The problem with doing public relations damage control is that it requires talking to people. And when you talk to people, they’ll inevitably get upset about something.
This happened last week when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a conference call with a group of Indianapolis Colts season ticket holders. One of the many ears on the line was Nate Dunlevy from the Colts blog 18to88, and Dunlevy was upset with the proceedings, calling the conference call a “waste of time” when he spoke with ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky. Dunlevy said that while others waited on the line with questions that weren’t of the softball variety pertaining to the lockout, Goodell answered those who wanted to know about his favourite player growing up.
The audio from the conference all is available online, so feel free to give it a listen and see if you agree with Dunlevy. But that’s not where this story ends.
Goodell became aware of Dunlevy’s outrage. The commish then obtained his phone number in Argentina and placed a friendly call (yes, Dunleavy lives in Argentina, an apparent hotbed for Colts supporters). Say what you will about this labour mess, the fact that we still have no idea when free agency begins, and the possibility that the league will lose training camp or (gulp) regular season games. Take whatever side you wish, and support either the players kicked to the curb, or those owners who just want to run their incredibly lucrative business. Or take no side at all.
But Goodell calling one upset fan and blogger shows that the league’s approach to fan interaction during the lockout has gone far beyond some phony PR damage control operation. It demonstrates a genuine effort to connect, and we’re not quick to give back slaps to major corporations around here often. We usually fight the man, and win.
The phone conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and it was later documented by Dunlevy in a post. Dunlevy was able to ask questions he couldn’t voice during the conference, with the talk drifting to the league’s TV contracts, any regrets Goodell had about the mediation process, the behaviour of Jerry Richardson, and the offer presented by the league before negotiations began.
In the end, a blogger had an intelligent, meaningful, one-on-one conversation with the commissioner of a major North American sports league, and the blogger hung up the phone feeling as though he’s more than just a consumer of the NFL’s product.
I found Mr. Goodell to be patient, straightforward and direct. He directly challenged some of my assertions with fact claims that I simply could not verify in the moment. He presented himself in a calm, caring, and concerned way. While I need time to research some of the fact claims that he made, I appreciate the fact that he made fact claims and was in no way evasive.
Big Brother is always watching. But instead of proclaiming that you’re dead to him after lashing out against his will, the league’s leader will call you on a Monday morning in another continent, and discusses things civilly. What a nice man.
Now end this damn lockout, Goodell.