Home » Jeff Duncan: Like it or not, Roger Goodell has built the NFL into an insatiable, indestructible Goliath

Jeff Duncan: Like it or not, Roger Goodell has built the NFL into an insatiable, indestructible Goliath

No matter what you think of Roger Goodell, there’s no denying the job he’s done.

Seventeen years into his reign as commissioner, he’s built the NFL into a Goliath. The league has never been bigger, better or more popular.

Don’t this so?

Just flip on your television or scroll through your cell phone and check out the news cycle. 

This offseason has served as validation of the dynastic handy work Goodell and league executives have done in their quest for world domination.

It’s mid-March, six months from the start of the 2023 season, and the NFL completely dominates the national news cycle. The NBA has entered its stretch drive. March Madness and Major League Baseball spring training are upon us. And all anyone wants to talk about is the NFL.

The Jets courting Aaron Rodgers.

The Cowboys cutting Ezekiel Elliott.

The Rams trading Jalen Ramsey.

Everywhere you turn, NFL headlines dominate the day.

On Friday, the national sports talk shows cycled through a variety of NFL talking points before they turned their attention to the rest of the world.

Are the Ravens treating Lamar Jackson fairly?

Who won the Panthers-Bears trade?

Are the Jets Super Bowl contenders with Aaron Rodgers?

The news never stops. And we devour every word of it.

Remember those dire predictions when the league endured the Colin Kaepernick controversy in 2016?

They’re downright laughable today.

The Shield is indestructible.

People complain about the officiating.

They squawk about the byzantine rules.

They mock Goodell’s No Fun League ethos and admonish the league’s DEI shortcomings.

And none of it matters. We keep coming back to devour every morsel the league has to offer. The NFL, despite the idle threats and hollow warnings, is more popular than ever.

In fact, I’d argue the most popular sporting events in America right now are, as follows:

1. The NFL postseason

2. The NFL regular season

3. The NFL Draft

4. NFL free agency

5. The NFL preseason

No American sports league has ever captured out fancy the way the NFL does today. Boxing and horse racing had their runs at the turn of the century. Then baseball took over and became America’s pastime.

But the NFL’s current run of dominance is unprecedented.

Eighty-two of the top 100 most watched television programs in 2022 were NFL games, according to Nielsen ratings. League games made up 19 the 20 most watched shows and 32 of the top 35.

This is all you need to know about the NFL’s popularity: The 35th most watched TV show last season was a Week 16 game between the 4-10 Broncos and the 4-10 Rams on Christmas Day. The game attracted a larger viewing audience than any NBA game, any MLB game, any Winter Olympics program and the Academy Awards.

And 2022 wasn’t an outlier. In 2021, the NFL had 75 of the 100 most-watched TV programs. The league somehow is gaining popularity despite national trends that show a steady decline in TV usage.

This is a league that has figured out how to turn its schedule release into must-see TV. The NFL Draft and Scouting Combine have been transformed into a multi-night, prime-time affairs. It’s only a matter of time until they turn the draft into a round-a-night weekly viewing affair. The Pro Bowl is the only NFL-related event that has lost the Midas touch.

Our insatiable interest in the NFL product has translated into the healthiest bottom line in league history. The NFL signed media rights deals for more than $100 billion in 2021. Elite coaches now command $20 million annual salaries. Elite quarterbacks make twice that much.

The end of the rainbow is nowhere in sight.

The NFL is intent on taking over the entire sports calendar year. They want to dominate our hearts, minds and souls. And they’re on their way to doing it.

It’s the NFL’s world. The other sports are just living in it.