How the NFL.com Handles a Controversial Issue: the NFL
How do you report on a controversy that strikes your own organization?
In recent days, the NFL has found itself at the eye of a storm with the #TakeaKnee player protests erupting in stadiums across the country. But on its NFL.com website, the league has not shied away from reporting on the sensitive issue, with stories reporting the protests and player reactions. The NFL’s reaction to #TakeaKnee is an interesting example of how a business uses the discipline of content marketing to address a controversy too big to ignore.
What Exactly Is Content Marketing?
A business practices content marketing by publishing useful information that supports its own brand. The definition breaks down this way:
- Content marketing builds the credibility of a brand (hence the “marketing” part of content marketing) . . .
- . . . by sharing useful information (content), such as how-to tips, news, commentary, and visual stories.
Through content marketing, brands act as publishers, sharing news, editorial commentary, and other forms of insight you typically associate with a third-party information source. Content marketing is not “look at me” advertising or PR. Both those forms of marketing are valuable and have their place, but they are not content marketing.
When True Interactive publishes blogs commenting on digital marketing, we practice content marketing because we are building our brand by publishing information we believe to be useful to our clients. When we issue a press release announcing a new hire or a client win, we are not practicing content marketing but rather PR, which is why we post press releases elsewhere.
Controversy Hits the NFL
When the #TakeaKnee protests escalated rapidly over the weekend of September 22-24, the league was faced with a challenge: how to deal with the issue. The news section of NFL.com was the natural place to report on the topic. Like other brands serious about content marketing, the NFL acts as a news publisher on its own website. NFL writers cover football topics just like newspaper sports writers do. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey ravaging Texas, Houston Texans Quarterback JJ. Watt discussed his commitment to helping Houston recover from the storm – and the NFL was there to report his comments.
The NFL is a news-reporting machine, as it must be to cover a league with 32 teams. News coverages ranges from scores to injuries to topical events such as the example with J.J. Watt. The league also covers college football, wisely understanding that devout NFL fans likely care about college football, the source of most NFL talent.
The NFL has been known to cover news that casts the league in a less-than-flattering light, such as the Miami Dolphins’ suspension of linebacker Lawrence Timmons. But the #TakeaKnee protests have been something different: an issue that thrusts the NFL into the center of a political and social maelstrom, resulting in calls of boycotts and support at the same time.
The league’s handling of the issue on its website has been measured:
- On the one hand, the NFL jumped on the topic. When it became clear Saturday, September 23 that players were likely to protest the next day on game day, the NFL discussed the likelihood of the protests and some preliminary statements about the issue from players and owners. The morning of September 24, the NFL continued its coverage with more specifics about teams’ plans to protest.
- During game day, the NFL reported on how different teams were reacting to the #TakeaKnee protests that were timed to occur during the pre-game National Anthem, ranging from players avoiding the National Anthem to protesting on the sidelines.
- The league reported a perspective from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
- The NFL also let pictures do the talking via a photo essay of various team protests and shows of unity.
On the other hand, the NFL complemented the #TakeaKnee coverage with many other articles discussing league news, including, of course, the most obvious: game results. For the period September 24-28, most of the news coverage centered on developments affecting on-the-field play, such as the struggles of the Baltimore Ravens offense.
By balancing coverage of the controversy with news about the game itself, the NFL showed that the contests between the teams do not exist in a vacuum while keeping the focus of its coverage on the reason why people watch football in the first place: to find which team will win or lose. To be sure, you can find more complete, hard-hitting perspectives on the #TakeaKnee controversy elsewhere, including criticisms of owners’ participation. That said, the website’s news section passes the test for being useful – one of the principles of content marketing – while also supporting the NFL by being credible. Contact True Interactive to learn how to build your brand with content marketing. We’re here to help.
Image source: NFL.comBranding