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Entertainment - Written by on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 7:56 - 6 Comments

Laura M.  Carrillo
The NFL – The most protective league, attempting to control the uncontrollable

Building off of my colleague Denis Hancock’s work on the NBA and Twitter, I thought it was only appropriate to look across other professional sports leagues to see how they are dealing with social media. Given that the NFL just kicked off last week and that I’m an avid fan, I decided to look at how the National Football League is addressing all of the social media tools that are available to coaches, players, and officials this season. What is most intriguing with this group is that the league and most teams are extremely protective of what information is made public and how it is communicated. The New England Patriots, my home team is led by a very tight-lipped Coach, Bill Belichick, who is notorious for his, um let’s call it succinct speaking style that leaves reporters annoyed by the lack of information shared with the press. The Twitters and Facebooks of the world, built on mass collaboration, communication and transparency, have been targeted by the NFL as channels that could actually harm this great football tradition of never providing more information than is absolutely necessary.

Having identified these potential sources of evil, the NFL announced a formal policy in early August cracking down on the use of Twitter, basically trying to ban the use of the tool by anyone in its ecosystem (players, coaches, staff, etc). So I guess formal communication channels were supposed to remain the norm and the opportunity to informally connect with fans, or communicate with a broader audience, the fundamental concepts behind social media and the reason it is becoming so popular, would not be taken advantage of?  Some teams like the New Orleans Saints have taken a less harsh approach. Shortly after the NFL policy was released, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton stated that he is in favor of the medium as long as players use it wisely. This is the stance that we often recommend to enterprises as they update policies to include appropriate use of social media channels. The below chart from our redefining employee computing study, shows the difference between the old school style of thinking and the new. Note how much of the NFL mandate falls into the old school column. Specifically look at the objective row: The old school is to maintain control vs the new school attitude of building an environment built on understanding, capability and trust.


One area that makes NFL  players different is that they are celebrities; they want to build their personal brands and experiment with this stuff. A company can’t stop an employee from participating online; it can only provide guidelines and trust that the right thing is going to be done. When the right thing is not done, consequences should be clear. Case in point – Antonio Cromartie @crimetime31 was fined $2500 for posting a complaint on Twitter about the food at the San Diego Chargers training camp. I’m not sure it’s really a fineable offense, but it does send a message. BTW: Antonio has protected his tweets so he needs to approve you before you can follow him. I wonder if that happened before or after this incident? The fine is actually ironic given that the Chargers tend to have a more progressive attitude towards social media. They broadcasted their first-round pick on Twitter before the NFL announced it, Charger linebacker Shawne Merriman (@shawnemerriman) answered questions about his use of social media at a San Diego Tweetup, and The Chargers even have a staffer dedicated to heading up social media efforts including Twitter: @Chargers.

Interestingly, less than 30 days after the initial NFL social media regulations were announced, the policy was amended. The NFL graciously announced that it would “allow players to use social media networks this season.” Anyone else think it’s fascinating that the NFL thinks it needs to give permission for this stuff? The league also announced that players, coaches and football operations staff would be allowed to use social media up to 90 minutes prior to kickoff and after the game once traditional media interviews are complete. So, if I’m Patriots tackle Matt Light and I’m showered and on my way home, I have to listen to when QB Tom Brady’s press conference ends to figure out when it’s OK to update my Facebook or Twitter status? BTW: Matt does tweet however the one page I found is set up for his charity vs. a personal Twitter handle. What fine will the NFL dish out the first time something is posted 89 minutes before kickoff?

More pieces of the updated policy:

  • Of course, no status updates are allowed during the game, which would be tough to do since cell phones, PDAs and laptops are not allowed on the sidelines.
  • The use of social media by all officials and officiating department personnel is prohibited at all times.
  • This next one is my favorite: The league has also banned play-by-play descriptions of games in progress, extending that ban to social media platforms. Does that ban apply to fans? If it does and I’m at a Pats game (1 of 68,000+ fans) and I post that Brady just hit Randy Moss (@r81m) for a 70 yard TD to win the game should I expect a fine? Unlike most professional athletes, I can’t afford that type of hit!

