Roger Goodell worth his lofty salary

Roger Goodell makes a lot of money, but he is largely responsible for creating new revenue. Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The reaction from fans has been one-sided: Roger Goodell's salary is ridiculous.

Goodell earned $29.5 million in 2011, according to the league's tax returns that were filed late last week.

Seems like a lot for a chief executive of a sports league, no?

I'm actually not so sure about that.

Some would argue that Goodell's leadership is more important than any single player. So though he doesn't entertain us in the same way, he should earn more than a guy like Drew Brees, who, all told, made $40 million this year.

There are also revenue comparisons, which can tell us how organizations in similar positions pay their executives.

If you see the league as a media company that sells its content, then Goodell is a bargain.

Every chief executive of CBS, Viacom, Disney, News Corp, Comcast and Time Warner earned at least $110 million in the past five years. Compare that to Goodell, who runs a much smaller company but a very successful one. Goodell earned an aggregate of $66.7 million in the past five years, his first five full years at the top.

How about Estée Lauder? Yeah I know, the NFL and the beauty business don't have much in common. But they do have business size in common. Estée Lauder does $9.7 billion in annual revenue, about the revenues of the league. Estée Lauder's CEO has made $64.8 million over the past five years, which is very much in line with Goodell's compensation.

On the flip side, we could argue Goodell does less than a CEO does because the league is a group of individual businesses that have own their own CEOs.

But Goodell also has fans, who jeer more consistently than shareholders do, he needs to answer to. Running a sports league also means more public appearances for Goodell and dealing with more criticism on a whole. Bad moves by CEOs might be covered on Bloomberg, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, but they don't quite generate the page views of Goodell chatter.

As for those who question Goodell's compensation on the merits of the job he did in 2011, which included a lockout that cost the league only one preseason game, trust me: There are a lot more fat cats on Wall Street that didn't do as well as Goodell but earned much more.

I suspect what bothers fans is that they think that Goodell's job is relatively easy and that even a caveman can do it. I'd argue the challenges the game has today are more complex than anything the league has seen in the past two decades. Does that mean that someone can't do a good job for less? Of course not. But to suggest that the league is on autopilot isn't fair, either.