For a business as rich and as powerful as the National Football League, the NFL has been associated with countless PR disasters in recent years (and make no mistake, the NFL is, at the end of the day, a business). There has been the continuous crusade to force the NFL to acknowledge the long-lasting health impact of the game on its players, its controversial handling of multiple domestic abuse cases, and I’m sure everyone has heard about Deflategate. As an aside, I’ve heard the word “Deflategate” enough for about 5 lifetimes so while I don’t like that the Patriots won the
Super Bowl Big Game, hopefully I won’t have to hear about it ever again.
Back to the point. While the NFL has been dealing with these so-called business blunders, an internal conflict appeared to arise this past September that may have gone overlooked. A new social media policy was established that, among other restrictions, prohibited NFL teams from posting their own videos to social media from kickoff to an hour after the game. Teams were only allowed to re-post NFL-owned videos on Twitter and Snapchat. Due to teams continuously violating the new rules, the NFL implemented a hierarchy of fines in early October ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 and the loss of the privilege to post NFL-owned footage.
While teams had known about this new policy since September, the Sunday following the effective date of the fining system, a couple NFL teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns, decided to mock the new policy with their game time tweets:
In addition, there was also major pushback from some team owners, led by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, during the October owners meeting.
The NFL argues that as the reach of social media is expanding, they want to be able to maintain control over how their product is presented on social media platforms. Most importantly, they want to keep all of their media under one roof as they determine how to best monetize it (NFL = business). They do not want the NFL’s best moments to be so easily captured and shared at their expense, disincentivizing fans from actually tuning in to the games. And during a slow start to the NFL season which featured uncharacteristically low TV ratings, this was a genuine concern. Therefore, controlling all of the in-game highlights that were posted throughout a game with one account owned by the NFL satisfied these goals.
However, I do not believe that this is the best policy to adopt in terms of social media. I understand the concern regarding TV viewership but stifling the use of social media by the teams isn’t the answer. As a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles in New England, I was blessed this season to have five or so games shown on TV. Other than those games, I was left in the dark. I would see a tweet about an Eagles touchdown (undoubtedly not from a WR), go to the NFL Twitter to see a highlight, but there would be no clip of the touchdown. After a few weeks, I decided to start making the long trek to Cityside every week to see the Eagles crush my hopes and dreams like they do every year.
While this may be a specific case of a displaced fan, I think it is a more general issue. As the NFL tries to control social media, they are making the game less accessible to more casual fans. As can be seen from the tweets above, it is generally the NFL teams, not the official NFL twitter account, that are most creative with social media, forming a type of personality through their usage of social media. By posting funny or clever tweets, these tweets may have a higher chance of being retweeted, helping to spread the game, and perhaps even enticing a more casual viewer to tune in to the game (increased viewership). Besides, it isn’t keyboard-wielding Goodell-hating trolls that the NFL would be giving permission to use NFL content to by softening the social media policies. It is the actual teams that play in the NFL!
It has to be noted that in December, the NFL did decide to revise their social media policy, now allowing for teams to post clips of halftime ceremonies, cheerleaders, mascots, fans, and player celebrations (like those are a thing anymore). While this relaxation is a step in the right direction, actual game highlights are the clips that people want to see, having the potential to be vastly shared, engage more social media users, and potentially convert them into real NFL fans. Currently, the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States and TV viewership recovered after the completion of the election cycle with over 111 million people watching Super Bowl LI. I don’t believe the NFL should be so concerned about TV ratings as they should be with spreading their product to an even more casual social media user seeing a retweet of a clever post from an NFL team Twitter account.
At the end of the day, the NFL has enough to deal with regarding PR mishaps. It doesn’t need an internal conflict regarding restrictions placed on NFL teams’ social media usage. Social media platforms are meant for sharing and creativity. The NFL is doing itself a disservice by stripping their teams of this ability.
Editor’s Note: This blog was written on Tuesday night before Danni’s presentation regarding the NBA’s spectacular usage of social media to grow the popularity of the game of basketball. Basically take everything that the NBA does on social media (i.e. encouraging creativity from fans, developing of a “social media personality” for each team, etc.) and the NFL does almost the complete opposite.