PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

Who do you Back, Players or Owners? NFLPA Changing Fans Minds with New Online Strategy

with 15 comments

NFLPA Launches NFLLockout Campaign

It’s no secret both the NFL and NBA are heading towards what are sure to be contentious labor negotiations between players and owners this summer. There’s a real chance both leagues could be headed toward lockouts as well. I’ve always thought this to be a fascinating aspect of the fan-player and fan-owner dynamics.

When you break it down to its core, who are players? They’re employees, granted very well compensated employees, but they’re still employees. Who are owners? They’re employers. Finally, who are about 99% of the fans? Employees of some kind. So it stands to reason that fans would identify more with players during these negotiations, right?

Not the case. Fans play the “I’d play for free” card and have a very difficult time relating to millionaire players, but have no problem backing billionaire owners. For some reason the Players Association’s of the NFL, NBA and MLB have had a difficult time getting their message across to everyday fans.

The PR playbook has always been to have the head of the players union play hard ball in a series of media tours. They attack commissioners and owners in each league, roll out the players negotiation talking points and essentially attempt to take the heat while shielding players from the dialogue. But that strategy usually fails with fans. Fans have been unable to buy into that separation between the union as an entity and the individual players.

But, the NFLPA is finally changing that playbook. In what makes perfect sense as this is the first real major sports collective bargaining agreement negotiation in the Social Media Age, the NFLPA is taking the battle online, launching the website, a twitter account and Facebook Page.

But there’s more to the strategy, not only have they launched these sites, they’ve branded the campaign “NFL Lockout”. It’s difficult in some cases to even tell if the NFLPA is actually affiliated. is basically a blog standing on its own, not a campaign living on the official NFLPA website. Although its crystal clear which side and whose message the campaign is backing.

So, they’ve essentially used the online campaign to change the connection with fans, who fans view as the villain and turned fans into ambassadors of both the campaign and the players. Instead of talking about millions of dollars already millionaire players might lose, a simply unrelatable concept for the average person, the NFLPA is using the “NFL Lockout” campaign to frame owners as a group trying to stop football and take football away from fans.

To bring awareness to the campaign the NFLPA has tagged Tuesday, January 18 as #LETUSPLAY DAY, an online movement where they’ve created the hashtag #LETUSPLAY. The genius behind #LETUSPLAY DAY is several prepared Facebook and Twitter posts where they ask fans to post “…help NFL players and fans #blockthelockout” to Facebook and Twitter. What does this accomplish? It positions fans and players as being on the same side of the debate and puts even more pressure on the owners.

It will be interesting to see if the campaign has legs and ultimately keeps fan opinion with the players for the long-term, especially the closer we get to an actual lockout towards the end of summer. It will take patience for the NFLPA to stick to their guns and not go back to the old playbook, but in the short-term this was a tremendous PR move.

Now we’ll have to see if the NBPA can be as creative and forward thinking, but one thing I can tell you is to not bother searching GoDaddy for the domain name, it’s already taken.


Written by Brian Gleason

January 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm

15 Responses

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  1. First off, I have to pull the “i’d play for free” card and say I back the Fans when all’s said and done… an idealist… what can I say? To answer the question, I have to say Owners Rule! Yeah, the players are amazing and are following a path all athletes, sports fans and 10year old little league players admire on the deepest levels. At the end of the day players come and go. Creating and maintaining a professional franchise is more complex, takes more energy and requires more creativity (not to mention capital that in most cases didn’t come easy by any means) than most can imagine. Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos, has seen countless players come and go throughout the years. He owns the helmets. He owns the shoulder pads. He hold the contracts that, in most cases, were signed quite happily. Sure, it’s the big names that fill the seats and keep the cash drawers ringing. But for how long? 5 years? 10 years maybe? (a few very lucky and talented exceptions) Let’s suppose a group of the wealthiest players came together and pooled their piggy banks and bought a team of their own. After 35 years of working 18hrs a day, as many business owners do, how excited do you think they would be about expanding and extending profit sharing to the kids on their team just out of college or even the veterans? “The name on the front of the jersey means a heck of alot more than the name on the back.” PR in Sports forever!

    Cody Carlough

    January 18, 2011 at 2:31 am

    • Some great points, there’s a reason people own businesses. In most cases they took the risk and put their money, time and energy on the line to get to earn that, why shouldn’t they get to keep most of the profits?

      You also can’t blame the players for trying to get all they can, especially in football where their shelf life to monetize their skill is so short.

      Great comment!

      Brian Gleason

      January 18, 2011 at 9:58 am

      • Going to jail or getting into soetmhing that would put a person at odds with the law is completely avoidable. Unless you have been framed for a crime you didn’t commit, there is no excuse for getting into trouble. Stay home and leave the clubs to those who won’t be in the news should an altercation happen in your vicinity. Drink at home if you have to drink and not while driving, take a good look at those you consider your friends. As soon as guys figure out that they are targets and there are people out there waiting for them to make a mistake, there won’t be any further arrests.


