Public Relations and the NFL: Time for a Reevaluation?

Think an entertainment titan like the NFL doesn’t need to worry about public relations? Think again. Multiple issues have affected the league’s public perception, and might eventually hurt its bottom line. As Sam Farmer reports in the Los Angeles Times, the NFL is coming under public pressure on a wide variety of fronts. Among them:

* The league continues to face criticism for its handling, and its previous denial, of the long-term medical conditions arising from concussions sustained during play.

* The enormous salary (more than $44 million) paid this year to commissioner Roger Goodell to lead a league that officially claims a nonprofit, tax-exempt status. (Converged communicators on the Political and Cause Campaigns track: Did you know the NFL is legally structured as a nonprofit?)

* The recent disclosure that several players and coaches with the Miami Dolphins were involved in vulgar, highly demeaning comments and practices toward a young teammate, with the head coach apparently totally ignorant of the goings-on within his team.

* A snowballing number of arrests of current and recently-retired players for alleged violent crimes, ranging from murder to domestic battery to rape.

Will this really lead to serious changes in the NFL’s relationships with its publics? It’s hard to say. As converged communicators in PUR3000 know, an organization like the NFL will have a large number of publics, and you can likely name some of them very quickly: Fans, TV broadcasters (CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN), the NFL Players Association, federal regulators, local authorities (who vote on issues like stadium construction), the news media, medical experts… the list goes on and on.

The NFL’s current struggles in the court of public opinion have impacts for others, too. If fans cut back spending on tickets, Congress investigates the league’s tax-exempt status, or parents discourage their sons from playing football because of its hazards, the NFL will take a hit in the wallet – no doubt about it. But the NFL’s loss could be someone else’s gain. If Americans spend fewer dollars on NFL football, who are some parties who could profit? (A few possibilities: Other sports leagues like MLB and the NBA, college football programs, movie theaters, television stations showing programming other than sports.)

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