The billionaire overlords of the NFL arrived here by plane and luxury car this week to gather at a posh landmark resort that’s hosted 13 U.S. presidents as guests since 1932.
This was their big annual meeting, a summit for team owners and league executives, all of them well fortified against security risks, including bomb-sniffing dogs to patrol the ground around them.
But it was a bit of an awkward moment. One of their most influential members – New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft – is facing charges of solicitation of prostitution at a spa in Florida, the latest in a string of legal troubles for NFL owners.
"When we get all the information, we'll make determinations," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore when asked about the latest case.
Since 2013, NFL owners have been busted for sexual harassment, driving while intoxicated, civil fraud and a tax avoidance scheme. Another owner, Jimmy Haslam of Cleveland, didn’t face charges but served as chief executive of a truck stop company that ripped off customers in a massive fraud case.
In recent years, Goodell and the owners who employ him also have careened from one public relations crisis to the next – over their management of player concussions, their historically lenient treatment of domestic violence and then the cultural storm against players who knelt in protest during the national anthem.
Fortunately for them, they have a product that Americans can't seem to get enough of, the richest and most-watched sports league in the country. The NFL continues to thrive despite being run by owners who often are perceived as out of touch and might be the league’s biggest problem. They might even be holding it back.
“Once they became an owner, they instantly become a celebrity and enter into one of the most exclusive clubs in our entire country,” said Solomon Wilcots, a former NFL player and current analyst for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and Sirius XM NFL Radio. “It has governmental protection (with an antitrust exemption) and can play by different rules that other companies don’t get to play by.”
To gain more context on this exclusive club, USA TODAY Sports looked at how and when owners acquired their teams, how old they are and compared it to owners in the NBA, which is popularly perceived as more nimble, player-friendly and in step with the times. The contrast is stark.