There is a good chance you will be sick of the phrase “pace of play” by Wednesday afternoon, when the NFL’s annual spring meeting concludes with Roger Goodell addressing the media. You’ll hear it directly from his mouth several times then, I can assure you, and it will be parroted by owners and GMs this week in Phoenix as well.
This has become Goodell’s cause célèbre recently, numerous league sources tell me, and the impetus to streamline games and cut down on commercial breaks and overall game times could not be stronger from Park Avenue. It is reflected in potentially cutting back overtime to 10 minutes from 15 (though that is being couched as a health-and-safety issue, as well) and in the movement to centralize instant replay from the command center at the NFL offices in New York City. It is paramount on Goodell’s mind these days as the league battles with various forms of screens and entertainment in its fight to remain atop the ratings charts and to incentivize fans to actually leave their couches to attend games as well.
“That’s going to be a major topic of this week, across various meetings,” said one NFL source who has been in close contact with Goodell. “Without a doubt, that’s Roger’s biggest initiative of this offseason.”
Of course, the biggest real news that will come from this meeting will take place on Monday, with a vote still scheduled on the Raiders planned relocation to Las Vegas. Assuming that vote takes place -- and there is no reason to believe it will not at this point, according to sources -- all of my reporting strongly indicates that Raiders owner Mark Davis has more than the 24 votes necessary to get his wish. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is his closest wingman on the matter and perhaps his most effective salesman as well.
Make no mistake, many of these owners have serious reservations about the market size of Las Vegas, it’s uncertainty as a pro sports market, it’s television market size, it’s lack of corporate infrastructure … to say nothing of the owner or two who might still harbor some sort of ethical misgivings about the whole gambling thing. But money trumps all and the free money is more than up to snuff. While there has been some private grumbling among owners out in Arizona already, this relocation has more than enough momentum to pass. It’s going to happen, and it’s likely going to happen before these billionaires break for lunch tomorrow morning.
“Some owners have massive reservations about this move, but it’s going to happen,” said one high-ranking club official.
There have been some rumblings about how the Vegas move might cause issues for the new Los Angeles-based teams, Rams owner Stan Kroenke in particular, as his new venue will invariably now be competing with the new Vegas stadium for events and allure.
“This isn’t exactly what Stan has in mind when he cut his deal a year ago,” one ownership source said.
The prospect of three teams moving in rapid succession isn’t the best look for the league, either. But, again, this is happening. I continue to believe, however, that a decade from now these owners might already be having some buyer’s remorse.
Panthers next for sale?
The other major franchise issue being whispered about is the future of the Carolina Panthers. Owner Jerry Richardson is advanced in age, is battling some health issues and is not attending this meeting, and many other owners anticipate this franchise to be sold before his passing. There are no heirs involved, as Richardson cut his sons out of the team. While owners anticipate there will end up being stern restrictions forbidding the franchise from moving to be part of any deal, there is growing sentiment that this could become more of a front-burner issue this offseason.
It is not on the agenda for this meeting and there is nothing formal regarding it, though there is plenty of informed speculation mounting. It would be a coveted franchise if/when it comes to market, with a great stadium deal as well, with no shortage of suitors already well regarded by the league office.
Stadiums, TV blackouts, secondary ticket market
The owners will also get formally briefed on more of the issues regarding the progress of Kroenke’s new Los Angeles stadium, and there is set to be a vote on the Chargers lease there. Teams like the Ravens are also in line for NFL G4 funding for stadium upgrades.
The league’s new rules regarding blackouts, which were instituted on a temporary basis previously, are slated to be voted on again, with league sources telling me they anticipate the new rules being extended for a period of time into the future. The NFL is also working on matters related to the secondary ticket market, and individual teams may be asked to have a moratorium on their sales in that regard as the NFL explores macro-level deals with the likes of StubHub or potentially finds some centralized hub for the re-sale of tickets beyond what is already in place.
International series, social causes
With the NFL playing increasingly more games abroad, it is investing more money on global security initiatives. I continue to hear the series in Mexico City, while not only being continued, could eventually be expanded to multiple games. And the league will seek to expand the social responsibility component by meeting about the “My Cause, My Cleats” project which was met with acclaim by players and fans alike.
As for the numerous team-sponsored potential rule changes that are always brought up this time of year, as a general rule I wouldn’t anticipate many of them passing. The suggestions that originate from within the Competition Committee itself seem to fare best. And, after the coaches’ uprising a year ago against the use of streaming video clips of games on the sidelines via the tablets that are already in place, I wouldn’t be shocked if the owners are waiting for those guys to be on the golf course before voting that matter forward as well. I hear Goodell wants the league to be at the vanguard of in-game technology and this wouldn’t be the first time something got changed while the coaches were on the greens (like, you know, when they changed the overtime format a few years back).
Oh yeah, and Reese Witherspoon is addressing a women’s committee, so there’s that.