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If I coached Roger Goodell this week …

Yesterday I reflected on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual State of the League press conference in Atlanta from a public-relations standpoint, and wrote a post to call it a win and a loss. After I made my thoughts public, I was asked how would have advised Goodell to answer questions he likely knew would be asked. Since the presser, he’s been criticized for evading topics, some which frankly, started months prior and were magnified late in the 2018 season, and even the week prior to Super Bowl LIII.

Here are a few ways I think Goodell could have scored a PR win during the NFL’s annual press gathering with Super Bowl media.

Sound and look compassionate when you’re asked lightening-rod questions – Goodell answered reporters’ questions regarding the NFC Championship no-call, Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment and even a press conference cancellation with halftime talent, but he came off as hard, defensive and frustrated when he deflected some of them. As I previously wrote, he didn’t speak to “fans first” and as someone who works in sports and is a fan, I think they should be his priority. Fans are the reason advertisers spend huge dollars with the NFL, why people buy tickets, merchandise, engage with professional football players on their favorite social media platforms and play Madden NFL. Without fans, there’s no league. If I advise Goodell, I suggest that he picture fans from ages 5 to 15 to 35 to 95 immersing themselves in everything NFL, and answer them thoughtfully. Make them believe that they’re the only ones that matter.

As for the missed call, Goodell said he addressed it immediately after the game. He said he spoke with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and owner Gayle Benson privately after the crucial (and still hot topic) no-call against the Rams in the conference championship game. ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio followed with what I’ve heard for two weeks. He said that fans want to hear in Goodell’s own words, what he said to Payton and Benson and what did the commissioner think after the play? 

Goodell wouldn’t reveal his conversations with Saints leadership, but said he assured Payton and Benson that he “was committed to doing everything possible to think outside the box and try to come up with a solution.”

Easy peasy. It’s not a bad reply … in fact, one I might advise, along with his admission that he thought it was a big error.  An officiating and public relations firestorm could have been put on simmer if Goodell would have said that within 24 hours after the game. And frankly, while a written statement is nice, if he wants to cater to the next generation of fans, he could have recorded a brief video and posted it on NFL’s website and social platforms as well.

Officiating is tough– Many of us have said time and again that officiating most sports is difficult. In football, action comes at you with 200 and 300-plus men at crazy fast speeds. That there were officials near the play demanded that the league’s leader say something before 10 days had passed and he was asked in a public forum.

Dress the part and speak respectfully, too – Goodell, as he’s done the last few years, appeared at the podium dressed in a sport coat without a necktie, but he answered several questions quite the opposite of the vibe he tried to create. I felt that he was condescending at times, certainly defensive. These were questions his staff likely helped him prepare for, but when he was asked some, he answered with a snap. If he softens his delivery, he might enjoy more benefits than doubts.

Does deflection equal deception? You, Joe and Jennifer Fan and media that cover the league be the judge. When asked about why Kaepernick remains unsigned while other players with lesser numbers have, he said that personnel is up to each team. While I don’t think Goodell had any choice other than to answer that way, there are still skeptics that look at the NFL quarterback position comparatively and wonder how, other than threats from the nation’s president and owners unwillingness to stand up to him, could Kaepernick not have been given a chance to compete for a job in the NFL the past two seasons.

Halftime blast – Goodell suggested that the league, Maroon 5 and sponsor Pepsi wanted to use social media and other means to better reach fans prior to the Super Bowl halftime performance on Sunday instead of the customary pre-show press conference. Maroon 5 vocalist Adam Levine said he had nothing to do with canceling the media gathering, that it was the NFL’s call. PR 101– the truth will set you free and save you from further scrutiny.

Bring on the game – Will Goodell’s rough presence at the podium earlier this week cause people not to watch the Super Bowl? Doubtful. Extremely highly doubtful. This is a great matchup for the NFL, even if some think their teams should be in Atlanta instead of the Rams and Patriots. The press conference and media coverage of it that will live online forever will, however, bring further pause when critics circle. As for the commissioner, I’d suggest he work harder to present himself as a compassionate leader because his audience is millions of people of all races, religions, backgrounds and have varying knowledge of the game. People truly care about their teams and football. Show them the love you have for them.


©Gail Sideman, 2019

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