SBD/January 27, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

All-Out Blitz: NFLPA Breaking Lockout-Themed Commercials

The NFLPA has produced a 30- and 60-second commercial showing what an NFL lockout could look like. The ads will air later today on the union's website, as well as during the NFLPA college All-Star Game on CBS College Sports on Feb. 5, the day before Super Bowl XLV. The spot opens with a lock on a gate, and the camera scans empty football stadiums and locker rooms. It features a number of NFL players saying "Let Us Play," with NFLPA President Kevin Mawae saying, "We want to play." The spot also features a number of fans, male and female, young and old, saying "Let them play." The spot ends with the words "Do your part to Let Us Play. Sign the petition at nfllockout.com," accompanied by the NFLPA logo. The NFL CBA expires on March 4 (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). AD AGE's Rich Thomaselli noted the ads are "something of a response to the letter that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent to fans and season-ticket holders at the start of the playoffs earlier this month, outlining the league's position." The NFLPA campaign, via New Media Strategies, Virginia, "uses social media almost exclusively as its platform," and the ads will "appear on TV only once." Thomaselli noted the union "gets two minutes worth of spots" during the telecast of the NFLPA All-Star Game "as part of its sponsorship of the game." Otherwise, the NFLPA is "leery of doing business with the broadcast networks, which they believe are sympathetic to the owners' cause by continuing to pay the NFL its combined $4 billion in rights fees" even if the '11 season is delayed or canceled (ADAGE.com, 1/26).

A NEW PLAYING FIELD: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the NFL labor battle is the "first in sports history to be played out extensively on digital turf." The NFL and NFLPA are "jabbing, countering and needling each other on Twitter, Facebook and on Web sites devoted entirely to the possible lockout." After Goodell yesterday revealed that he would take a $1 salary in the event of a work stoppage, NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith responded on his Twitter account, indicating that he "would work for 68 cents if an agreement is reached" by the Super Bowl. Their online "dueling is designed, in part, to woo fans to their corners." NFL Exec VP/Communications & Government Affairs Paul Hicks is a "central figure in the league’s strategy to disseminate information as quickly as possible, like Goodell’s recent letter, which was e-mailed to five million fans and explained the league’s collective-bargaining position." Hicks: "You need to sell your idea and use every opportunity you can at a speed that is not generally normal in a business environment." Hicks and his counterpart, NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah, "play their similar roles in different ways." Hicks is "rarely quoted" and does not use Twitter. Atallah, however, has "become a public personality because of the labor dispute; he uses Twitter regularly and is frequently interviewed." Atallah said, "I have a responsibility to make sure the players’ side is accurately portrayed and to the media to be a credible source of information. Player engagement leads to fan engagement." Sandomir notes on "any given day, the online exchanges and competitive claims might look alternately substantive or silly." But there is a "sense that the league and the union have learned from politics, and the need to respond to their opponent’s positions" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/27).

THE BACK-AND-FORTH CONTINUES: Atallah yesterday during an appearance on the "ProFootballTalk Live" podcast prior to Smith's tweet about taking a $0.68 salary said the promise from Goodell and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash to take $1 salaries is "another sign that they're preparing" for a work stoppage. When asked if Smith would take a reduced salary, Atallah said, "I'm not sure. Put it this way: We're not going to issue any press releases about our contingency plans to make ourselves look more sympathetic. ... The only way we can get our fans to be sympathetic at this point is to guarantee there won't be a lockout and sign a deal as soon as possible" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/26). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said of Goodell's gesture, "This is one of a series of recent moves by Goodell aimed at establishing the public relations high ground." ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the NFLPA "should forget about" the move by Goodell, as "they're not going to win the PR war with the owners" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/26). ESPN.com's Bomani Jones said of Goodell, "I'm impressed by the fact that he's willing to make a sacrifice, but it's not that big of a gesture" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/26). Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga: "This is all banter back and forth and I don't think it's replacing substantive dialogue. That's not going to happen in the couple of weeks leading up to the Super Bowl anyway" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 1/26).

NOT PULLING 18-GAME SCHEDULE: NATIONAL FOOTBALL POST’s Andrew Brandt wrote Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney’s recent comments against an 18-game schedule “certainly caused some pained looks” at NFL offices, as well as among “various NFL owners who’ve been pushing the issue.” However, the issue is “not coming off the table.” Rooney has been a “key player in past CBA negotiations,” but he has “not been active in these negotiations” due to his responsibilities as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland (NATIONALFOOTBALLPOST.com, 1/26).

NOT TOO OPTIMISTIC RIGHT NOW: SI’s Don Banks said he believes it is “going to be at least mid-summer before everybody puts their best deal on the table” regarding the CBA talks. Banks: “That's the way things usually get done in the NFL. History says it always goes to the deadline, and I think this time we're going to find out once again that both sides will try not to blink until the games are in jeopardy." The players are “fairly united now, but it's easy to be united now.” Banks: “It will be more difficult once the paychecks are in jeopardy.” He added he thinks the players “more likely than the owners are going to cave" on the issue of an 18-game schedule ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 1/26). In Oakland, Monte Poole writes, "Five months ago, I was certain there would be no lockout. ... Now that the sniping is under way, I'm a little less certain a collective bargaining agreement will be in place by the March 3 deadline." Goodell and Smith are "playing games with each other, orchestrating campaigns designed to catch any drop of sympathy the public may have." But what they "fail to recognize is fans don't care about their salaries" and, "quite frankly, don't care about Goodell and Smith." Poole: "Fans care about having an NFL team nearby or seeing one from their living rooms. ... They care less about the chiefs in the labor beef than they do about the price of the jersey they'll torch in a moment of outrage" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 1/27).
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