Earlier in the day at the end of the shareholders’ meeting, Goodell participated in a question-and-answer session with Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy featuring questions submitted by shareholders. It was the first time that the league’s commissioner had attended the Packers’ annual meeting.
“I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to be here today,” Goodell said after the meeting. “As I said to the fans and the shareholders, being in Lambeau Field and looking up at the crowd and all of the green and gold and seeing all of those names up there was really a special treat. It was one of the highlights of being commissioner, I’ve got to tell you, so it was really great to be here.”
That excitement was mutual for the shareholders that were randomly selected on Thursday to be part of the hour-long “Fan Forum” during which fans were able to interact with Goodell directly. Shareholders composed more than half of the 120-person audience for a show that was scheduled to be aired for a national audience on NFL Network on Thursday night.
Shareholder Kelly Coyle of Plover, Wis., who said he has attended a few meetings in the past, was not originally picked to attend the forum. But he waited near the set with his brother-in-law and their friend in case some invitees didn’t show, and luck was on their side.
“To get the commissioner’s ear for an hour or hour and a half, it was great,” said Coyle. “A lot of times you just get the sound bites on TV, but here you got the full answer.
“It was absolutely my favorite part. Everything else becomes pretty standardized in terms of the procedural stuff at the meeting, and certainly this is something that made it really unique.”
Goodell was greeted with questions on a wide variety of topics, including the labor uncertainty the league is currently facing, safety issues for players, and benefits for retired players. Many of the fans’ questions focused on issues specifically related to the Packers, including the chances of Lambeau Field someday hosting a Super Bowl.
“There is no question in my mind that the game could be played here,” said Goodell. “It’s a great facility and it could happen, and frankly it would be great to celebrate the history and the tradition of the game. The issue is the Super Bowl has become so big that the infrastructure required to put on a game, I think it is over 25,000 rooms within 60 miles. The roads, the hotels, the restaurants, the infrastructure needs are tremendous and it would be a pretty good stress on a marketplace like this.
“The competitive side, I think we have sort of crossed that bridge in the sense that we are going to be playing in New York (in 2014). The weather could be bad, who knows, but I think football is designed to be played in the elements. That’s what the game is all about. You guys know that better than I do. This isn’t exactly Packer weather. I like it better when it is cold.”
For a small-market team like the Packers, maintaining competitive balance in the league’s next collective bargaining agreement is a chief concern for many fans, one that Goodell says will also be a priority for the league.
“We want every team to come into the season and have their fans know that they have a chance to win the Super Bowl, and I think we are in position to do that,” Goodell said. “I think our league has that kind of competitive balance, but we also love the fact that the Green Bay Packers can compete against a New York team.
“It’s not a coincidence when you see two Super Bowl teams, the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, two relatively small markets, competing in the Super Bowl. I think that is because of our system and the people before us who created that system. We annually look at that and we make sure that our revenue-sharing rules and all of our policies support that kind of competitive balance.”
Goodell alluded several times to the unique spot that the Packers organization holds in the NFL because it is publicly owned and because of Lambeau Field. That is not lost on other owners around the league.
“The Packers are so much a part of the history and the tradition of the NFL, and I think it is the unique stature and status of the Packers that creates that, frankly the fact that it is owned publicly,” Goodell said. “I think that is a terrific thing, and our other owners look at this as something that is special for the NFL. We are the one league that allows a publicly owned franchise, one of 32, to be so successful. They take great pride in that when they talk about it as business partners.
“I think what is great about this facility is that you have modernized it, you have made changes to it, you are looking at additional changes to it, but you haven’t lost the rich tradition and history. I think that is a tribute to all of you, to obviously the Packers leadership under Bob Harlan and now Mark Murphy, they are looking at how you continue to innovate and improve on what you are doing, and make it better. That is what we are all about in the NFL, how do you make it better for the fans, and this is a great example of that.”
While the majority of the questions Goodell took were more serious in nature, he did fulfill a more light-hearted request from a season-ticket holder from Green Bay who said he was not used to being in the Atrium for an event where it was so quiet. His question for Goodell? Could he lead the crowd in a chant of ‘Go Pack Go?’ The commissioner obliged.
“Here is the bad news, Paul.” Goodell joked. “You just got me fired from 31 other teams.”
After the televised portion of the forum wrapped up, Goodell stayed on stage for several more minutes to answer additional fan questions and sign autographs for those in attendance.
“I was very impressed with him as a commissioner and as a person,” said Cathy John of Oregon, Wis., who said she has been a shareholder since the mid-90s. “I thought he was fabulous. He was real cool under pressure. He took every question, didn’t shy away from the tough ones. I was just very impressed.”