In Celebrating Its Past, NFL Looks to the Future

WHILE the National Football League is relishing its 75th anniversary season and spending considerable time looking back over its mammoth shoulder pads at pro football's great moments and players, the league has not forgotten the future.

``I don't think anything is status quo in the NFL,'' says Roger Goodell, who contemplates the league's next moves as its vice president of business development.

During a telephone interview from his New York office, Goodell commented cautiously on developments in several areas, including the revival of the World League next April.

He acknowledged there were ``probably some fallacies with the original plan'' for the league, a spinoff venture of the NFL that temporarily suspended operations after the 1991 and 1992 seasons.

``There was great interest shown in several international markets,'' London; Barcelona, Spain; and Frankfurt, Germany, Goodell says, ``but we found we had limited success here in the United States,'' where fans didn't warm to watching games during the off-season among mostly second-rank players.

So now the revamped World League is going with an all-European lineup, adding Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Germany, and Edinburgh to the aforementioned holdovers.

Goodell calls this ``not so much the beginning [of globalization] as it is the next step in our development overseas.'' Since 1986, the NFL has played a number of preseason games, called ``American Bowls,'' outside the United States. This summer, the series included games in Barcelona, Berlin, Tokyo, and Mexico City.

The Mexico City game brought the most stunning results, with an NFL record crowd of 112,376 at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium to watch the Houston Oilers defeat the Dallas Cowboys.

Goodell says this turnout ``definitely increased Mexico City's chances for a future NFL expansion team - when we get to that stage.'' For the moment, expansion talk has subsided since last year's announcements that Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., would field new teams beginning in 1995. The NFL, however, clearly has its eyes on Mexico and Canada down the line, Goodell says.

Television coverage remains a prime interest of the NFL. ``The exposure we are given through the networks and through our cable broadcasts has really been beneficial,'' he explains, ``and has kept us as the No. 1 [watched] sport.'' The league is not seriously considering a move toward pay-per-view at this point, he adds.

The NFL, like all established sports leagues, is challenged to hold on to existing fans while wining new, younger ones in an entertainment-glutted society.

``I think we'll have an emphasis on razzmatazz and promotion that goes back to the early days when football was fighting for a place in the sun,'' says Chicago Bears president Michael McCaskey in the new book ``75 Seasons: The Story of the National Football League, 1920-94.''

Fan festivals have been big Super Bowl-week attractions, and now the ``NFL Experience'' is hitting the road. ``They give people a way to touch and feel the NFL without going to the game,'' Goodell says.

The NFL hasn't forgotten its ticketholders, either, Goodell points out. The league is constantly examining ways to make game attendance more pleasurable, he says, whether through the creation of family-oriented, no-alcohol seating sections, improved stadium traffic control, or more and better entertainment before and after the opening kickoff.

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