Monday, February 04, 2013

NFL: The Future Strategy

NFL: THE FUTURE STRATEGY--As the hoopla dies down from last night's exciting Super Bowl victory by the Baltimore Ravens, complete with blackout, Beyonce, confetti storm and all, the National Football League has a lot to celebrate.  But it also has to begin focusing on some tough problems in the year ahead.   While football is our biggest national sport and possibly our most exciting one, it is experiencing a crisis that has to be strategically managed if it is not to lose the momentum it has built up over recent decades.  

Establishing a "health and safety" culture is how the NFL's Commissioner, Roger Goodell, terms it, and he says it is "evolving."  He is no doubt well intentioned, but how quickly it evolves and how he communicates what he will do to create this culture could indeed make the difference between keeping the sport at its current levels or seeing its revenues fall.

It is facing some tough hurdles. There are lawsuits involving 4000 former players on safety issues that could cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars or up to a billion, according to Bob Costas, NBC sports broadcaster who was interviewed on "Meet the Press" yesterday morning. He also said there is an 11% decline in student participation in football because of concerned parents who have been impacted by publicity about concussions, suicides and other issues.  There are even some current players who have spoken out regarding limiting their own kids' play.   Lately, President Obama said that, if he had a young boy, he would think long and hard” about letting him play football unless new safety measures were put in place.  Bart Scott of the Jets agreed with the president.

What measures could be put in place?  The head of the Players Association, said Costas, pointed out that they will have independent neurologists at every game to make instant concussion diagnoses.  While this is positive, it seems the NFL is going to have to consider eliminating bounties and illegal hits to the head, says Costas.  And it may have to consider the elimination of all head contact.  There has been a considerable amount of 10-year later sub-concussions discovered.  And that has to be dealt with now. 

A plan of action must be communicated and followed through on with full transparency to the public to sustain the growth of the sport and the support of parents who are growing skeptics.

This weekend we got a refreshed look into the League’s proactive communications strategy. Goodell emphasized on “Face The Nation,” in a TV interview the rule changes, equipment advances and the major investments in research that are already well underway. The NFL also used its considerably valuable institutional advertising time during the Super Bowl broadcast to raise awareness for NFL Evolution, the NFL’s new health and safety portal. This site is a content-rich resource that covers a diversity of topics ranging from the NFL’s medical research initiatives to resources for parents and a detailed outline of the evolution of the game with a view of changes to come.

Despite Demarious Thomas’ (head of the NFL Players Association) contention, the NFL is well aware that player safety is its single-largest issue the sport will face.  While many are attracted to pro football because of the risk and thrill of violence, and a less violent sport may not be as appealing, Goodell has to bring about the "health and safety culture" he is advocating sooner rather than later. To bring about this kind of culture change is no small undertaking for the League and the onslaught from the opposition will continue to mount. I believe the communications of the NFL’s actions will be as vital as the very actions themselves and while Goodell made some strides in the public eye this weekend, there is still a long way to go. The irony here is that if there is one thing the NFL now knows, it is that the only way to tackle this issue in the public’s eyes is… head on.

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