Some individual teams also placed restrictions on spectators at training camps and practice fields, including @MiamiDolphins@Denver_Broncos, @realpatriots, @buffalobillscom, @DetroitLionsNFL, The Colts and The Saints (if you find their official Twitter sites let me know).

I am not arguing that restrictions are by themselves a bad idea; I do think that all companies need them to ensure security, stakeholder value and maintain a competitive advantage in their market. The NFL has already seen examples where social media has supplied an unneeded distraction (something that makes football coaches everywhere cringe.) When Minnesota QB Tarvaris Jackson sprained a knee ligament, his teammate Bernard Berrian (@bernardberrian)  tweeted that Jackson was out for the season. He quickly posted that it was a joke but this underscored how much “appropriate use” education may be needed.

Interestingly, the NFL  (@NFL)does use Twitter and other social media tools, primarily for marketing and promotions. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (@nflcommish) even tweeted from the college draft. What I’d like to know is – how far will the  restrictions/policies go? How many more changes are on the horizon? I applaud the NFL  for being the first professional sports league to publically recognize the importance of social media and attempting to develop reasonable guidelines around its use.  However, I am not convinced that the scope of the current policy is actually realistic. My hope is that the guidelines remain flexible or at least amendable; to adjust as the market adjusts, while still providing the players freedom to connect with their fans without becoming too paranoid.


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Sep 17, 2009 16:32

That was Awesome! The funny thing I notice is that if you look into the player’s unions of each pro sport, they play a major role in all this stuff! The baseball players association is one of the top unions in the world. The NFL is much more dominated by the owners. Hence the salary cap and drug policy that have been in place for a long time. Baseball doesn’t have a salary cap and just now has a drug policy in place. Reason being is that the players association is so strong it wouldn’t allow for either one! If the MLB tried to enforce strict twitter or facebook policies the player’s association would have a field day with them!

Laura M. Carrillo
Sep 17, 2009 17:09

Very true. I had not even thought about the implications of players’ unions on the different leagues. Perhaps one of my future posts will look at how MLB is enforcing or not enforcing diligent use of social media by the players. Thanks for the idea.

Sep 18, 2009 10:45

Good stuff. It is a tricky situation for the NFL, and one reason I think they are so concerned is that the NFL is a huge market for gambling. Good article in the WSJ: The NFL Doesn’t Want Your Bets (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124511421029417367.html). Some data from that article:
Bettors wagered $81.5 million in Nevada’s sports books on the 2009 Super Bowl; $1.1 billion was wagered on football, both college and pro, in Nevada over the 12 months ending in April 30; “Analysts estimate that tens of billions more are wagered on the NFL at offshore casinos.” If information were divulged even inadvertently that affected gambling lines, there could be real blowback. There are hundreds of NFL players, so a slipup by any one of them could be very problematic for the integrity of the competition. That’s also true for other sports, but as the article says, “there is no question that the NFL is the nation’s most popular gambling sport.”

Sep 21, 2009 8:10

I was going to make some sort of joke about how Belichick could use YouTube to make his cheating more efficient, but after losing to the Jets this weekend I feel Pats fans have suffered enough :) .

Every time I read these policies, I can’t help but think that the interests of Vegas must play a fairly large part…

Football Guy
Dec 9, 2009 9:53

I love betting on Football. The crappy part is that I’ve lost about $ six this month. I think the most enjoyable part is doing the research and using research to find holes in the odds.

Top Sports Star
Jul 20, 2010 2:48

The National Football League is one of the oldest sports organizations in the U.S. right now. The league is not just part of the history of sports in America, it has become part of the daily American consciousness and that of the American culture.

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