Who Has Been the Better Commissioner? Adam Silver vs. Roger Goodell

It has been reported recently that there are a few NFL owners who would like to

replace current league commissioner Roger Goodell with the NBA’s head man Adam

Silver. Even though Silver quickly shut down the possibility of a move between leagues,

it is worthwhile to take a look back over and compare each commissioner’s respective

tenures. While the situations that each commissioner have been forced to deal with in

the past vary greatly based on certain aspects of the two different sports, both Goodell

and Silver have made clear progress in improving their leagues but have also failed in

handling some prominent controversies.

Goodell has held his current position much longer than Silver, as he was

appointed commissioner of the NFL in 2006, while Silver did not receive the top job in

the NBA until 2014. Both, however, have had a hand in many significant business

decisions even before becoming commissioner.

Goodell played a central role in stadium development and league and media

expansion in his role as executive vice president. From 2001-2006, nine new stadiums

opened and one team, the Houston Texans, was added to the league. Goodell helped

execute the NFL’s new realignment strategy which established the current format of four

teams in eight divisions, maintaining a good number of the league’s most historic

rivalries. Additionally, Goodell was involved in the launch of NFL Network and securing

television rights.

Silver served as deputy commissioner of the NBA for eight years. In this role, he

helped negotiate three separate collective bargaining agreements and was instrumental

in the development of the WNBA, G League, 2K League, and NBA China. Silver also

has extensive experience in the entertainment side of the business, which translated to

his establishment of the partnership between the NBA and Turner Sports.

After securing the commissionership, both Goodell and Silver continued to lead

positive change in the policies, principles, and business aspects of their respective

leagues. Most importantly to team owners, team and league revenues have exploded

under each commissioner, which has led to increased franchise valuations. According

to Statista, the average NFL franchise value has risen from just under 900 million to

over 2.5 billion dollars since Goodell took office. According to ESPN, the average NBA

franchise value has jumped from 400 million to two billion dollars during Silver’s tenure.

Each commissioner’s financial success is the biggest reason why they still have their

jobs today, as declining league revenues would surely cause the owners to make a

change.

One of Goodell’s first acts as commissioner was the institution of a new personal

conduct policy, which has had a positive effect on issues such as player arrests over the

years especially after Goodell updated these policies in 2014. From the league’s

perspective, Goodell’s actions regarding personal conduct have been beneficial.

According to USA Today, the NFL player arrest and citation rate has dropped almost 20

percent since 2015.

There has been a great deal of criticism, however, surrounding the application of

the personal conduct policy in the NFL, specifically in Goodell’s handling of the Ray

Rice situation in 2014. CNN was critical of the recently updated policies at the time,

pointing out that each case is unique and the punishment is mostly under the discretion

of Goodell. At first, Goodell handed down only a two-game suspension, but after video

surfaced of Rice punching his then-fiancee, Goodell was forced to suspend Rice

indefinitely. Goodell’s initial decision revealed the true nature of the personal conduct

policy — that it was intended to be vague and allow for a great deal of commissioner

control in order to ensure that the profitable decision, not the just decision, would be

made.

Silver has been a much bigger proponent of transparency between the league

and the players, as well as recognizing the players’ right to expression. Silver

encourages players to use their platform to speak on social issues that are important to

them but understands that offering complete freedom of expression to players could

hurt the NBA’s public image. Silver’s approach is to encourage players to use their

platforms outside of basketball to express their beliefs, such as in interactions with the

press, with fans on social media, or by the charitable work they do in their communities.

Additionally, Silver seems to make the league’s position on issues extremely

clear to teams, players, the media, and fans while Goodell, on the other hand, does little

to offer explicit explanations about the NFL’s decisions. The primary example of this is

Goodell’s handling of the Deflategate scandal. A scathing Washington Post piece on the

matter labeled Goodell a “political bungler and a dunce” as a result of him suspending

Tom Brady for his possible involvement in purposefully deflating footballs to gain a

competitive advantage. Goodell allowed the situation to drag on for much longer than it

should have and the punishment was clearly arbitrary. This decision severely damaged

his public image and what little trust players and fans had in the league office.

While both commissioners would prefer that their leagues be kept politics-free, in

reality, this seems impossible. Silver’s progressive approach to social and other league

issues is likely the main reason why some NFL owners prefer him over Goodell. The

NFL, despite soaring revenues, has had too much bad press caused by the mishandling

of scandals and controversies by Goodell. If this bad press begins to translate into less

money in the owners’ pockets, there will be a much larger portion of owners looking to

make a change at commissioner.

Isaac Spear

USBC Journal Writer

Class of 2021