Social Media Report Card: NFL and NBA Players Unions Get Social

During a material event, it is imperative for a business to communicate with its stakeholders in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. The NBA’s current and NFL’s recent work stoppages have thrust management and the players’ unions into a tangled web of communications that must be strategically navigated to resolve the dispute and preserve their brand’s value.

The emergence of social media has opened new engagement platforms for corporations, players and stakeholders. During their lockouts, both players associations harnessed the power of social media to create a community in support of their cause. Using APCO’s Social EQ methodology, we can measure the effectiveness of each union’s strategy and execution against six primary factors for success: quality of content; optimization; platform diversity; customer service; engagement and interaction; and dialogue.

For this analysis, customer service is defined as being effective in communicating directly with fans; and dialogue is the union’s ability to make senior-level executives available for ongoing conversations with multiple stakeholder groups.

Overall, the NBA and NFL players unions have been inconsistent in leveraging their personal networks to coordinate union messaging. It’s possible that they’re employing a strategy of silence to calm the media cycle. But the unions are missing an opportunity to use social media to organically engage fans in the debate, sustain interest and provide a platform for external stakeholders (like stadium workers and business owners around stadiums) to amplify messaging and to provide a unified message delivery mechanism for the union. Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), has been successful in creating a dialogue and optimizing his union’s social media campaign through the #StandUnited hashtag on Twitter, which has evolved into a show of solidarity among NBA players. This enhanced the NBPA’s social media efforts by opening up channels of dialogue with senior-level members of the association, and by organizing all content from the players’ perspective into one stream.

— Social Media Report Card —

  National Basketball Players


  National Football League Players

Comments NBA’s Grade Category NFL’s Grade Comments
Streams of content on social networks effectively tell the story of the NBPA. However, its prized asset, celebrity players, are somewhat absent from lockout messages. HOMEWORK: Use star players in videos and live chats with fans to improve the quality of content. B Quality of Content C Could have created better content and conversation around peripheral issues like player safety. The NFL championed much of this conversation through its concussions Web site. However, the NFLPA did a good job highlighting player community engagement during the lockout.
The use of hashtags to link a specific conversation together on Twitter work very well, and it expands the reach of the content to other communities that share the views of the players. A Optimization C+ The NFLPA could have leveraged players to push more content through the social space. Players have limitless potential for reach. HOMEWORK: Optimize players’ vast networks to instantly communicate messages with fans.
The NBPA regularly posts content to major social networks like Facebook and Twitter, as well as to its Web site. HOMEWORK: Incorporate Google+ to provide fans a new and interesting platform for engagement. B Platform Diversity A Engaged many different outlets to push their message, including activating union leadership on Twitter and the blogosphere. Executed live chats with fans on its Web site and engaged fan blogs regularly.
The NBPA could do a better job engaging fans and answering questions about the work stoppage online. HOMEWORK: Recognize trending topics on Twitter and answer fans’ recurring questions to NBPA. C Customer Service A DeMaurice Smith and George Atallah successfully engaged with fans and answered questions about the lockout through their personal channels.
Engagement and interaction is lacking and fans wanted more. HOMEWORK: Use more players to tell the story of the union through branded social channels. Create video content of players talking with arena workers impacted by the lockout. C- Engagement and Interaction B- NFLPA effectively engaged and interacted with fans, but individual players weren’t as involved. HOMEWORK: Engage players to drive the performance of their social media strategy.
Player reps are visible and engaging through their personal networks. They are giving the players a professional and reputable voice in opinion circles. HOMEWORK: Get executive director Billy Hunter involved. B Dialogue B- Executive leadership was visible while player leadership was somewhat invisible. The accessibility of Smith and Atallah helped make the case for the players among opinion leaders. HOMEWORK: Incorporate player reps in the conversation to maintain a better relationship with fans.


Overall Grade



The National Football League Players Association made its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, and assistant executive director of external affairs, George Atallah, available via Twitter. They created a dialogue that was engaging to stakeholders. Their Facebook content provided regular updates on lockout activities, but also shared contributions players were making in their communities.

During a labor dispute, it’s important to provide timely content to the public and your stakeholders, but it’s equally important to use social media channels to create a consensus that will ultimately preserve your brand’s value. PRN


This Social Media Report Card was written by APCO Worldwide’s Marc Johnson (, VP of digital strategy, and Katy Purvis (, senior copywriter on APCO’s online team.