New England Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft suspects that the NFL may be close to maximum load in the U.S., but he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell think there’s still room to grow on the Pacific coast and across the Atlantic.
The two spoke to Breitbart News and other assembled press on a panel held Thursday, July 17, as part of the CBS portion of the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour, continuing in Beverly Hills, California.
One question addressed the nearly two decades that Los Angeles has been without an NFL franchise.
While it’s pretty clear that there won’t be public funds to build a stadium, Los Angeles’ former teams–the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders–are operating on essentially year-to-year leases on their current venues. There are also no NFL labor issues looming, and the TV deals are increasingly looking like a license to print money, so the stars may be aligning to bring the NFL back to Hollywood.
“Do we have the right solution in Los Angeles?” said Goodell. “That, as you know, comes back to a stadium. Do we have a stadium that we feel can be competitive with high-quality stadiums? I just came back from San Francisco from a ribbon cutting for a new stadium… and we’re excited about that. We’re investing billions of dollars in creating those kinds of stadiums.
“We’d would like to do that here. We think there’s a great opportunity to be successful here. I think opportunities are starting to develop, maybe in part because we have that long-term planning in front of us.”
Added Kraft (who’s also the chairman of the NFL’s broadcast committee), “Ownership is collectively very concerned that we don’t have at least one team in Downtown L.A., and would like to do everything they can to help facilitate that happening. A whole generation of fans has grown up without an NFL team to root for.
“It’s been good for the Patriots, because we have a quarterback from California that a lot of Californians have branded with. But in the end, we want young people to be branded with a team. And I know that Roger and I, and a number of the owners who care about the long-term health of the NFL, feel it is very important for our future to have at least one, if not two, teams in Downtown L.A.
“But like [Roger] said, the most important thing is to have the right facility. You have so many choices in L.A. of things to do. And the weather is great; the people are great. If you don’t have something really compelling, people won’t be there all the time.”
Meanwhile, the NFL is scheduled to play three games at London’s Wembley Stadium this season, building off hot ticket sales for the American version of football in past years.
Asked by Breitbart News during the panel about London, Kraft said, “We should work hard trying to have a franchise in London before the decade [is] out.”
Talking exclusively to Breitbart after the panel, Kraft elaborated, saying, “I think we’re maxing out here, so this would be a good move into a new environment. We sell out 85,000 tickets so fast when we played there. We [the NFL] have three games there each year.”
Ironically, Kraft feels it would be easier to establish a franchise across the Atlantic than to consider one day rolling the Canadian Football League (CFL) into the NFL whole, as happened with the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
“That’s a more complicated issue,” he told Breitbart News. “CFL is a different level of play. We don’t see too many people from the CFL making it to the NFL. That’s more of a developmental league. We all have scouts going up there and looking at it.”
Aside from franchise talk, the main thrust of the panel was to discuss CBS’ current one-year deal to share the Thursday-night football games with the league’s own NFL Network, an arrangement intended to boost the fortunes of not only the NFL but also its TV partners.
“There’s tremendous demand for more football,” said Goodell, “and particularly on Thursday night. We believe there is an opportunity to build Thursday night. We are huge believers in broadcast television. We believe that a distinguishing factor between the NFL and many other sports is that we continue to be successful on broadcast television.”
Kraft also pointed out that CBS will do “all the heavy lifting, really, in terms of the announcing, the broadcast, their support people, taking the best people from the NFL Network and combining it. … This allows us to partner with, we think, the number-one network that controls the most eyeballs, that can help us bring this great product that’s already on.”
As for the wear and tear on the players, Kraft said it’s not an issue for the Patriots.
“From the Patriots’ point of view,” he said, “and Coach Belichick, he likes the Thursday-night football games and would be happy to have more than one in a season, because, after you play a short week–you have to prepare very well–but then you get 10 days off. It’s almost like having a second bye.”