When fans booed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the draft, he heard them loud and clear.
Goodell said Wednesday at the conclusion of the NFL spring meeting that he realizes fans are unhappy about the lockout and already losing interest in America’s most popular sport.
“I think it’s clearly had an impact on our fans already. You see that in the various metrics we have, whether it’s ratings or traffic on NFL.com — we see that,” Goodell said. “I think you all are aware that our ratings were down in the draft, for example.”
Even if there weren’t a lockout, Goodell said, the struggling American economy would make it tough for fans to justify spending money on football tickets. But he said he thinks the lockout is making it easier for fans to choose not to buy tickets.
“I don’t think you can ever underestimate that fans are going through difficult challenges just in the general economy here,” he said. “That’s something they have to consider when they’re putting down money for a season ticket or a club seat or anything else.”
Although Goodell expressed sympathy for fans who are hurting in the economy, he sounded less sympathetic toward team employees who have had their pay cut during the lockout.
“They all understand the circumstances we’re going through,” Goodell said of team employees. “This is a collective sacrifice. We go through a difficult time, we go through it together. We’re all going to feel that impact.”
The Raiders had a particularly unusual way of dealing with the lockout, telling all club employees — including the coaching staff — that while there’s no football going on, they’re responsible for helping to sell tickets. Goodell said he likes that approach.
“I thought it was innovative. I thought it was very creative,” Goodell said. “My hat’s off to the Raiders. I thought it was very creative.”
Goodell acknowledged that if the lockout doesn’t end relatively soon, the league is going to have to start canceling preseason games.
“We don’t have a date, but obviously that time is coming,” Goodell said. “We canceled our rookie symposium, so we’re getting close enough where those will have to be considerations. Obviously we would prefer to get a negotiated agreement so we don’t have to make those decisions.”
Still, as he stood in Indianapolis, the site of next year’s Super Bowl, Goodell said the locals should feel confident that the game will, in fact, be played.
“It’s our intention to be here and play a full season,” Goodell said. “We look forward to concluding the 2011 season here in Indianapolis.”