NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent about forty-five minutes taking questions from Broncos season-ticket holders today a couple of hours before kickoff of the divisional playoff game at Mile High.
Asked about Denver’s bid to host a Super Bowl, Goodell said a lot will depend on how next year’s title game in New Jersey goes. It will be the first Super Bowl held at an outdoor stadium in a northern city.
“The answer to the question is we are going to do this for the first time next year in New York and it’s going to be a real test,” the commissioner said.
“My personal view is football is a game made to be played in the elements . . . but I don’t have a vote. If (the game at the Meadowlands) is a success, we may do some more.”
Broncos president Joe Ellis, accompanying Goodell on his pre-game rounds, drew applause when he interjected that a Super Bowl in Denver is “a no-brainer.”
Super Bowl sites are determined by owners of the thirty-two clubs.
Goodell also asked the season-ticket holders how the league can improve the in-stadium game day experience. He noted that the experience at home, through television, keeps getting better thanks to advancing technology.
Fans told him they’d like to see more variety of information on the video boards, more and better replays, and a sound system that allows fans to hear the referee more consistently when he announces penalties and the results of video reviews.
Goodell said improving in-stadium replays to the quantity and variety offered on television is “the No. 1 thing our fans want.”
Asked about his proposal to change the schedule from four preseason games and sixteen regular-season games to two preseason games and eighteen regular-season games, Goodell acknowledged he has backed off the suggestion due to arguments that it contradicts the league’s recent emphasis on player safety.
“We’ve got that on the table. We’ve also got the alternative, which is sixteen and two,” he said, referring to a proposal to delete two preseason games without adding to the regular-season schedule. Goodell said he understands why season-ticket holders resent paying regular-season prices for lackluster preseason affairs.
“We had the unilateral right to (go to eighteen games) several years ago,” he said. “We just did not feel it was the right thing to do.”
On the subject of player safety, Goodell said head injuries remain the main emphasis.
“We’re trying to take the head out of the game,” he said.
Asked whether the league might switch to Kevlar helmets, the commissioner said research continues but changes in equipment often have unintended consequences.
“I still believe it comes back to rules,” he said. “You have to have rules that take the head out of the game.”
Asked if kickoffs might be eliminated altogether, Goodell said increasing touchbacks by moving the kickoff up five yards “reduced concussions by 50 percent.” Unless kickoff-related injuries spike up, the commissioner said the kickoff rules are likely to remain as they are.
Goodell was also asked whether the Pro Bowl will continue to be played the week before the Super Bowl, eliminating players from the Super Bowl teams from the all-star game, or moved back to its traditional place on the calendar after the Super Bowl.
Ratings have improved “very significantly” with the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl, Goodell said, but scheduling is less of a concern than the quality of the game itself. Lately, the Pro Bowl has increasingly taken on the competitive tenor of basketball and hockey all-star games, in which little or no defense is played.
“We don’t like what they’re watching,” Goodell said. “My focus right now is not when it should be played but whether we should play it.”
Asked about his biggest challenge as commissioner, Goodell replied: “To make the game safer.”
One fan cited the knee injury suffered by Broncos receiver Eric Decker against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season, asking whether discouraging hits to the head has produced more attacks on the knees.
“There’s plenty of room between the knee and the head, what we call the strike zone,” Goodell said.
The commissioner also urged the players’ association to approve blood testing for human growth hormone, as baseball’s players recently did.
“The players have continually raised issues saying there’s problems with the science of HGH testing,” Goodell said. “That’s just not true.”