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
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
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
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.
USBC Journal Writer
Class of 2021