What’s big­ger, Good­ell’s de­mands or his hubris?

Com­mis­sioner wants jet, health in­sur­ance for life

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By SALLY JENK­INS

NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell ap­par­ently thinks he should be paid twice as much as the chair­man of Gold­man Sachs. For what? What ex­actly does this NFL com­mis­sioner do, other than wrin­kle the vast ex­panse of his fore­head over the pub­lic re­la­tions dis­as­ters he cre­ates, pro­voke fan rage, and refuse to fly com­mer­cial? If Cow­boys’ owner Jerry Jones's goal is to re­store some fis­cal san­ity to his fel­low own­ers, then well done. Some­one has to try.

Good­ell has made a bid to raise his salary to $49.5 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to ESPN, which would pay him more than the CEOs of IBM, Time Warner, Hewlett Packard, Dis­ney, Nike, Or­a­cle, Ya­hoo, and J.P. Mor­gan Chase, among oth­ers. That is in­de­cent. It is crazy. And it is ir­re­spon­si­ble. Small won­der Jones threat­ened to sue the com­pen­sa­tion com­mit­tee, and wants more trans­parency on Good­ell's con­tract. While the own­ers fight among them­selves, the rest of us can only sit around slack­jawed with won­der at their to­tal loss of good sense, and per­spec­tive.

To re­store that per­spec­tive: Good­ell al­ready makes $30 mil­lion, more than Steve Wynn, and the CEOs of AT&T, Mi­crosoft, Exxon, Chevron, John­son & John­son, Aetna, and Dow Chem­i­cal. Again, for what?

The NFL is court­ing au­di­ence dis­af­fec­tion with over­sat­u­ra­tion, the con­cus­sion cri­sis drags on, and the fan per­cep­tion is that the league has dug too re­lent­lessly into their pock­ets. But go ahead, gen­tle­men, give the com­mis­sioner a deal that ap­pears to be writ­ten by Marie An­toinette, while quib­bling over set­tle­ments for your play­ers' head in­juries.

Ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion is an emo­tion­ally charged sub­ject: CEOs at the largest U.S. firms now make 271 times more than the av­er­age worker, ac­cord­ing to the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, and 74 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve they are over­paid, a con­vic­tion that cuts across party af­fil­i­a­tions. But at least the CEOs ref­er­enced above can be said to have cre­ated some value for their com­pa­nies or share­hold­ers. Bob Iger ac­quired Pixar, Marvel, and Lu­cas­films for Dis­ney, so the stom­ach doesn't rebel quite as much at his $41 mil­lion pack­age.

It is a se­ri­ous ques­tion whether Good­ell, who has no ac­com­plish­ments and pre­sides over tank­ing TV rat­ings, has earned a pay cut or even fir­ing, rather than a raise. Jones has ev­ery right to de­mand con­sid­er­a­tion of this ques­tion, even if it means in­fu­ri­at­ing some of his more com­pla­cent fel­low own­ers by drag­ging the NFL's deal­ings into the light.

Jones is no dif­fer­ent from any other up­set ma­jor share­holder. Does any­one se­ri­ously be­lieve Good­ell should make any­thing close to what Bob freak­ing Iger makes? The only rea­son the NFL is even con­tem­plat­ing such a thing is slack­ness by the com­pen­sa­tion com­mit­tee mem­bers, who are so used to deal­ing in huge sums that they have for­got­ten what a sen­si­ble scale looks like - and have lost their ear for what is of­fen­sive. In ad­di­tion to a raise, Good­ell re­port­edly has asked for a pri­vate jet in per­pe­tu­ity, and life­time health in­sur­ance for him­self and his en­tire fam­ily. This, in a league in which NFL play­ers have health ben­e­fits for just five years, yet face life­time neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age.

Good­ell makes twice what Tom Brady makes. He makes 15 times more than the av­er­age NFL player. He makes more by sev­eral mil­lions than the CEOs of Ford, Pru­den­tial, Gen­eral Elec­tric, Mor­gan Stan­ley and Goodyear. Again, for what? He's never taken a hit, or had an idea.

