We might refer to these days as the 'Owners' Meetings' but this event is formally called the NFL Annual Meeting. And for good reason. Coaches, GMs, team presidents and executives are also present as the league goes through its state of the union and planning binges.
I'm no John McClain, who has covered these things since leather helmets (I kid, I kid), but I've been to six of these now. Big developments over the last half decade include the progress of player safety and a continued acknowledgement of the changing face of media.
There's no doubt the popularity of this game was built on television. But TV is now a screen in your pocket as much as it is a window on your wall. It's everywhere, and each new TV contract will reflect that. The Thursday night game is available digitally, and you can bet the digital rights will be a hot topic as the bulk of the television deals are set to expire after the 2021 season.
But it's more than that, really. You see how, on this very website and our social platforms, we've provided access you can't get anywhere else. How we're showing you a different side of the players and providing a unique perspective with John Harris, Drew Dougherty, Deepi Sidhu and me as people who are around the coaches and players more than any outside members.
The players themselves are prolific on social media. They deliver a look into their lives that we never got a whiff of prior to the last 5-10 years. Even 10 years ago it would have been crazy to think J.J. Watt could have raised 38 million dollars as quickly as he did without his social media thunder.
If you're reading this, you're already aware of this phenomenon. So how does this affect your NFL enjoyment? It only helps. The live games will always command top dollar from distributors because they defy what most televised entertainment is doing. But with digital and social media in the mix you're seeing and will continue to see the NFL more 'up close and personal' than Pete Rozelle ever imagined.
[Writer's note – Rozelle was the commissioner who championed pooling TV money to make the NFL the most competitive pro sports league. Now, keep reading!]
Even as you've heard about NFL TV ratings going down, they still dominate the television landscape in a way no other programming can. As much as you've read about the NBA 'doing well' or 'growing' its audience, there isn't a club in the country that wouldn't love to have the success of the NFL on the tube or at the gate.
That's not to say things are perfect. The catch rule is being revised. As longtime NFL scribe and broadcaster Vic Carucci told Texans Radio, it was becoming a "turn off" to hear all the debates. Three big catches that were 'incomplete,' known by their receivers names, Dez Bryant, Jesse James and Kelvin Benjamin (vs the Pats this year), would all be completions under the revision.
Player safety will continue to be a huge topic. There's no doubt the game is safer now than it was a decade ago. And don't point to increased concussions. Concussion diagnosis has changed. Bill Romanowski told me on radio row a few years ago that when he was asked questions on the sideline to determine if he was concussed it was a vastly different and 'easier' process to get back into the game. But player safety is very much a work in progress.
All the hot topics feed into 'growth of the game' conversations. Flag football participation is up. And there's a big push at all levels of football to increase tackle participation.
It's logical to assume that youth participation will help create coming-of-age fans. Yet that hasn't happened to soccer to the extent that futbol fans would have liked. Still, the NFL understands and takes seriously its leadership position in improving, enhancing and expanding the game
The meeting(s) goes on. And there will be another round in May. Everything from the National Anthem to international expansion is being discussed. And this session has come a long way from a one day, several hour session in a hotel in the 'old' days.