NFL Season Kicks Off with PR Issues to Tackle

The long nightmare that has been haunting sports fans for the past six months is finally over.

Football is back.

With the Dallas Cowboys opening the season with a win over the New York Giants  on Wednesday, Sept. 5, there will be plenty of story lines to follow as 32 teams begin the long journey with hopes of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in February.

Sure, there are plenty of football-related stories to come, but there are also some fascinating PR related stories that will emerge as the year goes on.  As the season kicks off, here are four PR angles to keep an eye on:

  1. Tebow Time: Without a doubt the most visible player in the NFL is Tim Tebow.  So visible, in fact, that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he was brought to New York to be a backup quarterback. But Tebow’s popularity transcends sports. And while the publicity Tebow brings to the Jets can be a good thing, the pressure from fans and supporters to get him on the field can turn into a PR disaster. The New York and national media are poised to jump all over the story if starter Mark Sanchez falters early in the season. How the Jets’ coaching staff and PR team handles his playing time, or lack thereof, could overshadow what actually happens on the field.
  2. Referee labor issues:  The one issue that’s been looming over the start of the NFL season has been the ongoing labor battle between the league and the referees, who are looking to protect their negotiated pension. With replacement referees set to be in place for the start of the season, the NFL faces a PR backlash from the public and from players due to the step down in quality of officiating. For a league that proudly boasts about billions in revenue, is it worth it to not have the best officials on the field over money? From another PR perspective, there are a lot of NFL fans who also happen to be union members.
  3. Head injuries:  This offseason saw the unfortunate suicide of former superstar Junior Seau. The May suicide hasn’t been directly linked to head injuries suffered during his playing days, but many feel that the head injuries may have been an underlying issue. It brought to light an ongoing discussion about the risks playing in the NFL and football at any level presents. The challenge the league faces from a PR perspective is that the league has always encouraged hard hitting, but must balance that kind of entertainment with a sensitivity to the health concerns for current and former players, as well as parents of young football players. Another suicide or an on-field death resulting from a hit to the head could be a PR nightmare for the league.
  4. Nike:  The Nike swoosh is one of the most recognizable logos in all of fashion. So after taking over for Reebok as the official apparel provider of the NFL, what better way to showcase your brand than by having the best and most popular athletes in the world in the most popular sport giving free publicity on a weekly basis. The PR world will take a close look at the hard numbers. How much bang (extra revenues) will Nike get from their branding bucks?

Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson