The NFL is free to twist arms, just like anybody else. So maybe it’s just coincidence that all five of the new stadiums that will come on line during Roger Goodell’s brief tenure as NFL commissioner have now been awarded Super Bowls. Or maybe not.
Goodell emerged from an owners meeting Tuesday in Boston to announce that the 2016 Superpalooza – the 50th anniversary of the game – was awarded to a nearly-open-for-business stadium in Santa Clara that will be home to the 49ers and that the 2017 game will return to Houston.
More telling than the argument Goodell and the owners made for either venue might be the one they aimed at the Miami Dolphins’ failed bid.
“I think the stadium is a very important part of any of these proposals,” he said after the vote. “I had a couple of owners express to me privately the condition of the stadium was an important factor to them in their votes.”
In case you haven’t been following the recent dust-up in South Florida over who’s going to pay for the nearly $400 million in improvements the Dolphins want made to Sun Life Stadium, here’s all the background you need to know: Team owner Steve Ross wants taxpayers to foot the bill. In a rare bit of gumption, some state and local politicians blocked a referendum that would have put the matter to a vote.
What followed soon after were lamentations from Ross and his hired hands about all the money that South Florida was losing out on. Goodell delivered the same message in person to the Legislature earlier this month. But, after Tuesday’s vote, he let Rodney Barreto, chairman of South Florida’s bid committee, rub it in.
“I suspect there’s a couple of state reps down in Miami-Dade County where I live who are going to look at this and realize this was a huge mistake,” Barreto said. “We had the better bid. I could just look at the body language from the NFL staff. It’s a shame. We may not see another Super Bowl for another 10 years.”
The last one in South Florida was only three years ago and taxpayers there already shelled out much of the cash for new homes for the Heat and Marlins recently but who’s counting? Certainly not Goodell.
He’s made securing new stadiums for franchise owners – largely publicly financed stadiums – every bit as much a signature issue as player safety. So far, as noted above, every town that helped build one since 2006 has been rewarded with a Super Bowl.
“It hasn’t been a strategy for the NFL. But it’s come to us as a happy consequence,” Frank Supovitz, the league’s senior vice president of events, told NFL.com – the day before the vote was taken.
That kind of arrogance may seem breathtaking but it’s all just another day’s work for the NFL. Goodell runs a cartel that could teach the International Olympic Committee a thing or two about ruthlessness.
PLANS FOR THE DEATH STAR
The NFL already rules the sporting landscape and the airwaves from coast to coast. Apparently, that’s not enough. Based on a few things Goodell let slip at the end of the owners meeting, it sounds like he’s working on plans for a Death Star.
Next year, the league’s draft will be moved back from April to between May 8 and 17, ostensibly to avoid a scheduling conflict with New York’s Radio City Music Hall, which is hosting an Easter show. It’s likely to stay there in following years, too. Never mind those dates likely mean a conflict with Mother’s Day and the NBA and NHL playoffs, plus three more weeks of endless hype.
There’s also a good chance the league will push the scouting combine back from February to mid-March, inviting another scheduling conflict, this time with the NCAA basketball tournament’s Selection Sunday or its opening weekend of play.
If you think Goodell is worried about his empire running up against someone else’s, you never saw the bemused smile on his face when someone pointed out that pushing the Super Bowl from late January deeper into February would pit his biggest game against NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500.
The new NFL calendar will mean more work for clubs and their front-office personnel and more programming for the NFL Network but less time for rookies, since many clubs are likely to cut out minicamps. There’s still talk of an 18-game season floating around, as well as expanding the playoffs, mercifully by cutting two preseason games.
The one thing that’s guaranteed to swell is the league’s bottom line.
“How much hype is enough? How big does the league need the golden goose to get?” SI.com’s Peter King, one of the NFL’s sharpest observers, asked in a recent column without waiting for an answer.
“Silly question. We see it answered every day by an insatiable league.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. You may write to him at email@example.com and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke