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NFL faces public backlash and unresolved media deals at league’s 2021 fall meetings

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the NFL Football match between the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts on October 3rd, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL.

Andrew Bershaw | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis sat down in the lobby of a New York City hotel on Wednesday, and was quickly bombarded by media members.

Davis was one of the few National Football League owners who didn’t rush to depart the InterContinental Hotel after the league concluded its 2021 fall meetings. He even smiled while answering about 20 minutes of questions about the state of pro football.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held the first in-person meetings with team owners in over 600 days this week, and the sessions came as numerous scandals swirled around league ownership. There’s the public backlash from the leaked emails containing racist and homophobic remarks, which led to the ouster of Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Meanwhile, congress is looking into the NFL’s handling of the Washington Football Team’s workplace misconduct.

When it comes to revenue, certain media rights remain up in the air, and the offseason pre-draft NFL combine may be headed to a new location.

As the NFL enters week eight of its season, Davis, was asked to describe the state of the NFL.

“I really can’t describe it,” Davis said. “I know where the Raiders stand.”

Davis confirmed that the Raiders agreed to a financial settlement with Gruden, who signed a 10-year $100 million deal to coach the team in 2018. Gruden resigned earlier this month after emails from him were leaked containing racist and homophobic language.

Davis said that if the NFL knew about the emails, it could’ve addressed the matter before the season.

“We all have demons in our lives,” he said. “You have to understand that. And then, you have also look at redemption as well.”

The emails were uncovered as part of an investigation into the Washington Football Team.

The NFL has obtained over 600,000 emails stemming from a probe into workplace culture at the WFT, which is owned by Dan Snyder. Last July, an investigation into the team found the club presented a “highly unprofessional” workplace, especially for women. The NFL fined the team $10 million, and Snyder agreed to step aside, turning over day-to-day control to his wife, Tanya.

The NFL thought the matter was resolved until the New York Times reported that Gruden used offensive comments in emails to then WFT president Bruce Allen over seven years. That was while Gruden was an employee at ESPN.

Former female employees of WFT crashed the NFL meetings to request documents about the investigation be released publicly. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform also sent a letter to Goodell asking that records tied to the investigation be turned over by Nov. 4.

Goodell addressed the matter on Tuesday. He said it would be “difficult” to provide additional detail, citing the league’s promise to protect the anonymity of the over 150 people interviewed. He said the NFL would be cooperating with Congress.

With regards to the investigation into the WFT, Davis said he favors a more detailed report, “especially with some of the things that were charged.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tried to escape the media scrum, but didn’t entirely succeed. He threw his bag down and briefly said he “approved of the way the league handled,” without answering additional questions.

Owner Mark Davis of the Las Vegas Raiders looks on before a game against the Chicago Bears at Allegiant Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Chris Unger | Getty Images

The future of NFL Sunday Ticket

On the money side, the NFL is set with media rights deal worth more than $100 billion rights over the next decade. Davis was happier to address that subject.

“We got to talk about the collective barging agreement and the new television contract which gives stability to the league – that’s really big for us,” he said. “And we have a lot of other things to work on as well.”

But there is a piece of unsolved business – the NFL Sunday Ticket. AT&T has the rights via its ownership of DirecTV. The deal, which pays the NFL over $1 billion annually, expires in 2023. After that, it could switch platforms.

On Tuesday, Goodell called Sunday Ticket a “streaming product” that the NFL wants to take off satellite and make digital.

“I think that is best for our fans to make it accessible on a digital platform,” he said.

Goodell said the NFL hasn’t identified a new partner. Amazon is a target for the rights, but in league circles, the rumblings suggest the NFL eventually wants to lure Apple to take it over.

Apple has the distribution with iPhones and iPads and can put games on its streaming service. Longtime sports executive Andy Dolich referred to it as the “railroad tracks” when discussing the demise of regional sports networks.

A person familiar with the NFL’s thinking about Sunday Ticket told CNBC that several tech companies are showing interest, but didn’t reveal names. The person discussed the matter on the condition of remaining anonymous because the talks are private.

DirecTV has a streaming service and is trying to boost awareness by sponsoring ESPN shows. That service hasn’t received stellar reviews.

The NFL is considering a few ways to experiment with Sunday Ticket, including giving consumers the option to purchase individual team games. It could also mimic the broadcast TV package by letting streaming services carry a specific conference. And to increase the value of Sunday Ticket, the NFL could also include media properties like and the NFL Network.

Last August, the NFL hired Goldman Sachs to seek investment partners in the properties.

The league still has another season with DirectTV, but the NFL likely wants a new agreement in place before the start of the 2022 season.

Defensive back Jeff Okudah of Ohio State prepares to run the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Combine moving to Dallas

Another property the NFL plans to discuss is the future location of its annual combine.

The pre-draft event serves as another potential media asset as it mainly airs on NFL Network and generates interest among hardcore football fans. On Tuesday, NFL executive Troy Vincent said the combine would attempt to return to normal in 2022 and will be held in Indianapolis after going virtual during the pandemic.

But there is some uncertainty around the 2023 event.

The NFL opened the bid for teams to host the combine, which has been held in Indianapolis since 1987. The event helps draw $10 million in economic impact to the city, according to tourism website Visit Indy. But that’s far below the more than $200 million the NFL Draft helps draw.

Location is key, which is why Dallas and Los Angeles have entered the mix. A source told CNBC that Frisco, Texas (outside Dallas) would more than likely get the winning bid for the 2023 event. It’s the home of the Cowboys practice facility, the Ford Center.

CNBC visited the entertainment ground last September, which is on a 91-acre piece of real estate controlled by Jones. The over $1 billion, 12,000 seat sports complex opened in 2016 at The Star. The Ford Center is attached to the luxurious Omni Hotel, and is surrounded by a shopping center, restaurants, a car dealership, and is a draw for football fans.

“There has been a focus on improving the experience for the athlete,” Vincent said. “We have to do things differently.”

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