Just 24 hours after the kickoff of Super Bowl XLV, the most popular professional sports league in America faces a serious PR problem. It’s a problem with only one solution. The questions now are – will the enormously successful league and its players learn from the past? Or will they fight a Public Relations battle that neither can win?
The League and its players have begun a showdown over the next player Collective Bargaining Agreement (the current deal, because team owners opted out, expires March 3rd). Just yesterday, on ESPN Radio’s popular “Mike and Mike” program, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith outlined their positions. So far, both sides have well articulated arguments. But it doesn’t matter. The League’s millions of loyal customers don’t care. The two sides have started down a path that, if continued, would do them no good.
As the NFL and its players should have learned from the 1994 Major League Baseball Strike, the public has absolutely no tolerance for debate, discussion or dissent when billionaires who own real-life fantasy teams fight with millionaires who play a game for a larger-than-life living. There is nothing either side can say to sway public support. The only solution to this PR problem is a solution to the labor dispute. Period.
The NFL now enjoys the peak of its popularity. It’s a made for TV sport. It’s a made for fantasy sport. It’s a made for gambling sport. It has competitive balance and compelling storylines, often ending unpredictably. These facts help tell the story – in the Fall 2010 Network TV season, 18 of the top 20 rated programs of any kind were NFL games. The 13 most watched Cable TV shows of 2010 were NFL games. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was America’s most-watched Prime Time weekly program. The NFL matters to a whole lot of Americans who just want to take a break from their real lives and dig into football.
The average NFL player earns more than $750,000 per year. Even with an average career length of three years, the public has no sympathy. The average NFL franchise is worth $1.02 billion. Even with profit inequities between franchises, the public has no sympathy.
There is only one PR remedy – reach a deal… soon.