They may have been limited with Falcons content for their questions, but shortly before the Falcons-Cowboys game on Sunday evening, a Georgia World Congress Center ballroom was filled with Falcons fans with an opportunity to interact with and ask questions of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Shortly after an opening video highlighting moments in the history of the Falcons, Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank introduced the commissioner and challenged the fans in attendance to make sure their questions were posed to Goodell, and also make sure they were really challenging and thought-provoking. The fans in attendance delivered.
Topics posed to the commissioner ranged from the expected (18-game season and player health and safety) to the unexpected, including one posed by a fifth grader.
The fans grilled Goodell early, throwing out the hotly contested discussion about team relocation. While Falcons fans don't have a lot to worry about regarding the moving of the franchise from Atlanta, transplants and those with a general interest in the league are curious about where the league's head is with more games being played outside of the country and what appears to be an NFL-ready stadium popping up in Los Angeles, California.
Goodell said he could never envision an NFL team in both Buffalo and Toronto (the Bills currently play some regular season games in Toronto), but he offered a criteria for helping determine a team that may relocate to a ready-now market like L.A.
"Those franchises that can't be successful in their current market are the only ones that would be considered for relocation," Goodell said.
Since many fans in attendance were season ticket holders, the topic of paying regular season prices for preseason games in which teams are trying out players and at times sitting their stars is an important one. Goodell acknowledged the fan frustration sharing that he knows preseason games are looked at differently from regular season games. The commissioner said the most important aspect of this decision moving forward (to remove games from the preseason and/or add more to the regular season) was that it would be mutually agreed upon between owners and players.
Goodell reminded everyone that the league's collective bargaining agreement with the players union stated that any decisions on changing the schedule in any way would involve the players and the union.
Two different fan questions centered on the future of the game and the health of players from the past and those that are currently playing and will one day retire. "We will remain committed to building the game of football from a grassroots level," the commissioner said. As for player health and safety, Goodell said there isn't a more pressing or important topic the league is faced with in light of ongoing findings on concussion and players' post-career health.
"The safety and health of players and our alumni moving forward is one of the most important topics," Goodell said. "It's not just a physical matter, it's also psychological."
One season ticket holder returned the conversation to the Falcons, asking Goodell what the league is considering to make the in-stadium game day experience closer to that of the one produced in the privacy of one's own living room. To Rich McKay, the franchise's president and CEO, he wanted to know what the plans were in Atlanta.
Goodell shared knowledge of fans wanting more interactive content, not unlike they could get at home on their computers, but added the best way to improve the stadium experience is to ensure every franchise has a top-of-the-line facility. McKay pointed to the Falcons Mobile 2012 app as one of the key pieces of interactive content the Falcons will be using moving forward to provide more of the comforts of home inside the Georgia Dome.
It wasn't all business inside the fan forum though. As mentioned, a fifth grader managed to get her question heard by the commissioner. She asked one of the most powerful men in sports about his favorite thing about his job.
The commissioner laughed as she spoke to him, but looked at the young girl and answered her genuinely. He told her about how much he enjoys the night of the NFL Draft, when he announces the names of each first-round pick, and welcomes many of them on stage with him with a handshake and a photo. A new chapter in their lives begins, he explained, he's thrilled to be a part of that first step with the young men entering the league.