comes over a period of time. They have to understand the fundamentals and have the proper coaching. We had a player this year from China, Ed Wang, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the fifth round. And that's a great thing for our international development. We don't have NFL Europe any longer because we reevaluated our entire strategy and that's how we came up with our regular-season NFL games. We think what our fans were looking for is the best quality product and that was our NFL regular-season games, not preseason games and not NFL Europe. We are thinking about the idea of a developmental league that would be here, likely based here in the United States, in the spring.
TV Guide Magazine: With Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Vince Young making headlines for off-the-field discipline issues, what kind of feedback have you gotten on your personal conduct policies, and what more can be done?
Goodell: First off, it was designed and developed with the players, with our clubs, because I think everyone recognized that we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and it reflected poorly on the NFL, and that's not what we should be doing. On the fan reaction, I've gotten an overwhelmingly positive reaction. I think the fans want to know that we care about our own conduct, that we are responsible in the way we manage ourselves and that we'll be held accountable.
TV Guide Magazine: Regarding Roethlisberger, what specifically would a player who's been suspended for 4-6 games need to do to have that ultimately be four games?
Goodell: There's no specific step; it's a series. We said at the time Ben has to reevaluate the decisions that he's been making, how he makes those decisions. He's gone through all of the steps necessary at this point with respect to his evaluation of treatment. We'll continue to monitor that and I will meet with him at some point prior to making a final decision.
TV Guide Magazine: What is the status of labor talks with the players association?
Goodell: We continue to have discussions. We have a lot of work to do, but we have a great opportunity here to make some changes that'll be good for the players, the clubs and for the game overall, which will be good for our fans.
TV Guide Magazine: With all the continued research into concussions, what kind of rules are you thinking about adopting to make the game safer for players?
Goodell: We have no higher priority than player health and safety. We have made changes in our rules to make the game safer than ever. We are studying ways to reduce the wear and tear during the off-season. We are going to be testing various [types of] equipment during the preseason and in the training camp period that we think will make it a safer environment for players. And of course we made a significant number of changes to the concussion committee, which is called our Head, Neck and Spine Committee, including two new co-chairs, and other members that I think are doing tremendous work in not only increasing the awareness, but evaluating equipment, rules, return to play, research, all of those things that I think are going to make a difference, including the Zackery Lystedt Law [requiring medical clearance of youth athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion, before sending them back in the game, practice or training], which we are working hard as a league to make sure that every state adopts.
TV Guide Magazine: Regarding equipment, is that rethinking the padding inside helmets?
Goodell: Helmet technology is very much a focus of that. We are going to be coming out with new information for the players to evaluate that we've had independently evaluated by experts so that they can make the right decisions about the proper use of those helmets and the selection of the best helmets. But we are also talking about hip pads, thigh pads, kneepads, shoulder pads, making sure we provide the players with the best possible equipment.
TV Guide Magazine: On the drug-testing front, how much of a problem is HGH?
Goodell: We don't really know. The reality of it is we have to have testing programs in place to make sure that it's not being used in the NFL and that's why we proposed that to the NFLPA. We have been recognized as having the best drug program in all of professional sports. We want to maintain that, and that means we have to constantly re-evaluate the program and make improvements to it as changes occur in the marketplace.
TV Guide Magazine: How can you make the NFL drug-free, both in terms of recreational and performance-enhancing drugs?
Goodell: There's not a single answer other than you have to continually try to improve your program, which is education and testing, and making sure there are consequences that are clear and firm when somebody does violate the policy.
TV Guide Magazine: Getting back to TV, how can you solve the issue of blackouts?
Goodell: The best way to solve it is by selling every game out. That's what we work to do and we've had tremendous success in being able to do that. Well over 90 percent of our games, we hope, this season, are going to be shown in the local markets and that's something that we continually strive for.
TV Guide Magazine: What progress, if any, has been made in addressing better retirement benefits for players?
Goodell: We continue to work with the players association on improvements to our retired player benefits. We also have done independent work with respect to medical plans, including our 88 [dementia] Plan, our joint replacement plan and a number of our other screenings that are designed to try to get players that played the game better medical care. And then we of course have worked with our NFL alumni, led by George Martin, that's representing the retired players so that we can continue to address those issues that are important to the retired players in a responsible fashion.
TV Guide Magazine: What have been the benefits of moving the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl?
Goodell: We made two significant changes last year, which is moving the game to the site of the Super Bowl and also moving it to the week before the Super Bowl and I think the reality is it created a bigger stage for our players. There was more focus on the game, because it was within the season structure, it was a lead-up to the Super Bowl and it was in the city of the Super Bowl. We're going to continue our tremendous partnership with the state of Hawaii by returning the game to Hawaii for the next two years, but we are going to play the game — at least this year — the week before to try to increase the focus on our great players and what they do.
TV Guide Magazine: If you and all the other major pro sports commissioners sat down at a table, what big concern would you raise first?
Goodell: I always raise the state of our game. That's the No. 1 focus I have: What we can do to try to continue to improve our game. I'm the junior commissioner, as you might say, with the least experience, so I do a lot of listening when I have the opportunity to communicate with them and understand what they are in their leagues and how that could impact on what we're doing so that we continue to be leaders.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there anything you ask their opinion about regarding your sport?
Goodell: Only if I feel that they've had some experience or they've thought through some of these issues that also relate to our league. But we each have our own unique challenges, and there are differences from league to league and obviously the game itself, so you have to take that into account. But the leagues operate in very similar fashions, so the opportunity for us to share our challenges is a valuable thing.
TV Guide Magazine: What are you most looking forward to in the 2010-11 season?
Goodell: The games, and the competition. I think that's what the fans all focus on. That's what we focus on — delivering the highest-quality product, and our game is that. I think it's a chance for us to allow our fans to be entertained and to get away from their daily troubles and to find a great source of entertainment.
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