On the first Saturday of every month, President and CEO Mark Murphy will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com.
At the annual spring league meeting in Atlanta last month, the NFL owners voted unanimously to approve a series of changes to the kickoff. The changes were recommended by a group of special-teams and head coaches who had worked together over the last two months. The changes were all designed to make the play safer. They included eliminating the running start for the kickoff coverage team, requiring five players to be on each side of the kicker, requiring eight people on the return team to be within 15 yards of the spot of the kick, and eliminating the wedge double-team block. The changes will make the play more like the punt, where opposing players are running along with each other, rather than running at each other, and should minimize the full-speed, dangerous hits. The play will also become a more athletic play and will result in more running backs and receivers (as opposed to lineman) being back with the returner. The changes were only approved for one year and we will do a thorough evaluation of the impact of the changes next offseason.
Interestingly, the changes should result in more returns, since the coverage team will be slowed down. In recent years, the main focus has been to reduce the number of returns, and we've been successful in this regard as a result of some of the changes. Hopefully we've created a win-win situation with these most recent changes - we will have more returns (arguably the most exciting play in the game) while making the play safer.
Now, on to your questions…
Jonathan from Madison, WI
Dear Mr. Murphy, I live in Madison and attend an away game each year in different cities. I also attended a home game last year at Lambeau Field. I am 67 years old and reasonably active, but I had great difficulty climbing the steps to my seat in the 53rd row. Railings in the middle of the steps, available at most stadiums, would really help. I think it is a safety issue. Fortunately, many very nice fans extended their hands to give me a boost. Thank you for looking into this.
I'm often asked about possible changes to our stadium bowl, Jonathan, and I know the steps can be difficult to navigate. Unfortunately, we are really limited in what we can do regarding the bowl. The bowl is not up to current building codes but has been grandfathered in. If we make changes to the bowl, we would have to bring it up to code, which would result in losing approximately 12,000 seats. Also, the bowl was not designed for railings, and railings would block the view of many fans. I would suggest that on your next game at Lambeau Field, you consider seats in our ADA areas of the stadium or in areas not requiring very many steps.
Hi Mark, can you give us your thoughts on how Brian Gutekunst conducted the draft vs. how Ted had? You previously stated that the success or failure of a given draft won't be known for two years. However, I would think you have a strong sense after the immediate conclusion of the draft how your GM performed.
As you note, Andy, you really can't judge a draft class for at least two years. However, I can say that I was very impressed with how Brian handled himself during the draft. He remained calm and confident, and had control of the room without being overbearing. It was clear to me that the moment was not too big for him. I've also been impressed with some of the roster moves Brian has made since the draft, adding veteran players like Marcedes Lewis and Byron Bell.
Ruth from Brooklyn, NY
What do you think will be the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the Professional and Amateurs Sports Protection Act?
Great question, Ruth. It will be very interesting to see the impact of this decision over the next few years. The NFL and other professional sports leagues have been planning for some time now, anticipating this decision. The immediate result of the decision is that it is now up to the states to determine if betting on sports is legal. A number of states had already passed legislation allowing sports betting in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. In these states, betting will begin very soon. There are many other states that are in the process of moving legislation forward. So far, there has been nothing introduced in Wisconsin, and, due to the state constitution and tribal compacts, it would likely be a process that takes several years. For the NFL, the immediate priority is to ensure that the integrity of the game is protected. It would also be helpful to establish common standards across the various states' laws. Although the market for gambling on sports is large ($5B in legal bets last year and $50B to $150B estimated in illegal bets), I don't think it will be a windfall for sports leagues. I anticipate the biggest impact would be through increased interest in the game, which should help ratings, advertising and franchise values. And speaking of franchise values…
Betsy from Suamico, WI
I see that the Carolina Panthers sold for over $2B. Is this a positive sign for the league?
Actually, Betsy, they sold for $2.275B to David Tepper, a very successful hedge fund manager (and it was a cash offer!). I do think it is a sign that investors feel good about the future of the league, although many analysts thought the sale price would be higher. The previous high for the purchase of an NFL team was $1.4B for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. It is also the highest price ever paid for a professional sports team in North America. Mr. Tepper is currently a minority owner of the Steelers (which he will have to sell), so he should be able to make a smooth transition to the league. He has the resources to make a tremendous impact on the Charlotte community and the league.
Bill from Cleveland, OH
I was surprised to see that the league added ejections to the list of reviewable plays. I thought the league wanted to speed up the game. What's up with this?
Bill, this change is related to the new use of the helmet rule. In order to really change the behavior of players on the field, we thought it was important to be able to eject players for violations of the use of the helmet rule. Officials told us, though, that they would be reluctant to eject players unless it was backed up by replay review. The officiating office in New York will review all ejections to ensure that the proper call was made. The review will be limited to the ejection and the officials in New York are confident that they can handle these reviews in an expeditious manner.