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Two-Minute Drill: NFL’s PR Mess Goes from Bad to Worse

By: Guest | November 9, 2010 | 
38

Guest post by Harrison Kratz, a junior at Temple University and president/founder of Kratz PR & Management.

When I was asked to write this post, I was told to pick a topic I was passionate about. I immediately knew the direction I was going to take. I have always been passionate about the NFL, but that passion is now for the wrong reasons.

During the past few years, The NFL’s PR mess has gone from bad to worse. Commissioner Roger Goodell got off to a good start in cracking down on wrongful behavior off the field, but all that progress seems to be lost and buried under a slew of serious image problems.

The NFL has a handful of stellar role models and representatives of the league in players such as Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. However, those players have been taken over by foul play on and off the field, sexism, and poor league management. For a league that has established itself as the dominant professional sports league in America, this is unacceptable.

The NFL has let situations blow out of proportion by mishandling crisis communication and the handling of incidents across the league. In the beginning, Goodell was suspending any player who did not uphold the integrity of the League. Now, he let Ben Roethlisberger return to the field two weeks early after being suspended for his “escapades” with young women during the off-season. How does letting him come back early uphold the integrity of the league?

The NFL seems to be in the midst of a new publicity crisis every week, yet nothing ever seems to be fixed. Of all of the major professional sports leagues in this country, the NFL is by far the least active on social media even though they have the largest existing fan base. Rather than creating an image and initiating communication, they are letting the media and upset fans define their brand.

Now, baseball is recovering from their steroid era and they’re making all the right moves as far as presenting themselves as a league for their fans. I can’t say the same for the NFL. The NFL is a brand, and needs recognize itself as such.

Like any brand that consumers buy into, they need to focus on how they can continue to connect with their followers and provide an image of integrity throughout the entire organization. We are in an age of reinvention, and readapting is everything. The NFL needs to wake up.

I understand that the NFL is comprised of hundreds of players and staff that live their own lives, but the NFL has let incidents such as the Michael Vick fiasco define the league as a whole. There is not much being done to repair the image, and time is running out.

The NFL is as recognizable a brand as there is in the world, and they need to remember that. Consider this their two-minute drill.

Harrison Kratz is still a junior at Temple University, but is already the president/founder of his own public relations firm, Kratz PR & Management, and is hosting #TweetDrive2010. Harrison is a driven entrepreneur and philanthropist who tries to inspire and share with other students and young professionals through his experiences.

  • Doug_Davidoff

    Interesting thoughts, but I’m not quite sure what objective measurement you’re using to demonstrate that the NFL’s image has gone from bad to worse. It’s ratings are up, last year’s problems of games being blacked out because they weren’t sold out have virtually gone away, international interest in the league is up and the game, by all measurements I’ve seen, is more profitable than ever. Notwithstanding their blowing it with a lockout next year, I think every sport in America (especially baseball) would long for their “problems.”

    I think we need to be careful in prescribing social media for everyone. Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world – and the least active in social media. Social media is a tactic, granted one that should be utilized by most; but by no means is it mandatory.

  • Doug_Davidoff

    Interesting thoughts, but I’m not quite sure what objective measurement you’re using to demonstrate that the NFL’s image has gone from bad to worse. It’s ratings are up, last year’s problems of games being blacked out because they weren’t sold out have virtually gone away, international interest in the league is up and the game, by all measurements I’ve seen, is more profitable than ever. Notwithstanding their blowing it with a lockout next year, I think every sport in America (especially baseball) would long for their “problems.”

    I think we need to be careful in prescribing social media for everyone. Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world – and the least active in social media. Social media is a tactic, granted one that should be utilized by most; but by no means is it mandatory.

  • MissMarcia

    @Doug_Davidoff Good point, but I think Harrison’s comments speak to the visceral reaction that fans have to high-profile players, and to the impact their lack of social responsibility has on impressionable individuals. The ever-lowering standard of behavior expected of these millionaire athletes feeds into the growing divide in our society between the have and the have-nots, between the entitled and the productive, and between the caring and the amoral. Of course, the same can be said of corrupt politicians and business leaders, but what they do really damages us. Sports is entertainment, and perception is their main product.

