Tag Archives: Adrian Peterson

NFL Sponsors: What Role In Crisis Management

Another day has passed and another NFL player has been arrested with domestic violence charges – Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer. This comes as the NFL is still reeling from the public relations damage of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, and the admission in court documents that nearly a third of its players could end up with brain damage. The NFL is suffering in the court of public opinion among policymakers and fans. Yet it still does not seem to have a cohesive public relations strategy to deal with these PR nightmares

Many are drawing a stark contrast with how the NFL is dealing with the multitude of public relations crises and the NBA dealt with LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling after his racist comments went public. Within a period of days, the NBA conducted and completed an investigation and took action – banning Sterling from the NBA for life and forcing the sale the Clippers. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was front and center as the face of the NBA with the media. The NFL on the other hand has been largely invisible.

Why the difference? The actions of the sponsors. In the case of Sterling, sponsors began pulling sponsorships with the Clippers within 24 hours. So far, only one NFL sponsor has pulled a sponsorship. Radisson Hotels has suspended a sponsorship with the Vikings over the Adrian Peterson case. Otherwise the sponsors have been largely quiet issuing statements acknowledging the seriousness of the issues but expressing confidence with the NFL.

Follow the money is a cardinal rule often on the response to a crisis. With the NBA, the lost of sponsors saw quick and decisive action. In the Paula Deen story last year when sponsors began bailing on her over racial comments, the Food Network cancelled her show. In the case of Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson, with sponsors standing by Robertson (and fans blew up social media supporting him) after remarks he made in GQ Magazine about race and homosexuals, A&E opted to keep him on the reality television show.

As I mentioned the sponsors with the NFL have not pulled sponsorships. Yet at some point traditional media and social media scrutiny will begin to focus on the sponsors, particularly General Motors, Campbell Soups, and PepsiCo – all three headed by females. Additionally, the fans most outraged at the NFL are females, one of the most coveted demographics of sponsors and the NFL.

Sponsors weighing in will ultimately help lead the NFL out of this public relations disaster. The sponsors should demand nothing less than a change in the corporate culture of the NFL for nothing else will convince fans and policymakers that the NFL’s actions are fundamental and not a mere public relations ploy (although fundamental change will garner positive publicity for the league).



A Crash Crisis Communications Course For The NFL

The NFL continues to be battered in the court of public opinion. Last week it was the Ray Rice saga and the “what did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell know and when did he know it questions.’ This week it is outrage over Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson who is facing criminal charges for spanking his four-year old son with a wooden stick that left welts. In addition, it is still grappling with bullying in the locker room, players driving drunk and carrying weapons, a lawsuit from concussions, and a drug and steroids policy that some consider outdated.  Add to this Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones being sued for sexual harassment.  And let’s not forget it is addressing how it will deal with its first openly gay player, Michael Sam.

We know that consumers are outraged and advertisers are beginning to distance themselves slightly from the NFL. Radisson Hotels announced that the chain was suspending its sponsorship with the Vikings over the Peterson case. NFL sponsor, Anheuser-Busch announced its displeasure and concern with the NFL. When sponsors start suspending sponsorships and distance the company from the embattled brand, it means the public relations damage is not being contained but is actually growing.

The NFL’s crisis response has been sadly lacking in dealing with the escalating crisis. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been largely invisible since he was interviewed last week on CBS and then allegations surfaced that the NFL knew earlier than had been admitted about the Ray Rice video that showed him punching his now wife Janay. The league announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller was heading an investigation into the Rice controversy and had made some hires to deal with the issue and public policy. Yet in all of this there has been no public face for the NFL in over a week. All announcements have been made via press release.

So what should the NFL do now to calm the storm?

  1. If Goodell is compromised from talking during the ongoing Mueller investigation have someone else speak on behalf of the NFL, preferably a female officer. The public expects during a crisis, a brand or company to have a public face addressing the media and currently the NFL has none.
  2. Trump the number of senior level female officers within the NFL.       There are at least 17 in senior management in the NFL not even counting affiliated organizations.       Bringing this to the forefront will help dispel the idea that the NFL is anti-female.
  3. Ban Ray Rice from the NFL for life. His actions warrant it and will send a strong message of zero tolerance for domestic violence.
  4. Announce new stringent measures to deal with domestic violence and other issues the NFL is facing.
  5. Reassure sponsors that there are no other bombshells coming out. If there are, the NFL needs to get out in front and announce them before the media reports them, as well as how it is addressing the issues.
  6. Address policymakers and admit mistakes were made and outline what steps have been taken to correct them and ensure such things do not happen again.
  7. Apologize to fans for not upholding the standards and values fans expect of the NFL. This should be done through interviews and advertisements.
  8. Implement any recommendations the Mueller investigation recommends.
  9. Change the corporate culture within the NFL.
  10. Replace Roger Goodell with a new commissioner at the end of the season (unless the Mueller investigation proves that he knew of the Rice tape and lied, then terminate him at once) preferably with a high profile female with a clear mandate to clean up the NFL.

The NFL is facing a new public relations crisis weekly and the damage will continue until it takes some strong steps to address the issues directly. This crisis requires a fundamental change in how the NFL has been operating during the crisis. Sponsors and the public demand no less.