NEW YORK — Roger Goodell declined even to answer the question.
What does he want his legacy as NFL commissioner to be?
“If I was focusing on my legacy, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you,” Goodell said Wednesday as team owners gathered for their annual October meetings in New York. “I wouldn’t be signing an extension. My job is to be commissioner of the National Football League as best I can.
“I’m focused on what we’ve got to accomplish.”
Wednesday, the NFL announced an agreement to extend Goodell for three years, until March 2027. The extension positions his commissioner tenure to surpass 20 years. How did he get here and what can fans expect for the next three years? The answers are not dissimilar.
The NFL team owners’ renewal of Goodell sends a message that they like the direction he’s taken the NFL — and where he plans for it to go next.
That road winds through a changing media landscape, a growing market of international hosts, sports gambling and more. The road from here to 2027 doesn’t, on the other hand, seem to wind through labor negotiations. The NFL and NFLPA’s current collective bargaining agreement extends through the 2030 season.
So Goodell can focus on business growth areas rather than game maintenance in what team owners hope will be as lucrative a future as their past and present have proven.
“For the next three years,” Goodell said, “I’m going to bust my butt.”
NFL revenue, global reach has grown under Goodell
NFL revenue has grown steadily over the past decade en route to an all-time-high $11.9 billion last season, per Forbes. That revenue, which allowed each of 32 teams to collect $372 million, rose 7% from a year prior.
It’s also on pace to grow yet again.
Goodell’s administration has won ownership buy-in lately with two key categories: streaming evolution and international growth.
The NFL continues to rake in the overwhelming majority of its income from broadcasting deals, including with hefty contracts from traditional partners like ESPN/ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC. But the NFL also began integrating exclusive broadcasts last season from Amazon, who’s paying $13.2 billion for 11 years of “Thursday Night Football” rights. The NFL’s Sunday Ticket package moved this season to YouTube, who’s paying 50% more for the rights than DirecTV paid last year. NFL executive vice president Brian Rolapp said this week that Sunday Ticket is seeing a five-year subscriber high.
Even in the offseason, the “Quarterback” docuseries on which the NFL partnered with Netflix to reveal behind-the-scenes footage of active players ranked top-10 in 16 countries’ markets, per NFL exec Peter O’Reilly.
That leads to the international growth that the NFL has leaned heavily into during Goodell’s tenure. The league agreed when expanding to 17 games in 2021 that four regular-season games each year, in addition to franchise-organized contests like the Jacksonville Jaguars’ recurring London game, would be played abroad.
Two London stadiums have enjoyed the economic boom that accompanies an NFL game, as did Munich last year. Next year, the league expects to host a game in either Madrid or a city in Brazil. Add in a looming international Nickelodeon broadcast of the Super Bowl to engage kids abroad; the addition of flag football to the Olympics in hopes of continuing to grow women’s involvement in the game; and an international player pipeline from which teams can add an international player to their practice squad without losing a spot?
“We’re focused on how we make the NFL better every day, how we become a global sport,” Goodell said. “How do we continue to look at the future of strategy? Internationalism is a big part of that.”
Goodell’s job might not be what fans think it is
The boos that Goodell receives annually at the NFL Draft capture the dissonance between fans’ and team owners’ responses to Goodell. Fans view Goodell as the face of so much of what riles them up, from controversial officiating to social justice responses to league policies that trigger suspensions stemming from off-field conduct, like gambling and substance abuse. Team owners, meanwhile, look at their bank accounts and see the game’s steady climb alongside the identified routes to mount further.
The fans booing are still showing up. They’re still tuning in, too, to NFL games that routinely pace TV rankings as the most-viewed programs. That’s more important to team owners than those fans’ perceptions of the league.
Goodell’s tenure has been far from perfect. But the NFL’s finances have continued to move in the direction that the constituents who vote for the commissioner, the team owners, want. And thus, three more years await.
What will happen in 2027?
Goodell and the league have declined to speculate whether this contract will be Goodell’s last. Sentiment is also split among league voices over whether the post-2027 NFL structure should continue to front a single commissioner as the league’s reach and scope balloon.
“Internally we have to continue to look if we’re gonna bifurcate the position eventually to where you have a CEO and the commissioner,” Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay, a member of the compensation committee that approved Goodell’s deal, said. “The owners have to talk about that already … so we’re ahead of the curve in preparation and having those internal discussions.”
Another high-ranking team executive explained the drawbacks to that plan this week. In short: What happens when football and business considerations conflict? If a commissioner can’t break the tie between the best on-field product and the most lucrative one, who wins? The league’s growing international inventory, despite the toll it takes on players’ bodies, and the recently added 17th regular-season game, suggest that business is line 1 and thus the main role that a commissioner should fill.
For now, that commissioner is Goodell.
“I’m grateful, obviously honored, to do this job,” Goodell said. “[The extension] is not going to change how I'm approaching my day to day.”