  • MissMarcia

    @Doug_Davidoff Good point, but I think Harrison’s comments speak to the visceral reaction that fans have to high-profile players, and to the impact their lack of social responsibility has on impressionable individuals. The ever-lowering standard of behavior expected of these millionaire athletes feeds into the growing divide in our society between the have and the have-nots, between the entitled and the productive, and between the caring and the amoral. Of course, the same can be said of corrupt politicians and business leaders, but what they do really damages us. Sports is entertainment, and perception is their main product.

  • Doug_Davidoff

    @MissMarcia I agree that there is increasingly a disconnecct between athletes, politicians, business leaders, etc. and “the real world.” I did not mean to diminish that thought at all.

  • Doug_Davidoff

    @MissMarcia I agree that there is increasingly a disconnecct between athletes, politicians, business leaders, etc. and “the real world.” I did not mean to diminish that thought at all.

  • MissMarcia

    @Doug_Davidoff You know what’s really ironic is that use of social media like Twitter seems to actually make (young) people feel connected in the sense that Harrison uses it. I am of a different generation and doubt if I would feel differently towards big organizations like the NFL, Goldman Sachs, Democratic party, etc, even if they were very effective in communicating with individual followers. But I guess that to a large degree, entities that aren’t active on these social media don’t exist to today’s young adults. I guess it’s kind of like the Yellow Pages for us old folks, ha ha.

  • MissMarcia

    @Doug_Davidoff You know what’s really ironic is that use of social media like Twitter seems to actually make (young) people feel connected in the sense that Harrison uses it. I am of a different generation and doubt if I would feel differently towards big organizations like the NFL, Goldman Sachs, Democratic party, etc, even if they were very effective in communicating with individual followers. But I guess that to a large degree, entities that aren’t active on these social media don’t exist to today’s young adults. I guess it’s kind of like the Yellow Pages for us old folks, ha ha.

  • I love the piece and your idealism. You may be right but at the end of the day, no one cares. If Favre brings the Vikings back from oblivion(If is the biggest word in the English language) and deep into the playoffs, there will be statues built in Minnesota (he won’t be holding a smartphone). Another Super Bowl and Ben will be revered in Pitts. People will pay lip service to your thoughts, but NFL revenue will continue to rise.

  • I love the piece and your idealism. You may be right but at the end of the day, no one cares. If Favre brings the Vikings back from oblivion(If is the biggest word in the English language) and deep into the playoffs, there will be statues built in Minnesota (he won’t be holding a smartphone). Another Super Bowl and Ben will be revered in Pitts. People will pay lip service to your thoughts, but NFL revenue will continue to rise.

  • This is a very interesting piece and I appreciate you sharing your insight.

    Not only are the commissioner and players damaging the NFL’s image, their corporate/business minds left a bad taste in my mouth after their “Who Dat?” legal issues with New Orleans t-shirt/apparel makers leading up to last years Super Bowl.

    They sent a “cease and desist” order to numerous brands for using the “Who Dat?” phrase, a phrase the NFL had zero ownership of. Why? Money.

    And that’s exactly why Big Ben had a two-week shortcut. People want to see him play, and the league makes more money when he plays and the Steelers are winning. The Steelers, like the Cowboys and the Niners are staple NFL teams that, when they are doing well, tend to make for a more excited market and thus a more profitable organization.

    You’re absolutely right, they need to remember they’re a brand as well as a money machine.

  • This is a very interesting piece and I appreciate you sharing your insight.

    Not only are the commissioner and players damaging the NFL’s image, their corporate/business minds left a bad taste in my mouth after their “Who Dat?” legal issues with New Orleans t-shirt/apparel makers leading up to last years Super Bowl.

    They sent a “cease and desist” order to numerous brands for using the “Who Dat?” phrase, a phrase the NFL had zero ownership of. Why? Money.

    And that’s exactly why Big Ben had a two-week shortcut. People want to see him play, and the league makes more money when he plays and the Steelers are winning. The Steelers, like the Cowboys and the Niners are staple NFL teams that, when they are doing well, tend to make for a more excited market and thus a more profitable organization.

    You’re absolutely right, they need to remember they’re a brand as well as a money machine.

  • ryanknapp

    “Rather than creating an image and initiating communication, they are letting the media and upset fans define their brand.”

    I disagree with this. I don’t think fans are defining the NFL brand at all, and not nearly upset ones at that.

    There will always be screw-ups in any sports league. The NFL seems to have a larger proportion of them. But, for every high profile player who does something stupid, there are 10 more who volunteer in their community and do good.

