I don’t just love football; I see it as an art form. It is the art of the plebes. It creates a sense of extraordinary unity and local pride that is almost impossible to find anywhere else. But the organization itself, the NFL, is anything but extraordinary. The NFL has failed its players. It has failed its communities. Most of all, it has failed its fans.
The only group it hasn’t failed is its ownership. Consider the following: Roger Goodell made $11.6 million in 2011. Last year, in arguably one of the worst off-the-field seasons in NFL history, he made a staggering $44 million. In 2013, that would have made him the 14th-highest paid CEO in all of America. He made more than the CEOs of Disney, Viacom, Salesforce and Exxon-Mobil.
However, go to the Forbes website, and you won’t find his name on that same list. Why? Because Roger Goodell’s NFL is a non-profit organization.
That’s right. As a 501(c)(6) organization, the various teams received tax breaks on the $326 million that they paid to the NFL core organization as business expenses. In addition, the tax-exempt status also aids in the NFL’s ability to use taxpayer money to build stadiums, ensure its monopoly and protect that privilege by taking unlimited and anonymous donations to support its increasingly powerful lobby group.
The issue of stadium building is particularly problematic. The NFL takes millions of dollars, sometimes billions of dollars, to build stadiums with the promise that they are investments. That having an NFL team will reap substantial profits for the cities they are built in. That by virtue of simply having an NFL team, the cities will see massive spikes in tourism and localized spending.
That could not be farther from the truth.
In every single case, the taxpayer is almost guaranteed to lose money. Despite all this, fans and cities alike continue to buy into the NFL promise and the spectacle itself. It is harrowingly similar to the argument that some NFL teams used in paying their cheerleaders below minimum wage, citing the cheerleaders’ on-screen exposure as adequate compensation.
All of this coming while NFL profitability is at an all-time high, with just over $9 billion dollars in 2013 revenue.
Goodell wants it to be over $25 billion by 2027. Ticket prices have spiked roughly 30 percent in just eight years, and while franchises like the Cowboys are worth $3.2 billion, they are still somehow unable to afford to build their own stadiums. NFL teams, over just one year, have jumped in value by 23 percent.
Sorry for overloading you with numbers, but you can see just how terrible and hypocritical the NFL as an organization really is.
At the same time that they are unnecessarily and detrimentally borrowing from hoodwinked cities, they are also doing almost nothing that a non-profit should be doing, like, say, actually giving back to the community. In fact, as per its own website, the NFL has only contributed $368 million since 1978. That is just under 0.041 percent of the NFL’s total revenue in one year, donated over the course of 36 years.
In addition, the NFL’s charitable strategy can be incredibly misleading. I’m sure the NFL has made you painfully aware of the Play 60 and Heads-Up Football programs, which are programs designed to get children to exercise and teach them proper tackling technique. (Yes, the latter is almost as stupid as it sounds.)
What they will never tell you is that the programs have shown almost no signs of doing anything constructive at all.
The NFL’s highly visible breast cancer awareness program has also come under harsh criticism. The NFL misinforms consumers who might think that 100 percent of the proceeds from NFL.com purchases go towards fighting cancer, when in fact it is not anywhere close to a full percentage, nor does it provide any support towards actual research. The finances only goes toward cancer “awareness.”
While cancer awareness is obviously important, it is nowhere nearly as effective as donating toward actual research. Likewise, its highly publicized No More campaign against domestic and sexual violence, again per its own website, does not actually provide any services whatsoever. Instead, the campaign seeks to educate and “change the rhetoric.” The PSA is nothing but a PSA. There is no infrastructure for the victims themselves, and the only goal is to change the way that people talk about domestic and sexual violence on a daily basis.
Obviously, its goal is both a necessary and noble cause, but the NFL isn’t actually doing anything besides trying to provoke conversation. Why hasn’t the NFL publicized widespread support for serious tangible initiatives — ones that go beyond just “changing the conversation?”
And, as if to add insult to injury, the NFL takes an almost dictatorial approach to how its players behave on the field and not off of it. Sure, we can all laugh at the Marshawn Lynch press conferences after he was docked $100,000 for avoiding the press, but is it funny when Brandon Marshall gets fined $5,250 for wearing cleats promoting his own foundation that contributes heavily to actual mental health service providers? This is all while the off-field domestic violence issues for the NFL continue to mount.
The NFL will shortly be opening up negotiations to find a new provider for its wildly popular NFL Sunday Ticket, which let you watch all but blacked-out games. For fans, this is actually a great development. DirecTV’s previous monopoly made it so you had to actually sign up for the dish provider’s plan if you wanted access to Sunday Ticket (although apparently if you were persistent enough, you could get the online Sunday Ticket, a la carte).
For the NFL, it is even better. The new deal will contribute substantially to Goodell’s target of $25 billion. All the while, there is almost no public pressure on the NFL to do the right thing.
The organization takes almost no proactive measures and is decidedly reactionary in almost all of their initiatives. No More only became a priority after the infamous Ray Rice incident, among others. Heads Up Football was only started after the damning report on chronic trauma encephalopathy. All the while, the NFL essentially blackmails cities into building new stadiums for its teams. This kind of behavior cannot continue to be rewarded. The biggest, and maybe only, impact we can have is by changing the channel.
Now if only I could look away.
Nicholas Radoff could have pursued a career in the NFL (as a ball-boy), but he chose not to due to his disgust for the corporation’s policies. Tell him that the NFL needs his considerable skills at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.