Sunday, February 2, 2014
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Even Commissioner Roger Goodell joked before the Super Bowl about making it known that, no, actually, the NFL "cannot control the weather."
Only his all-powerful league, it seems, could get away with a February title game outdoors at a northeast site. And while there were heavy clouds and a slight sprinkle of rain in the hours before the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks kicked off Sunday to determine a champion, the temperature was above 50 degrees and nothing resembling the blizzard some worried might arrive.
Yes, no matter what potential problems could come along — from a groundswell of concern, not to mention court cases, about concussions; to a headlines-generating hazing scandal; to a prominent player charged with murder; to officiating errors — everything seems to work out for the country's most popular sport.
It's why Goodell and the NFL are all about more, more, more nowadays, starting with, he hopes, more teams making the playoffs, perhaps as soon as the 2015 season.
Moments after the theatrical touch of fake snow that fell from overhead as Goodell delivered his annual "state of the NFL" address two days before Sunday's big game, he noted with pride what a feat it was to pull off the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl — and not far from the hub of activity and attention that is New York.
"We are doing something innovative and unprecedented, something consistent with the essence of football and the Super Bowl. There has been a tremendous amount of energy and excitement about this Super Bowl," Goodell said. "This is the No. 1 market and a great stage for this Super Bowl matchup — and the world will be watching."
That is true. Football's biggest game is usually the highest-rated television program in the United States each year, with more than 100 million folks expected to gather in front of televisions with pizza, wings, chips, beer, etc., in this country alone. Then there's the audience of about a billion around the globe with access to the game, too.
Even run-of-the-mill, regular-season games are TV gold, accounting for 34 of the 35 most-watched shows last fall (the lone interloper was the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, at 22nd).
It's not enough for Goodell and his owners. They know they have the most must-see property there is, especially in this era of DVRs and splintered audiences that makes live sports increasingly valuable. And so they're going to do whatever they can to crank up a revenue stream that already tops $9 billion annually and is set to rise when new deals with broadcast partners kick in next season.
Expect an announcement soon that the Thursday night games that have been on the NFL Network will bring in extra dollars via a contract with another broadcaster. And this summer, the league will launch a digital video service called "NFL Now" to tap into mobile advertising.
"There's a reason there's advertiser demand — there's consumption," said Brian Rolapp, the league's executive vice president of media.
And on and on it goes for the NFL. There are, to be sure, uncomfortable issues that will fill the air in the offseason, despite the league's best efforts to run things so there is barely a day in the calendar that isn't filled with some sort of football talk it can control: The combine, the draft, free agency all get attention up until training camps open and the cycle begins anew.
But Goodell pledged to work this offseason to prevent the type of alleged bullying and harassment in the Miami Dolphins locker room that led one player to leave the team and another to be suspended.
"Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we have a workplace environment that's professional," he said.
There are other tasks at hand. The tentative $765 million settlement reached to try to make concussion-related lawsuits brought by thousands of former players go away was put on hold last month by a federal judge in Philadelphia. Even if or when that is finalized, there will be weekly injuries to heads and other body parts that sideline prominent players, destined to be a part of a violent sport in perpetuity. There is the standing murder charge against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was an emerging star but now is in jail. There are the officiating inconsistencies that prompted Goodell to raise the idea of having the league office oversee instant replay reviews at all games.
That's another topic for another day. As kickoff approached Sunday, the attention was on football, just the way the NFL wants it.
During his pre-Super Bowl news conference, Goodell dismissed a question that referred to the weather by saying: "I'd like to think that we're going to get focused on the game.
"That's really what this is all about."
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.
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