    You could write this post about any sports league in any part of the world at any time. These are problems inherent in professional sports, but more over inherent in any large organization of any kind. Unfortunately, these organizations are on the world’s stage.

  • ryanknapp

    “Rather than creating an image and initiating communication, they are letting the media and upset fans define their brand.”

    I disagree with this. I don’t think fans are defining the NFL brand at all, and not nearly upset ones at that.

    There will always be screw-ups in any sports league. The NFL seems to have a larger proportion of them. But, for every high profile player who does something stupid, there are 10 more who volunteer in their community and do good.

    You could write this post about any sports league in any part of the world at any time. These are problems inherent in professional sports, but more over inherent in any large organization of any kind. Unfortunately, these organizations are on the world’s stage.

  • HarrisonKratz

    @barryrsilver You’re right, Winning is the ultimate cure. Its more a reflection on the league as a whole. The revenue won’t go anywhere for a long time, but even baseball fell eventually and their reign was much longer than the NFL’s

  • HarrisonKratz

    @barryrsilver You’re right, Winning is the ultimate cure. Its more a reflection on the league as a whole. The revenue won’t go anywhere for a long time, but even baseball fell eventually and their reign was much longer than the NFL’s

  • HarrisonKratz

    @Doug_Davidoff I agree that the NFL’s problems don’t necessarily reflect their revenue, but their problems definitely are plentiful. The overall image of this league is a problem and I do think that their PR issues could chip away at the league’s supremacy in American sports.

    As far as social media goes. Its true that you cannot prescribe social media for everyone, but when the other 3 major professional sports are extremely active and are seeing results from their efforts, shouldn’t the NFL be at least somewhat aware of those trends. They have more crisis communication needs than any other league yet they use the fewest channels to control the crisis. That lack of awareness allows everyone BUT the NFL to dictate the news and problems coming out of the league.

    I really appreciate your comments though, no good sports conversation can occur without somewhat of a debate!

  • HarrisonKratz

    @Doug_Davidoff I agree that the NFL’s problems don’t necessarily reflect their revenue, but their problems definitely are plentiful. The overall image of this league is a problem and I do think that their PR issues could chip away at the league’s supremacy in American sports.

    As far as social media goes. Its true that you cannot prescribe social media for everyone, but when the other 3 major professional sports are extremely active and are seeing results from their efforts, shouldn’t the NFL be at least somewhat aware of those trends. They have more crisis communication needs than any other league yet they use the fewest channels to control the crisis. That lack of awareness allows everyone BUT the NFL to dictate the news and problems coming out of the league.

    I really appreciate your comments though, no good sports conversation can occur without somewhat of a debate!

  • HarrisonKratz

    @ryanknapp While there may be 10 charitable players for every 1 player who screws up, those charitable players are rarely brought into the spotlight. I understand that charity isn’t done for the spotlight, but the NFL should use the channels they have access to communicate the good that their league can do, rather than all of the other problems dominate the discussion.

    My main problem is their lack of awareness and effort to connect with the public. All leagues have problems, but the NFL is the only one not trying to use new technologies and media to strengthen their fan relationship and image.

  • HarrisonKratz

    @ryanknapp While there may be 10 charitable players for every 1 player who screws up, those charitable players are rarely brought into the spotlight. I understand that charity isn’t done for the spotlight, but the NFL should use the channels they have access to communicate the good that their league can do, rather than all of the other problems dominate the discussion.

    My main problem is their lack of awareness and effort to connect with the public. All leagues have problems, but the NFL is the only one not trying to use new technologies and media to strengthen their fan relationship and image.

  • HarrisonKratz

    Thank you everyone for your comments, even if you disagree with some of the points. I think those disagreements make these posts worthwhile. Not to mention, sports conversations need a little back and forth! After reading each comment, I think I understand a little bit more about the whole issue and I hope you can say the same.

    Thank you everyone and looking forward to continuing this conversation.

  • HarrisonKratz

    Thank you everyone for your comments, even if you disagree with some of the points. I think those disagreements make these posts worthwhile. Not to mention, sports conversations need a little back and forth! After reading each comment, I think I understand a little bit more about the whole issue and I hope you can say the same.

    Thank you everyone and looking forward to continuing this conversation.

  • @HarrisonKratz Thanks for getting back to me. Baseball revenue went down the tank with the strike and came back with… the widespread abuse of steroids. Having said all that, for the NFL to eschew SM when it’s extremely easy to implement to a very receptive audience is criminally lazy or tree stump dumb.