There is only one le­git­i­mate ra­tio­nale for com­pen­sat­ing an ex­ec­u­tive on this level: When he or she is a one-of-a-kind busi­ness tal­ent, who spear­heads strate­gic ac­qui­si­tions and drives sales, and can demon­strate some con­nec­tion to the value of the com­pany. Good­ell's hazy, vague role as NFL com­mis­sioner meets none of the cri­te­ria.

The mech­a­nisms of the league's rev­enue - the tele­vi­sion deals that are its main­spring, the cre­ative mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives, the spon­sor­ships - are driven by the own­ers, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial dealmakers such as Jones and Bob Kraft. The NFL's rev­enue is around $13 bil­lion, and the main por­tion of this is a gift from the ti­tanic TV pack­ages ne­go­ti­ated back in 2004 and 2011 by the own­ers' broad­cast com­mit­tee, which was chaired by the Den­ver Bron­cos' Pat Bowlen. Now Bowlen was a unique tal­ent and for­mi­da­ble deal­maker, as any TV exec who had to write the check will tell you. Ask the same ex­ecs what they think of Good­ell. Ask Iger.

Good­ell's con­tract is pro­foundly out of line with pre­vi­ous com­mis­sion­ers, who did far more for their money. Pete Rozelle was a su­perb pro­moter, but own­ers never let the fi­nan­cial re­la­tion­ship with him get this far out of whack. Rozelle presided over mas­sive growth, and the ad­vents of the Su­per Bowl and “Mon­day Night Foot­ball,” for which at his peak in 1974 the own­ers re­warded him with a hand­some $200,000 a year, the equiv­a­lent to $1 mil­lion in today's money. He never made more than the game's great­est stars, the Joe Na­maths and O.J. Simp­sons. Even Paul Tagli­abue, un­der whom rev­enue grew to $6 bil­lion in 2007, was paid just $10 mil­lion.

Jones rec­og­nizes all of this. His quar­rel with the com­pen­sa­tion com­mit­tee and its chair Arthur Blank is based on a re­al­iza­tion that they have slowly, un­wit­tingly let the largesse and com­pla­cency of the past few years cloud their judge­ment. Jones rep­re­sents a body of own­ers who have been grow­ing un­easy for some time with Good­ell's judg­ment and the bloat and dys­func­tion in the Park Av­enue ex­ec­u­tive of­fice. Those who think he is just throw­ing a tantrum over Ezekiel El­liot's sus­pen­sion are wrong. Back in May, in­ter­est­ingly, he ex­pressed con­cern about the league's com­mit­tee-de­ci­sions.

“The com­mit­tee sys­tem works; it's a good one,” he told the Sports Busi­ness Jour­nal. “But it should never sup­plant the in­di­vid­ual own­ers be­ing able to think it through and get it to­gether.” Im­por­tant de­ci­sions should not be closely held by one “lit­tle group,” he said.

For the first time since the early 1990s, the NFL's busi­ness is show­ing some un­der­ly­ing weak­ness. Own­ers there­fore have ev­ery right to re­pent their com­mit­ment to ex­tend­ing Good­ell's con­tract. They have ev­ery right to ask, is he re­ally the leader you want con­fronting a new set of prob­lems? Does he re­ally de­serve to make twice what the av­er­age Amer­ica CEO makes? Does the league re­ally want to so dis­tend its com­pen­sa­tion scale for any com­mis­sioner, much less this one?

Sen­si­ble cor­po­rate lead­ers un­der­stand that when CEO pay gets too high, it im­pacts op­er­a­tions and morale, dis­torts judge­ment, and ac­tu­ally un­der­mines lead­er­ship. They un­der­stand that it breeds sus­pi­cion of poor or care­less gover­nance. This is Jones's con­cern, and it should be shared by ev­ery owner in the league.

File photo

NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell is ask­ing the own­ers for $50 mil­lion a sea­son, a pri­vate jet for life and health in­sur­ance for his fam­ily for life in his next con­tract.

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