Andscape Roger Goodell [1296x729]
Andscape Roger Goodell [1296x729] (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Wounded Sri Lanka take on confident Nepal to stay alive

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NFL owners didn't vote on the possibility of allowing private equity firms to invest in NFL franchises at the spring league meetings, but commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday the NFL is making "real progress" on the issue.

"We're being very thoughtful, deliberate," Goodell said in a news conference at the conclusion of the meetings in Nashville. "... We're working [the committee] pretty hard. We've got a lot of interest in the private equity space, but they're also looking at ownership policies more broadly. ... We're going to continue to be very deliberate, but I expect it to be something for the end of the year."

The NFL currently prohibits institutional wealth, including private equity, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, from having an ownership stake in a franchise. Allowing private equity to participate in team acquisition could provide teams with a short-term infusion of cash to finance projects like stadium renovations.

"We didn't ask for a vote, but I think it's fair to say that they agree with the direction we're going," Goodell said of the reception of private equity inclusion among team owners. "Some of the aspects that we presented to them in that update, they feel comfortable. It's been well thought-out. The committee has worked incredibly hard, and I think they have a great appreciation for that, and as such, have great confidence in their work."

Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, one of the five members of the special committee to look at ownership policies the league created last year, said the committee has started to get a feel on a range of parameters but said those numbers remain fluid as they continue to work on a plan for potential private equity investments. He did say the NFL is looking at what other American professional sports leagues have done, all of which offer some levels of institutional wealth ownership, as they have continued discussions.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he has no concerns about what the committee has presented and "the whole gambit of ownership is under discussion."

As of now, sovereign wealth funds would not be allowed to directly invest in NFL teams but could have small indirect investments through approved funds, a source told ESPN's Michael Rothstein. These investments would still have to be approved by three-fourths of the league's ownership.

"Pretty much everybody in the room is on board with the conversations proceeding," Hunt said. "Obviously the litmus test will be when we get to voting on it."

Goodell also said NFL owners voted to raise the acquisition debt limit an additional $200 million, increasing the operating and acquisition debt for new owners from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion. It's the second time in a year the league has increased debt limits. In October, the league upped the debt limit for existing owners from $600 million to $700 million. Wednesday's increase is only for new potential owners.

In addition to addressing private equity issues, Goodell also detailed the viability of an expanded 18-game schedule, citing player safety as a chief consideration.

"The key thing for us is looking at making sure we continue to do the things that make our game safer," Goodell said "... Seventeen games is a long season, so we want to make sure we look at that and make sure that we continue the safety efforts. You've seen a lot of the outcomes of that kickoff, so a good example of that, the hip drop, so we're going to continue to do that."

Goodell added that any expansion in the schedule would also require an agreement with the NFL Players Association, which agreed to a 17-game schedule after heated opposition from players in the most recent collective bargaining agreement that expires March 2030.

New York Giants owner John Mara said an 18-game schedule would be part of future discussions.

"I think most owners are in favor of it," Mara said Wednesday. "You just have to see if the players' association is supportive of that. And those discussions really haven't taken place yet."

But he noted that while fans would likely be in favor of swapping a regular-season game for a preseason game, one of Goodell's solutions to getting the league to 18 regular-season games, he's not completely on board yet.

"I can't say I'm necessarily crazy about extending the season," Mara said. "I worry more about player fatigue and wear and tear on the players moving forward. That's one of the reason why we have to have the discussion with them."

Also discussed at league meetings was progress on the league's approval process of Tom Brady's ownership stake in the Las Vegas Raiders. The league is vetting the financial details of Brady's deal with principal owner Mark Davis along with conflicts that could stem from Brady's role as an NFL game analyst for Fox Sports.

"I do think progress is being made," Goodell said on the process to approve Brady's part ownership. "The finance committee has done their work on this, and we have a little more to do. But that was one of the factors -- about as a member of the media, what access would you have every week as you prepare us for the broadcast of the game? And we've addressed that also, so we're making progress on it."