The NFL’s social media problem

in Pigskin by

When Twitter was just getting going, back in the stone-ages of social media, about five to seven years ago, ESPN sent a mandate on Twitter to one of its most famous writers at the time, Ric Bucher of tremendous NBA writing pedigree.

Bucher stated at the time that the worldwide leader is “prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN.”

The policy in actuality read in part, “If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms.”

Of course, ESPN has loosened up in the seven or so years since then. ESPN thrives, lives and most of its live programming is tied directly with Twitter in some fashion.

The NFL on the other hand appears to have not loosened up. Earlier this season there was the mandate that NFL teams could not post video clips of game footage, only the official NFL Twitter account could. Of course, the NFL cannot control the posting of game footage by individual users, not today. So what was the point? Because fans would just post what teams could in high-def.  There are just too many platforms available for users to upload the video to and then share a link, but it can try. But that was the NFL ruling. A hard stance.

The least understood aspect of the NFL’s media stance is that of the established media. The NFL very, very, much works in step with the established print, radio and TV entities in the cities which have a franchise. It’s worked for 50 or more years in some cities and it works and works year after year. Press conference Monday after the game, story on the Monday evening news, story in the Tuesday edition of the paper. They never needed guys on the internet to help them get the story to the people. They probably still don’t.

If a certain internet website has the right stuff, audience, style, credibility or one of the latter, there’s a chance they could get the almighty credential from an NBA team or perhaps NHL team. MLB very much like the NBA may have a softer stance but it also draws a hard line on credentials for bloggers or “internet outlets”.

The NFL not only will turn down a blogger, they will blow the doors right open. They will make it perfectly clear that they’re not interested in internet entities. There are different strategies pro leagues can employ to work with an influential internet website, and by all accounts the NFL does not want to do that. Individual teams have employed strategies to work with websites and they are to be applauded for that. The league office is different.

Nothing was more clear this week as Barstool sports, an internet website, received just the kind of buzz, and “viralness” that it takes to turn a profit in the sports blogging world. The website mentions Barstool Sports and buzz this summer and into the fall reached a pinnacle so much that Comedy Central decided to give them a TV show.

None the less, when Barstool sports asked for a credential to the Super Bowl, they were turned down. As viral websites do, they turned the rejection into a story and then a reporter at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference this week at the Super Bowl asked him about Barstool sports and the rejection. Goodell of course said ‘well it looks like we have plenty of media here’. And he was exactly right. Goodell then said he trusts that the people who make these sorts of decisions make the right decisions, that is who to credential and who not to.

At a basic level, the NFL made the right decision by not allowing an internet blog to be credentialed they protect existing media which usually much higher readership, but with a demographic that is approaching the AARP years. On a long term and general public affection level they made the wrong one. Here’s why

When an internet blogger gets rejected by the NFL, it’s a feeling that traditional media doesn’t have to handle. If traditional media is denied a credential then there’s retribution and negotiation.  For example, a radio station guy is barred or denied, then the general managers make calls etc. The blogger is the general manager, he can’t call on his own behalf. He could but it may not go anywhere. With traditional media, things get resolved. When a blogger who is working day-in-and day out for pennies just trying to make it gets rejected it’s very personal. So what happens?

Well, the next time the NFL is in the news for yet another short-sighted position, a player arrest, new data on head injuries, that blogger or internet phenom is going to have a field day. And believe it or not fans and other traditional media pick up on it. Then you see a headline in traditional news outlets that say to effect, “fans are not happy with the latest move by the NFL” or NFL receives backlash after new data on head injuries. That backlash is your resident blogger, charming, and very readable who moves fan sentiment in the direction they choose.

There’s a balance.  The NFL could open its doors a little more, but it should not be ridiculed for barring certain internet outlets from credentials as it is responsible and has the authority to decide who and who cannot attend certain events as press.