Qualities Control; NFL Seeks Different Type of Commissioner in Age of Globalization, New Media

Article excerpt

Byline: VITO STELLINO

When Paul Tagliabue interviewed for the NFL commissioner post in 1989, his vision was to continue the retiring Pete Rozelle's legacy.

Using an old bromide, Tagliabue told the owners, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

That will not be the new NFL commissioner's motto.

Tagliabue presided over an era of more changes than he anticipated, from the dawn of free agency tied to a salary cap to the start of the league's own television network and Web site. After announcing last month that he plans to retire this year after his successor is named, Tagliabue said he expects even more changes on the horizon.

Tagliabue's message to the owners at last month's league meetings in Orlando was almost the opposite of what he said 17 years ago. He told them if it's not broken, they should fix it anyway.

Tagliabue said he believes the sports world might change more in the next 15 years than it did in the last 50 .

"I think a lot of that change is going to be driven by the digital media, the globalization of the media, the internationalization of sports and the demographic changes in the United States, " he said.

As NFL owners start the process of finding Tagliabue's successor, one of the priorities is to find a leader who can deal with that changing landscape and create more revenue in that environment.

Though the NFL is the most profitable sports league in the country, its owners aren't looking to maintain the status quo. They want to expand the brand -- they often use the word "brand" to describe NFL football -- on a global basis and be a major player in the digital revolution.

"I think it has to be: Do we just play football games in the U.S., or are we going to be part of the world community?, '' New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said. "And how are you going to do that?''

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said the new commissioner must be able to monitor "how media evolves both in broadcast and digital and how to take full advantage of those business opportunities."

Weaver said the NFL might one day deliver its product on devices that don't yet exist.

"Some of it is conceptually out there but doesn't exist from a practical application, '' Weaver said. "How do we continue to grow our game on a global basis? That's the big challenge. It's going to take real thought and vision and making smart decisions to do that.''

NFL owners showed the direction they're headed when they unanimously voted to ban all local TV photojournalists from the sidelines at games. That means game footage only will be provided by the network telecast, NFL Films and in-house photojournalists.

The owners don't want local TV stations to have unique game video because they want to drive viewers to the NFL Network or NFL.com. To allow the NFL Network more exposure, the league is passing up lucrative rights fees by showing a package of eight Thursday and Saturday night games on the network.

It was a sign of the times that Jeff Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, addressed the owners at the meetings about the importance of globalization and the techniques that work at his company. Immelt noted that successful companies would mentor struggling ones.

Translating all this into the NFL won't be easy. But the owners appeared impressed with Immelt's approach.

"I think it takes somebody that has the kind of skills that Jeffrey Immelt was talking about, '' said the Jets' Johnson, who's an heir to the Johnson & Johnson empire. "Someone who understands the brand, understands accountability and is capable of working with 32 owners. It's not different than the way GE is operated and Johnson & Johnson is operated."

With the emphasis on globalization and new media, it wouldn't be a surprise if the NFL bypasses the obvious candidates, including NFL executives Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Harold Henderson and Eric Grubman; Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass; NFL Network head Steve Bornstein and Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay. …