The NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

Goodellcrisisgerardbraud GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.

1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.

2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.

3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.

4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.

5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.

6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.

7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.

But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.

4 Crisis Communications Lessons as the NFL Management Struggles with the Ray Rice Smoldering Crisis

Rayrice blog gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

The NFL has a crisis. Do they have a plan? Will the crisis get worse because of non-verbal communications? Can the NFL management communicate their way out of the crisis? Below are some observations and suggestions to help you cope with your own corporate crisis.

The non-verbal message from the NFL is that they are more concerned about one man hitting another man in the head on the field than they are about a man – essentially an employee – hitting a woman in the head, or more specifically, punching the woman in the face.

That non-verbal message speaks volumes and creates a crisis within a crisis.

Another part of the crisis is the NFL’s failure to obtain the most compelling video of the actual punch. TMZ – not even the mainstream media, but the tabloid media – did what the NFL could not or would not. From a non-verbal standpoint, this communicates that the NFL didn’t want to try as hard as they could, fearing the crisis might get worse. As we see, the crisis did get worse and is getting worse because the NFL executive management failed to fully investigate the crisis, perhaps in fear of what they might discover.

On the plus side, NFL commissioner Robert Goodell has done media interviews and apologized. In too many crisis case studies there is a clear failure to apologize.

On the plus side, sporting goods stores have positioned themselves as heroes in the crisis by communicating their willingness to exchange Ray Rice football jerseys for new jerseys if a fan regrets owning a Rice jersey. This is great customer service and frankly, great public relations, for essentially “doing the right thing.”

On the plus side, AE Sports is removing Rice from their video games. Again, this is great public relations, for doing the right thing.

Both the sporting goods stores and AE Sports have actually capitalized on the crisis in a way you might not have expected, but in a way that creatively allows them to denounce violence against women.

When crisis management is botched because of failed communications, there is usually fallout. Usually people get fired and revenue is lost.

People are already calling for Goodell to resign. Will he lose his job because of the perception created that he and the NFL were protecting their player hoping the fallout would not get worse? More than one expert is predicting a revenue loss for NFL sportswear among females, after years of high revenue growth from apparel sales to women.

What can you learn from this crisis?

1) When a smoldering crisis breaks out, you, the public relations professional, must vigorously investigate the case behind the crisis. Approach it like an expert prosecutor or an expert investigative reporter. You need to know what the executives might not want to know or what the executives know but have not told you.

2) The PR team must also look for executives who are in denial. Denial is characterized by the executive team’s subtle attempts to move forward as though the smoldering crisis will not ignite.

3) On a clear sunny day, make sure your crisis communications plan outlines procedures for investigating a smoldering crisis and responding to a smoldering crisis. Too many PR people and corporate crisis communication plans are structured to respond only to natural disasters and sudden emergencies. It is a huge crisis communication plan failure to not anticipate your reaction to a smoldering crisis.

4) Define a crisis for your organization as anything that can affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization. The NFL crisis is a perfect example of something that is neither a natural disaster nor a sudden emergency, but certainly something that will affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization.

Experts will tell you that in most organizations and corporations, you are more likely to face a smoldering crisis than you are to face a sudden emergency or natural disaster.

If you have more questions about preparing for a smoldering crisis please give me a call at 985-624-9976.