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Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, is reportedly seeking a contract that would pay him $49.5 million per year, and include such perks as the lifetime use of a private jet.
That salary would pay him far more than the league’s best-paid player—that’s Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, set to make $27 million this year—and would put him near the top of the best-paid sports figures in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo, the star striker for Real Madrid and Portugal, will be paid $58 million this year, with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi not far behind at $50 million, according to Forbes. (Those figures don’t include endorsement income, which is substantial).
Goodell’s contract is no sure thing, given the fierce opposition of some owners. But if he’s successful, the package of perks—which would includes lifetime insurance coverage for his family—would be in the same league of the most lavish corporate packages. Former GE CEO Jack Welch, upon retiring, secured the lifetime use of a Manhattan apartment and court-side US Open tickets (among many other goodies), while Welch’s successor Jeff Immelt traveled with a second private jet trailing him, in case his first broke down.
Goodell, whose expiring contract pays him about $30 million a year, probably thinks he deserves the raise. The average value of an NFL franchise is now $2.5 billion, up from $898 million when he took over as commissioner in 2006, Forbes says. In 2011, he led the league in negotiating television rights deals worth almost $28 billion over nine years.
Clearly, the league’s 30 owners are getting rich, and Goodell wants to be rewarded just as the players are.
But there’s a significant difference in the contract Goodell wants, and the ones signed by players. The career of a professional football player is shockingly short—just 2.7 years, according to one analysis—and the vast majority will never see those salaries in any other career. NFL players contracts aren’t guaranteed, so if a player is injured or cut, a team can drop him without having to pay off the balance of the contract (unlike in pro baseball or basketball, where contracts are guaranteed).
The specter of injury looms over all professional athlete, but football players are subject to bone-jarring collisions on almost every play. Along with the visible damage to their joints and spines, they’re in some cases incurring serious brain damage that may not manifest itself for years.
Professional athletes are also subject to market forces unlike workers in almost any other profession. NFL players are constantly evaluated against a set of peers performing the exact same jobs under virtually the exact same conditions. Every starting quarterback, for example, is judged every week against the other 29 starting quarterbacks in the league, as well as the others on his own teams roster. And every season he can be replaced by a new crop of younger and often cheaper players made available by the college draft. The abilities of all players relative to their peers is clearly known by all their potentially employers.
Goodell, like most CEOs and executives, faces no such comparisons. There’s no evidence that he’s better at his job than any other potential NFL commissioner, or that another executive couldn’t do his job just as well for far less money. The only indication we have that he’s worth $49.5 million a year is that he says he is.