        May 23, 2012 at 1:28 am

  2. It will be very interesting to see how the NFLPA and other organizations use social media to connect with the general public at crucial times during the new CBA process.

    The NFLPA is smart to begin a campaign such as this because NFL fans are not at all afraid to voice their opinion, and will do so to prevent a lockout of the most popular sport in the United States.

    A lot of times it is easy for fans to align themselves with players because they think that they give it their all on the field while the evil owner is in his skybox scheming how to cut costs and make more of a profit.

    I don’t know how the owners will connect with the fans, but the NFLPA is off to a good start from a PR perspective.

    Anthony Scelsa

    January 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    • Thanks for checking out the site! Good point about owners connecting with fans. The only way seems to be playing that “I’d play for nothing” card to the average Joe who doesn’t like to hear about millionaire players striking. Owners can appeal to the romanticism of sports and position the players as being greedy and not caring about fans. Not saying that’s true, but just trying to think of ways the owners can align with the fans.

      Brian Gleason

      January 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    • I agree. I am intrigued by how they are going about the whole situation. Social media is going to play a crucial role when all is said and done. Using it to one’s advantage is a great stance to take when it comes to PR.

      Josh Gould

      April 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm

  3. […] is a post in prinsports which describes what the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) is doing to help […]

  4. One thing which i am feeling now sport is becoming a business. No player play for money not for win or entertain the viewers. And also team management is looking forward money not for better improvement. Now i do not watch the matches. I think all are deceiving us and making us fool to earn money. I do not how many of you will be agree with me. I am saying all this which feel.


    November 15, 2011 at 8:48 am

  5. Great site to talk about sports. Thanks for this man and expect me to come here often!

    Mike Velarde

    February 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm

  6. This site presents some interesting viewpoints on sports public relations. What role do general sports fans play in financial decisions that professional leagues make?

    Tom Malone

    March 12, 2012 at 1:24 am

  7. When I hear about collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) a chill runs down my spine. Instantly the thought of rich people arguing with rich people fills my mind. But there is another side of this, as you wrote, no matter the level of dollars and cents it is still employer vs. employee. For the most part I side with the players, but this changed with the NBA’s CBA as the players were trying to get a larger cut than the owners. I have never had a job where I made more than the guy (or gal) paying me. And you better believe once I find that job I am going to sit at that desk and milk that situation.
    With the NFL’s CBA process and eventual lockout, I was always on the side of the players. For reasons such as health insurance and guaranteed contracts I felt the players had to amend the current agreement. The approach to the NFLPA PR campaign was something I never really thought of, especially not in terms of branding. But they did brand the term NFL Lockout. I can remember how all the lockout information being presented attempted the make a connection between NFL players out of work and average US citizens struggling in our era’s depression. In the end, the NFLPA was able to make it look to the owners as if the fans had the player’s backs. I would say that the NFLPA was successful in the campaign.


    April 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

  8. No matter what fans think about the players making the millions that they do we all have to understand that professional sports are businesses and I mean multi-billion dollar businesses. The players are just any other worker in the work place; they want to be taken care of for the service that they provide. Yeah for most of us it isn’t millions of dollars, but their career last on the average of 3-6 if you are lucky you might get to play for 7-12 years. The NFLPA is just like any other union and their job is to take care of their members. Nobody is attacking the creator of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, or even the owners of the petroleum companies, movie actors and actresses for all the millions that they have made form their products. The law of supply and demand is the reason for these large million dollar contracts, we love our professional sports, and the pro teams know this as do all the sponsorships and television stations know and they are willing to pay for the right to bring these professional events to everyone around the world.
    Should the players make more than the owners, probably not? They do not own the teams they are just parts of the franchises, and each is paid according to their value to the organization. I do believe that the owners should be more responsible for taking care of their players with health and life insurance coverage along with taking care of their retired veterans who helped build their organizations and the product of professional sports.

    Eddie Corley

    April 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  9. Do the owners of the teams in the league not realize that with the social media affect these days that every thing is reported instantly and that a buzz can start at the drop of a pin? If you were an owner of a team in the NFL, what would you do with social media to combat the move that NFLPA has done to turn the owners into the villians that “don’t want football anymore”?

    John Bass

    May 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    • I think that the owners of the teams did not fully comprehend that power of social media and how quickly information is now delivered to the public. Because fans associate a team with the players rather than the owners, the NFLPA was successful in turning the owners into the villains. The owners had no equivalent means of combating the negative comments and perceptions that NFLPA created.

      Jessica Fonseca-Moreira
      A.B. Freeman School of Business
      Tulane University

      Jessica FM

      April 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm

  10. Appreciating the persistence you put into your site and in
    depth information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information.
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