Who do you Back, Players or Owners? NFLPA Changing Fans Minds with New Online Strategy
It’s no secret both the NFL and NBA are heading towards what are sure to be contentious labor negotiations between players and owners this summer. There’s a real chance both leagues could be headed toward lockouts as well. I’ve always thought this to be a fascinating aspect of the fan-player and fan-owner dynamics.
When you break it down to its core, who are players? They’re employees, granted very well compensated employees, but they’re still employees. Who are owners? They’re employers. Finally, who are about 99% of the fans? Employees of some kind. So it stands to reason that fans would identify more with players during these negotiations, right?
Not the case. Fans play the “I’d play for free” card and have a very difficult time relating to millionaire players, but have no problem backing billionaire owners. For some reason the Players Association’s of the NFL, NBA and MLB have had a difficult time getting their message across to everyday fans.
The PR playbook has always been to have the head of the players union play hard ball in a series of media tours. They attack commissioners and owners in each league, roll out the players negotiation talking points and essentially attempt to take the heat while shielding players from the dialogue. But that strategy usually fails with fans. Fans have been unable to buy into that separation between the union as an entity and the individual players.
But, the NFLPA is finally changing that playbook. In what makes perfect sense as this is the first real major sports collective bargaining agreement negotiation in the Social Media Age, the NFLPA is taking the battle online, launching the website NFLLockout.com, a twitter account and Facebook Page.
But there’s more to the strategy, not only have they launched these sites, they’ve branded the campaign “NFL Lockout”. It’s difficult in some cases to even tell if the NFLPA is actually affiliated. NFLLockout.com is basically a blog standing on its own, not a campaign living on the official NFLPA website. Although its crystal clear which side and whose message the campaign is backing.
So, they’ve essentially used the online campaign to change the connection with fans, who fans view as the villain and turned fans into ambassadors of both the campaign and the players. Instead of talking about millions of dollars already millionaire players might lose, a simply unrelatable concept for the average person, the NFLPA is using the “NFL Lockout” campaign to frame owners as a group trying to stop football and take football away from fans.
To bring awareness to the campaign the NFLPA has tagged Tuesday, January 18 as #LETUSPLAY DAY, an online movement where they’ve created the hashtag #LETUSPLAY. The genius behind #LETUSPLAY DAY is several prepared Facebook and Twitter posts where they ask fans to post “…help NFL players and fans #blockthelockout” to Facebook and Twitter. What does this accomplish? It positions fans and players as being on the same side of the debate and puts even more pressure on the owners.
It will be interesting to see if the campaign has legs and ultimately keeps fan opinion with the players for the long-term, especially the closer we get to an actual lockout towards the end of summer. It will take patience for the NFLPA to stick to their guns and not go back to the old playbook, but in the short-term this was a tremendous PR move.
Now we’ll have to see if the NBPA can be as creative and forward thinking, but one thing I can tell you is to not bother searching GoDaddy for the NBALockout.com domain name, it’s already taken.
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