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A Letter From the Boss

January 3, 2011

Some of the readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of the NFL.  Specifically, I’m a long-suffering Bengals fan, but I really like pro football of all kinds.  So I’ve been following the labor discussions from afar and looking at the potential strategy implications.  One thing I haven’t heard others say (I said it a while back, and you’ll probably hear it a few more times) is that the massive interest in the NFL from occasional fans is in part caused by Fantasy Football.  There hasn’t been a secondary industry like this ever before in sports labor negotiations, and I think both sides are missing the implications of losing the interest of fans if they do lock/walk.

Anyway, I was part of the letter blast this morning from Roger Goddell, the Commissioner of the NFL.  He’s pretty clear on his opinion of the matter:

I know we can and will reach an agreement.

My goal as Commissioner now is to help our teams and players find a solution that is fair to everyone and ensures that football becomes more popular, accessible, and fun. We want the next decade to be the best yet for our fans, and I’m ready to work day and night to make that happen.

We’ve come a long way. Compare where we are today with 10 years ago. From player accountability to player safety, more and better television coverage, upgrading the in-stadium experience, innovations like the RedZone channel, the Draft in prime time and playing the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl, we are focused on doing what’s best for the players, teams, and fans. My priority is and always will be the game and the fans who love our game.

Well, that’s a great ad for all the stuff that the NFL does.  I’m shocked they didn’t talk about the NFL Network as well.  I’m partially kidding… I know that stuff like this is advertising as much as it is encouragement.

I’m also interested in the juxtiposition of the schedule and player health:

A significant change would be to resolve fan complaints about preseason by modifying our 20-game format. Fans tell us they don’t like the quality of the preseason games, and we’re listening. An enhanced season of 18 regular season and two preseason games would not add a single game for the players collectively, but would give fans more meaningful, high-quality football.

Our emphasis on player health and safety is absolutely essential to the future of our game. We are strictly enforcing rules that protect players from unnecessarily dangerous play, especially involving hits to the head. We are changing the “play through it” culture to a “player-first” culture to ensure that if a player has a head injury, he doesn’t play again until his health is certain. We are also addressing the potential wear-and-tear on players in the way they train in-season and off-season.

Many sports pundits much more articulate than I am have already pointed out that most starters don’t play much in the pre-season, so the argument proposed above is somewhat bogus, and flies in the face of the safety disucssion.

But let me focus on the leadership aspects here.  Mr. Goddell is doing what he can to put out his position to the fans early, and he hopes that this can shape the discussion as the league moves to negotiations in the off-season.  I’m sure it’ll show up on the NFL website at some point (not there yet that I could find), and you can judge it yourself.  But it’s pretty clear that the NFL has quite a few points on the agenda, and it’ll be interesting to see how the players get their message out in the meantime.

Stay tuned, and keep the old games on the DVR… they might be the only ones you see.

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