Behind-the-scenes at the NFL!
By Richard Graves
Last Updated: 15/12/15 5:37pm
Sky Sports News HQ's Richard Graves heads to New York for two days in the world's richest sport's head office, the NFL.
Two days of unprecedented access, two days of talking face-to-face with the men who make the key decisions affecting the game as it is now, and the game in the future.
This was a rare opportunity to see how a multi-billion dollar business like the NFL operates and experience first hand what has made it the leading sports industry in America.
Entering the NFL offices through their sixth floor lobby, key words - respect, integrity - adorn the doors, a giant screen playing highlights of previous games towers over the room and then the NFL shield in shiny gold, leaves no doubt - you've just entered the headquarters of the National Football League.
This is a big year for the organisation - they're celebrating 50 years of the Super Bowl and everything is geared towards a huge party in the San Francisco area in February. There's the Lombardi Trophy guarded by a 5 and a 0 on either side, again in gold and behind them a cabinet filled with one ring from each of the previous 49 Super Bowls.
One by one the men we'd come to speak to are introduced. Among them, Troy Vincent, the NFL's head of football operations, Dean Blandino - the head of officiating, Mark Waller - the man tasked with overseeing the international growth of the game and of course, the man who represents the NFL - the Commissioner, Roger Goodell.
To be given so much time to speak to each individual separately highlights the importance they place on selling their brand. In a market place - both domestic and international - where competition to capture new fans and maintain the interest of those they already have, is intense, there's no suggestion of complacency.
The Commissioner speaks with a clear excitement about the prospect of expanding the NFL's presence in the UK - more games, more growth, more venues. He admits to being amazed by the ferocious appetite for live sport in the UK and concedes it's up to the NFL to appease this demand.
While the success of the game is clearly something everyone here is keen to emphasise, there's no shying away from the tougher issues either. Both the Commissioner and Troy Vincent acknowledge there's plenty of work to be done. Players need to be accountable. Domestic abuse cases involving high profile players like Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Greg Hardy over the last 18 months do not convey an image the league demands. The 'Deflategate' issue is ongoing, pending an appeal to be heard next March. Again this detracts from the league's message and on the subject of concussion, the NFL are acutely aware a tough road lies ahead.
In recent years they've ploughed millions of dollars into researching the effects of head trauma in the game. They've changed the rules to avoid hits to the head and neck area but the perception remains that the league didn't react soon enough. On this issue, Goodell insists the NFL can only move forward, be proactive in tackling this issue now and ensuring the risk to the modern day player is kept to a minimum.
In little more than a month, the NFL's showpiece event will celebrate a milestone. 180 different countries around the world will broadcast Super Bowl 50. Over two million fans are expected to descend on the Bay Area. The NFL is only too well aware the eyes of the world will be on them and with that comes an intense scrutiny of all aspects of their business.
As the doors to their sixth floor lobby highlight, it's an unrivaled chance to display their integrity and win the respect of a global audience.