This has been a particularly bad week for the PR image of the National Football League: a murder-suicide, a death due to drunk driving – even a reduction in suspension of popular players came with a reminder of the nasty reasons they’d been reprimanded in the first place. The recent news items have left both sports fans and casual observers asking what the hell is going on in the NFL?
The news has been nothing short of shocking. Last week, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, at their home. Belcher then drove to the Chiefs’ training facility and committed suicide. The announcement of the deaths was made on a game day, and the team played on. This week, Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown. The next day, the Cowboys were on the field.
Also this week, an announcement was made regarding the reduction of suspensions for New Orleans Saints players involved in “bountygate” – a scheme in which players were rewarded for injuring opposing team members. Overall, it’s been a bad week for the NFL’s image – but not for its ratings or ticket sales. Is this clever PR at work?
The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for the NFL. The tragedies shine a light on the difficult life of pro athletes, but why is there no impact on ticket sales?
The PR Takeaway: The show must go on, and sometimes instead of the company setting the tone, it’s better to take the PR cue from customers. The NFL hasn’t gone overboard in their reaction to the week’s events precisely because the customers haven’t. Like the fans, they express sympathy for the families of the deceased and acknowledge that players sometimes go overboard, but in this case, the NFL knows exactly what the hell it’s doing. Though it has been rather a bad week for the NFL, it’s business as usual – until, and unless, fans give a signal to the contrary.