ORLANDO – As the league's owners, general managers, head coaches and key administrators gathered here on Sunday to start the NFL's Annual Meeting, Eagles President Don Smolenski took it all in with a new perspective. A Sunday night address from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who hosted a panel of the owners, including Jeffrey Lurie, of the final four teams from the 2017 season discussing Operating In A Changing Environment, included a video tribute to the 2017 NFL season which, of course, culminated with the Eagles' win in Super Bowl LII.
There was, then, a very real tribute to the Eagles in a whole-league setting and that was very, very satisfying to the team's traveling party that includes Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, head coach Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Smolenski. Beating New England on February 4 in the Super Bowl was, in many ways, a life-changing experience for everyone. Smolenski, who feels the pulse of the fans every day, understands that as well as anyone.
"I just want to say 'thank you' to the fans, because they've incredible," Smolenski said. "We were in Minnesota and during that week we celebrated with the fans who were there and it was an amazing experience. Then to come back to Philadelphia and touch the fans and have them come up to us before, during and after the parade, it's been a great experience.
"To all of those fans who have come up to me to tell me their stories, and to tell me what winning the Super Bowl has meant to them, thank you. It means a lot to me. We've always had an incredible bond with our fans and I'm very grateful for that. It's humbling. Winning the Super Bowl has taken it to a completely different level. It's further cemented the relationship that exists between the fans and the city and the team and the players. I think you saw it that day back in February as people lined Broad Street all the way to the Art Museum at the parade but really I think that's a culmination of the relationship that has existed and the investment that the fans have put in the team and the team gives back to the fans."
How has the business of the Eagles changed since winning the Super Bowl? Well, we're seven weeks out from the game and the memories, the emotions and the impact continue to resonate. The City of Philadelphia and Eagles fans around the world went deliriously and happily mad after the victory and the "glad" has continued. The fans gobbled up the emotion and the merchandise, breaking 30-day NFL post-Super Bowl sales records in all of six days. Whether it's been at one of the three Pro Shops in the Philadelphia area or buying online, the fans have been relentless in finding a way to commemorate history.
More than the financial investment, the fans have deepened their emotional commitment. It's a life-long bond and it's only going to get better.
"We've got to turn the page, as slowly as we can, to 2018," Smolenski said. "But you see it everywhere. Flying to Orlando today, I saw so many fans wearing their Super Bowl merchandise and it just reminds you, again, how deep this relationship goes. The fans aren't letting go, not yet. And I understand that. It's great. It's awesome. It's forever a part of our history and we want to remember it, we want to savor it and we want to cherish it.
"I think we've been appropriate celebrating the moment, but you see how the team has moved ahead to build for 2018 and beyond. I know this: We're going to share the Lombardi Trophy with our fans. Our focus now lies ahead to what happens in the fall. We have some big plans. It's going to be another great season ahead."
The thrust of these NFL Meetings is to hear from Commissioner Goodell, who has a three-pronged message to the league's owners on the state of the NFL and the future of the game. The Owners on Sunday night discussed reaching young fans and of establishing touch points with the fan base and of, perhaps at some point in the future, establishing a franchise in another country. Smolenski and the Eagles have been ahead of the game in this respect for years with the organization's approach to creating access for the fans, developing rich media content and listening to what Season Ticket Members have to say through the Season Ticket Member Advisory Board.
But there are always going to be challenges as the fan base changes and the broadcast landscape evolves. That's why Smolenski jotted down two pages of notes from Sunday night as he explores ways to make for a better fan experience.
"Every day somebody walks up to me and shakes my hand and tells me their story, I listen and I'm thankful," Smolenski said. "What's happened since the Super Bowl, it's been incredible for everybody. We all knew what it might feel like, but to experience it, I hope that every City can have that feeling. Right now, though, we don't want to share that. It's an incredible feeling."