Fans of the NFL likely took notice of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s $44.2 million pay package in 2012. Say what you will about the job he’s done since taking the helm in September 2006, but that’s a lot of money for someone who runs a sports league — even the world’s most successful one.
Executive compensation is serious business. Just as shareholders should be concerned about corporate compensation policies, fans should be aware of what goes on behind closed doors at the NFL. After all, doling out $44 million to Goodell each year means higher ticket prices, cable packages, etc. It all trickles down.
In the Times’ article, Professor Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, is quoted: “We look at the numbers and go crazy, but we need to ask ourselves, ‘How many people are there who can do this job, and what is the going rate?’”
Goodell is by all accounts a smart man. But there are plenty of smart men — and women — running corporations in America. I believe many of them are qualified to do the job, most of whom could and would do it for less.
Here are three CEOs I could see running the NFL and whose combined compensation in 2012 was less than Roger Goodell’s. Sometimes paying less than the going rate isn’t such a bad thing.
Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon (AMZN)
The founder of Amazon (AMZN) received a salary of $81,840 in 2012 along with $1.6 million in other compensation to pay for the CEOs security detail. Bezos is a very high-profile individual whose 87 million shares (19.1% of the company) are worth $32 billion as of March 13.
Rightly, the board wants to keep him safe and incentivized to continue building the company he started back in 1994. The same holds true for its four other named executive officers who receive minimal salaries combined with stock awards vesting over six years. For every 1% move in Amazon stock, Bezos makes a paper gain of $320 million.
You can argue all you want about Bezos’ plan for the company and how he’s foregoing short-term profits to the detriment of the shareholders. However, you can’t argue about the sheer massiveness of what he’s built. AMZN generated $74 billion in revenue in 2013, seven times that of the NFL. In terms of operating profits, it brought in $745 million, about half the $1.5 billion I estimate (using Forbes‘ figures) the NFL generated in operating profits in the 2012 season.
The NFL’s certainly more profitable. But then again Bezos isn’t aiming for higher margins. He’s looking 10 years down the road at what the business will become; not what it currently is. Despite holding back the profit lever, AMZN has a market cap of $171 billion — four times the $41 billion estimated value of the NFL and its teams. And Bezos did this in 20 years, compared to 44 for the NFL (NFL/AFL merger in 1970).
Jeff Bezos could definitely run the NFL.
John Idol, Michael Kors (KORS)
Sydney Finkelstein is associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Each year he produces a list of the worst CEOs. In 2013, he also produced a list of the best. Not surprisingly, Jeff Bezos was at the top of the list. Also on the list is the relatively unknown CEO of Michael Kors (KORS).
John Idol, along with a Hong Kong-Based private equity firm, acquired fashion label in 2003 for $100 million. At the time, KORS had just $20 million in revenue and was losing money. Idol, who had executive stints at Donna Karan, Anne Klein and Ralph Lauren (RL), went to work turning around KORS’ business.
In the span of eight years, Idol took KORS from a struggling brand to one of the world’s most dominant — not an easy thing to do in such a fickle fashion world. Going public in December 2011 at $20 per share, its stock is up more than 385% in a little over two years.
Revenue for fiscal 2013 is expected to be $3.2 billion with a pre-tax profit of slightly less than $1 billion. Idol was paid $14.3 million in 2012, which includes $6.6 million in stock and option awards. The man’s become very rich turning around KORS; his 4.9 million shares are worth almost $500 million.
Idol took a broken business and made it into a fashion dynamo with margins more than double those of the NFL. I’m sure his private equity partners think he could run the NFL.
Sara Mathew, Dun & Bradstreet (DNB)
The CEO of Dun & Bradstreet (DNB) is set to retire in May 2014, five-and-a-half years after being promoted from president to the top job.
Although DNB’s annual revenue of $1.7 billion is considerably lower than both the NFL and the two companies mentioned previously, Mathew’s naming by Chief Executive magazine as the “Top S&P 500 Wealth Creator” in 2013, caught my attention.
Not only is she a woman who I think could help grow the NFL’s popularity with women; she’s only 58 years old, just three years older than Goodell. She might not be a lawyer, which seems to be the leading prerequisite for running a major sports league, but she knows how to get the most out of her business.
While DNB stock hasn’t done a whole lot since taking the top job, it’s important to consider that the business has faced some serious headwinds in those five-plus years.
In 2012, Mathew was paid $5.4 million in total compensation. She’d still be a bargain at twice the price.
The three CEOs I’ve selected collectively were paid $21.3 million in 2012 — less than half Roger Goodell’s total take-home pay. Any one of them could run the NFL just fine — and for much less. So, the next time you find yourself complaining about ticket prices, just remember that someone has to pay the grand poobah’s salary, and it will never be the owners.
Maybe the NFL should start looking at Wall Street for replacements.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.