The National Football League kicks off its 2014 season Thursday after an offseason filled with bad press. Sports analysts, notable economists and even billionaire Mark Cuban are predicting the league’s downfall. Theories on the NFL’s impending demise include:
- Mishandling the Ray Rice domestic violence case and subsequent two game suspension will hurt the NFL’s image with women, a key target market.
- Drug, alcohol, assault and murder charges involving NFL players will alienate casual fans.
- The concussion issue will result in more lawsuits, a reduction in the NFL’s talent pool and a smaller fan base as people turn away from the sport.
- The NFL will oversaturate the market with additional weeknight games just as our TV viewing habits include more streaming and on demand viewing.
So is the NFL really on a downward spiral? Not exactly.
Pro football is the most popular sport in America for the 30th straight year according to a Harris Poll. More than 100 million people watch football every Sunday. The past two seasons have each had the highest TV ratings in the league’s history. The NFL playoffs create a nationwide buzz and the Super Bowl is a worldwide event.
Yet the league still has a lot of work to do.
Here are Four Marketing and PR plays the NFL should make:
- Embrace Fan Focused Decisions—Whether hiring replacement referees, prohibiting most purses and bags at games, or doling out player suspensions, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is perceived as ruling with an iron fist. He took a positive step admitting he “didn’t get it right” with Ray Rice’s suspension. Now get it right on future issues by thinking about the fans first.
- Tell the Safety Story—The NFL has spent nearly thirty years changing rules to limit contact, reduce injuries and increase scoring. Concussion research is leading to changes in equipment and treatment protocols. Continue the focus on player safety and tell that story.
- Target Moms—Youth football participation is down almost 10% since 2010. Many say the drop is related to fear of concussions. The NFL needs to convince Moms that youth football is safe.
- Take It to ‘Em—Make it easy for fans to watch, wherever they want—smart phone, tablet, TV, in person. No blackouts. Better streaming. Affordable options.
The NFL is still number one in sports entertainment. Focusing more on their fans and their messaging can help the league stay there.