If NFL commish gets a $49.5 million salary, can fans finally have Super Bowl watch parties? | Ronnie Polaneczky

NFL Meetings Football
NFL commish Roger Goodell is negotiating a new contract. Can’t he make in-stadium Super Bowl “watch parties” part of his demands?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is negotiating a new contract for himself.  ESPN just reported he asked for an annual salary of almost $49.5 million, plus health care for life for his family members and unlimited lifetime use of the NFL’s private jet.

You know why he made such a fat ask, don’t you?

Because he knows the $14 billion NFL can afford it.

You know what else the NFL can afford?

To allow Super Bowl “watch parties” inside the hometown stadiums of the two teams that compete in the big game. Should the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, a watch party would let 69,175 screaming fans watch the televised game together on the Linc’s fantastic 27- by 96-foot Panasonic LED video screens.

I’m so there.

But the NFL, which owns broadcast rights to the game, won’t allow it because, a spokesman told me, it would mess with the Nielsen-rating numbers that affect how much networks can charge for commercials during the bowl.

This is nonsense, and I said as much in my column last week. I then launched a #FreeTheSuperBowl petition (over 1,120 have signed; please join them) to persuade the NFL to let fans watch the game, together, on their hometown teams’ gigantic stadium screens.

Meantime, I’ve been trying all week to get someone – anyone? hello?  – to explain whether the NFL’s worry about potentially botched Nielsen numbers is even valid.  A very nice Nielsen spokesman is looking into it for me, but he stressed that the ratings giant has no say about any of their clients’ broadcast policies, including the NFL’s.

Fans who have signed #FreeTheSuperBowl, though, are really spouting off.

“The NFL says, ‘It’s not our policy,’ as if their policies are handed down on stone tablets from a mountaintop,” says a disgusted Ron Rosen of Conshohocken. “Policies are made by people and can be changed by people. Hiding behind rules is the refuge of the weak-minded.”

I like how you think, Ron.

Kev Alt of Newtown spoke for all befuddled petition signers when he heard the NFL’s worry over the Nielsen tracking system.

“If concern is viewership numbers, how hard would it be to incorporate attendance at two stadiums?” he asks.

Precisely, Kev. Thank you.

But even if profits were somehow affected, Bob Hepburn of Philly says, so what?

“Why does [it] always have to be about private parties’ profits first and public interests second?” he demands. “Stop being the No Fun Lackey Nielsen Funded League (ratings are dropping anyway), and make Lincoln proud (Financial Field that is).”

Preach, Bob!

And it’s not like there isn’t precedent for major sports leagues to host fan watch parties inside stadiums and arenas.

In 2017 alone, baseball watch parties were held for the World Series (in Houston, for the Astros); hockey watch parties for the Stanley Cup (in Pittsburgh, for the Penguins); and basketball watch parties for the NBA Finals (in Cleveland, for the Cavaliers). Presumably, all of these teams also depended on Nielsen numbers to calculate game viewership.

I say “presumably,” because the Astros and Penguins have yet to respond to my questions about how they handled the calculation of viewership numbers during their parties.

But Tad Carper, the Cleveland Cavaliers vice president for communications and broadcasting, is happy to explain why his franchise has long invited fans into Quicken Loans Arena to watch televised championship road games played by the Cavs.

“What better idea for fan engagement is there than to let them experience all that excitement together?” says Carper. “The fan response has been significant, so they want it, too. That should drive everything we do.”

He says the Cavs work closely with the league and broadcast partners to get the events in place. The team picks up all expenses and charges, he says, but recently began asking for $10 admission donations, 100 percent of which get donated to community charities.

“Last year, we raised over $850,000 for Habitat for Humanity when we went to the finals,” he says, which lifted the Cavs’ total watch-party charitable donations to over $2 million.  “This is entirely about fan and community engagement. By now, it’s just part of our DNA.”

But what about counting those all-important viewers? I ask.

“Quite simply,” Carper says, “sometimes what we think counts is not always necessary; and sometimes what matters most can’t be counted.”

If  Carper’s inspiring words don’t motivate the NFL to change its policy, here’s an idea: Its teams could charge hometown fans a small admission fee to the watch party, the way the Cavs do. But instead of donating it to charity, they could kick it back to the NFL to help pay down Roger Goodell’s lavish job benefits.

I mean, have you priced jet fuel lately? It’s nuts.