There was predictable outrage when news broke that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made nearly $30 million in total compensation during 2011.
Digging deeper into the situation reveals Goodell has more than earned his paycheck, however large or ridiculous it may seem on the surface.
Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal reported last week that Goodell's overall compensation increased nearly threefold from 2010 to 2011:
NFL owners nearly tripled Commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation in '11, paying him $29.49M and likely making him the top paid commissioner in sports. The figure is in the league’s tax return, which the NFL is scheduled to file with the IRS by the end of the day Friday. Most of the pay is in the form of a $22.3M bonus, a compensation structure that will continue into the future.
Considering NBA commissioner David Stern and MLB commissioner Bud Selig are both believed to make in the $20 million-per-year range, Goodell's one-year jackpot is hardly outrageous.
It certainly makes sense that the highest-paid commissioner (in this case, likely Goodell) currently presides over the most wealthy and successful sports league in the United States. And better yet, the NFL is still growing on Goodell's watch.
According to Forbes' most recent valuation estimates, the NFL's 32 teams are worth a total of $35 billion. Nineteen of the 32 teams increased in value by at least 5 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the lowest revenue stream in the league was found in Oakland, where the Raiders still took in $226 million.
Overall, revenue for the league totaled nearly $9 billion. Yes, a nine with nine zeroes. The NFL is quickly approaching 11-digit revenues.
And wrap your head around this idea: 20 of the 32 NFL teams are now worth more than a billion dollars. The least valuable team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are still worth $770 million.
The NFL is as financially secure as any sports league in the world in 2013, and it will likely stay that way for some time.
Goodell obviously can't be handed the credit for all the increases in revenue and value, but he certainly deserves a significant piece of a pie that continues to grow rapidly.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who also heads the NFL's compensation committee, defended Goodell's worth to Forbes:
The NFL is the most successful and best-managed sports league in the world. This is in no small part due to Roger’s leadership and the value he brings to the table in every facet of the sport and business of the league. His compensation reflects that.
How has Goodell made the NFL so financially viable?
Television deals have been one successful avenue for the league.
According to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes, Goodell and the NFL signed a nine-year deal with CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN in 2011 worth $27 billion. The agreement, which runs through 2022, bumped up revenue 60 percent on broadcast rights.
No other sporting entity in the country can come close to matching the money secured by Goodell in the deal—and for good reason.
By expanding its broadcast package to now include Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the NFL all but dominates national television ratings over a five-month span of the calendar.
Soon, the NFL will extend a deal with DirecTV over its "NFL Sunday Ticket" package, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, secured $4 billion over four years back in 2009. The deal expires in 2014.
An NFL press release on the deal outlined the success of the league on television: "NFL games are 23 of the 25 most-watched programs among all television shows this fall and draw more than twice as many average viewers as broadcast primetime shows."
Of course, a pessimist could point to the growing popularity of the league and say that Goodell has simply captained an unsinkable ship.
However, the NFL has more than avoided its share of icebergs.
Despite a lockout that cost the NFL one preseason game, Goodell helped construct a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. The deal should ensure harmony on the labor front for the foreseeable future, which isn't something all major sports leagues can say.
In the face of growing health concerns about the aftereffects of playing the game, Goodell has pushed revolutionary new guidelines and awareness about injuries. The NFL is now a safer game in the present and future, even if some have continually criticized his use of penalties and fines to do so.
If the NFL lives on for decades into the future, it will likely be because of the changes and discoveries being made on the safety front right now.
A conflict with the referees union threatened the integrity of the game for a period last season, but the NFL eventually sat down and got a deal done that makes sense for both sides. Officials—an important part of the entire process—are taken care of more now than at any other period in the history of the game.
These are conflicts that have done little to tarnish the image or growth ability of the league, and at least part of the credit for steering the ship clear of these problems must be placed at Goodell's doorstep.
Certainly, Goodell is not a commissioner incapable of making mistakes. His handling of Bountygate was questionable at best and reckless at worst.
However, Goodell has maneuvered the NFL through some complicated problems, especially during one of the most critical financial years in recent memory.
The league is still the best in the world, and it is growing monetarily in both revenue and value. What more could really be asked of its chief officer?
Goodell's reputation among the casual fan is dirtied, but his nearly $30 million in compensation in 2011 was worth every penny to the NFL.