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Is the NFL Commissioner’s ‘Regret’ Note Good Enough?

First the big news you’ve already heard: The NFL and its Referees Association reached an agreement late Wednesday, and the 120 “certified” referees were back on the gridiron to officiate last night’s Browns-Ravens game.

We won’t go into the details of the contract, which involves freezing pension plans after 2016 and offering specific retirement benefits to all officials starting in 2017. Both sides apparently “conceded ground”, but we’ll get to the heart of the matter: Fans will gladly say goodbye and good riddance to the hated “replacement” refs—and we have no doubt that the NFL is happy to have resolved the issue as well.

Now it’s time for damage control—and Roger Goodell appears to be going all out.

On a conference call yesterday, the NFL Commissioner said he was “…sorry to have to put our fans through that”. He followed up today with a formal email message to all fans on the NFL’s mailing list.

Forbes notes that it’s “not an apology”, and it’s true that Goodell only expresses “regret”. He doesn’t mention the universally panned calls that ended the Packers-Seahawks game, and he even goes so far as to “commend the replacement officials for taking on an unenviable task and doing it with focus and dedication in the most adverse of circumstances.”

Hmm…call us crazy, but we don’t think many of the fans Goodell is targeting with this letter will appreciate that sentiment.

We’ve reprinted the full text below:

To NFL Fans:

The National Football League is at its best when the focus is on the players and the action on the field, not on labor negotiations.

All of us who love the sport appreciate the skills and dedication of the players and coaches. That is why we are focused not just on what happens on the field but what our game will be like in another decade or two. The NFL has always tried to look ahead, to innovate, and to constantly improve in all we do.

We recognize that some decisions may be difficult to accept in the passion of the moment, but my most important responsibility is to improve the game for this generation and the next.

I believe in accountability, not excuses. And I regret we were not able to secure an agreement sooner in the process and avoid the unfortunate distractions to the game. You deserve better.

As a lifelong fan, this wasn’t an easy process for anyone involved. I particularly want to commend the replacement officials for taking on an unenviable task and doing it with focus and dedication in the most adverse of circumstances.

Our new agreement gives long-term stability to an important aspect of our game, officiating. More important, with this agreement, officiating will be better in the long run. While the financial issues received the most attention, these negotiations were much more about long-term reforms. For example, beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field. In addition, the NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games.

We are moving forward with the finest officials in sports back on the field. It’s time to put the focus where it belongs – on the clubs and players and our magnificent game, with a special thanks to our fans for their passion.

Roger Goodell

Our take? This note is overly vague, and Goodell comes across as more than a little stubborn for refusing to acknowledge his role in facilitating the league’s current PR fiasco.

PR pros and football fans: Will this note help resolve the problem, or does Goodell need to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness?

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