  • @HarrisonKratz Thanks for getting back to me. Baseball revenue went down the tank with the strike and came back with… the widespread abuse of steroids. Having said all that, for the NFL to eschew SM when it’s extremely easy to implement to a very receptive audience is criminally lazy or tree stump dumb.

  • ryanknapp

    @HarrisonKratz But if you do look, they do advertise these programs all over the place, Play 60 for instance, United Way, etc.

    No matter what the NFL does to try to connect with fans, terrible stories and their stars doing stupid things will trump all the good PR and connections they will make with fans.

    If you have a broken model, no good PR or outreach will solve it. But at the end of the day who is always upset about what happens? Not the true hardcore NFL fans. If you think a true diehard Steelers fan who buys season tickets each year was upset Ben came back two weeks early, I’d say I disagree.

  • ryanknapp

    @HarrisonKratz But if you do look, they do advertise these programs all over the place, Play 60 for instance, United Way, etc.

    No matter what the NFL does to try to connect with fans, terrible stories and their stars doing stupid things will trump all the good PR and connections they will make with fans.

    If you have a broken model, no good PR or outreach will solve it. But at the end of the day who is always upset about what happens? Not the true hardcore NFL fans. If you think a true diehard Steelers fan who buys season tickets each year was upset Ben came back two weeks early, I’d say I disagree.

  • Great post. What I find concerning is the example they are setting for younger children and athletes. They should be role models. They definitely need some help both in sticking to the consequences for players who don’t obey the rules and in being better at promoting the positive things that the NFL & some of its players do in the community.

  • Great post. What I find concerning is the example they are setting for younger children and athletes. They should be role models. They definitely need some help both in sticking to the consequences for players who don’t obey the rules and in being better at promoting the positive things that the NFL & some of its players do in the community.

  • HarrisonKratz

    @rachaelseda That is definitely a problem in American sports. There are a lot of great role models, but there are just as many athletes setting the WRONG example. While this is a problem in all sports, I just don’t understand why the NFL doesn’t hold firm on punishments (oh, wait…money).

    Thank you for the comment and I also responded to your comment about the Tweet Drive in DC!

  • HarrisonKratz

    @rachaelseda That is definitely a problem in American sports. There are a lot of great role models, but there are just as many athletes setting the WRONG example. While this is a problem in all sports, I just don’t understand why the NFL doesn’t hold firm on punishments (oh, wait…money).

    Thank you for the comment and I also responded to your comment about the Tweet Drive in DC!

  • R, H, love your idealism. Professional athletes are not paid for their talents as role models. They probably have some “can’t be a crook” clause, but they are paid for the field prowess, nothing more. The fact that the majority of them are role models (or at least project/protect the image) speaks to them as humans and business people. Do not evaluate them for not being what they never were.

  • R, H, love your idealism. Professional athletes are not paid for their talents as role models. They probably have some “can’t be a crook” clause, but they are paid for the field prowess, nothing more. The fact that the majority of them are role models (or at least project/protect the image) speaks to them as humans and business people. Do not evaluate them for not being what they never were.

  • ryanknapp

    @HarrisonKratz Awesome stuff Harrison, great thoughts on the post and thanks for having a good discussion!

  • ryanknapp

    @HarrisonKratz Awesome stuff Harrison, great thoughts on the post and thanks for having a good discussion!

  • ryanknapp

    @barryrsilver I always find it hard to believe that we thrust athletes into this spotlight of being a role model when they are simply performing a job, that is to be the best athlete they can be.

    A simple law of averages says with the amount of athletes out there, there will be screw ups. We always talk about the screw ups because they are not the norm, while you look at the rest of the athletes on one team who are living a perfectly normal life.

  • ryanknapp

    @barryrsilver I always find it hard to believe that we thrust athletes into this spotlight of being a role model when they are simply performing a job, that is to be the best athlete they can be.

    A simple law of averages says with the amount of athletes out there, there will be screw ups. We always talk about the screw ups because they are not the norm, while you look at the rest of the athletes on one team who are living a perfectly normal life.

  • I’m with you. My favorites are those athletes (most doing good, a few not so much) that allow their play to speak and keep their private life oh…private.

  • I’m with you. My favorites are those athletes (most doing good, a few not so much) that allow their play to speak and keep their private life oh…private.

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