3 lessons the NFL could learn about crisis communications
September 26, 2012 2 Comments
The National Football League has a serious brand problem. The perception of the league has been tarnished by a number of bad moves and it’s getting worse as the days go by.
Since even before the 2012 season began the NFL front office has been making decisions that have been affecting its perception – conflict over benefits for former players, a 132-day lockout of the players, and now locking out the referees.
The latest hit to NFL brand was the final play during Monday Night Football Sept. 24 between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. A clear interception of a Hail Mary pass should have ended the game in favor of the Packers but replacement referees claim a simultaneous catch and awarded a touchdown to the Seahawks, and the victory.
The reactions were swift and angry from fans, players, and the media.
- 70,000 voicemail messages were left at the NFL offices after “the inaccurate reception” was called a touchdown
- The media micro-analyzed that one play all day long and the implications it has had on the game
- NFL players went to social media to lambast their coworkers for the bad call
During all of the malaise, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended his replacement referees who aren’t even good enough to officiate a game in the Lingerie Football League. Goodell said offensive pass interference should have been called but “[t]he result of the game is final.”
This is basic crisis communications and the NFL has failed – big time. When the video evidence is clear as day you cannot deny, deny, deny.
Admit your mistakes
Just admit it. It was a bad call. We all know nobody’s perfect. But people are less likely to forgive if you ignore the problem and just hope it goes away by itself.
Make it right
Even though NFL rules prevent the commissioner from altering the outcome of the game, it could have easily quashed the anger of everyone by saying it would be doing everything to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. That it would be calling in every single replacement referee for additional and continued training in order to help them get better.
Decisions must be consistent
Safety has been a huge effort for the NFL. It has leveled multi-million dollar fines and tons of suspensions on players for hits the league deems unsafe. The same efforts to make the game safer must be applied to all involved in the NFL. The referees do not have control and need to do more to ensure players’ safety. There already have already been some serious injuries because of it and there will be more until lines are drawn about how a game will be called.
The NFL doesn’t seem to have the incentive to put on the best product for its customers because they have no consequences for their actions. Fans continue to buy tickets to games and NFL merchandise no matter how bad a product takes the field. If this were a different product customers would return it and demand a refund, or go find an alternative to buy in the future. Until fans take some of the responsibility as well for where they decide to spend their money and hit the NFL in its wallet, there will continue to be a lack of accountability in today’s most popular sport.