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Navigating the Sports Media Landscape: Lessons and Insights from a Decade at the NFL

November 16, 2023

Originally posted on PRWeek on November 16, 2023

As a longtime fan of the National Football League, I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent nearly a decade working in the PR ranks of three of the most prestigious NFL franchises – the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.

I earned my first opportunity in the league as a public relations intern with the Patriots in 2012. My first season in the league provided me with a valuable crash course on what the day-to-day operation looks like for an NFL club and how the media at large cover teams Monday through Sunday, both during the season and throughout the “offseason.”

What I consider to be my “NFL PR 101” class in New England taught me about practice access, shooting periods, TV standups, open locker room, the credentialing process, daily news clips, press conferences, transcripts, game notes, TV production meetings and more.

I built on this foundation over the next eight years, finding new ways to evolve my approach to juggling and meeting the various needs from players, coaches, front office executives, internal support staff, media and the fans. And although I left the NFL in 2021, I apply the same principles that I learned during those years to my work on FINN’s Consumer Lifestyle and Sports team with other industry game changers and athletes.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

Always Ask ‘How Are You?’

NFL players get pulled in a million directions throughout the week. The top priority always is, as it should be, to make sure they are mentally and physically prepared for practice, meetings and gameday. As if that isn’t difficult enough, there is also a long line of community relations commitments, appearance requirements, and media obligations.

The NFL, the media and transitively, I, asked a lot out of the players. So much so that on any given day I might have had to ask an individual player to do four or five separate interviews, realizing they may also be simultaneously dealing with the everyday personal challenges we all face.

So (light-bulb moment) just like the rest of us, NFL players have good days and bad days. It’s easy to forget that. So here is how I adjusted a few years into my career…

I started asking guys simple questions. How are you feeling? Is it a good day or a bad day? What does this week look like for you? I explained that I wanted to find times that worked not only for the media, but for the player. My only requirement was that they couldn’t all be bad days or bad weeks. When there was a good one, I needed to know about it so we could accomplish what we needed to get done.

Be Supportive of Personal Interests

Again, as a member of the support staff of an NFL club, you have to ask a lot of the players. So when an opportunity presents itself for a player to promote their own charity, community relations initiative or enhance their overall brand in general, jump at the chance to help. Forming relationships with players’ individual publicists, marketing representatives and agents is extremely valuable. Those folks often have players spread out across the league and they can’t possibly be in each city every day.

So if you can be a conduit to help players “outside of the building,” make sure to embrace it…even if it means coordinating (and staffing) an ESPN Body Issue photo shoot for the offensive line in the stadium parking lot!

Take a Step Back

This is a lesson that I didn’t learn until I left the league. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and lose sight of the bigger picture. Maintaining perspective is important and I personally needed to assume a different role in order to gain it.

At the end of the day, all of the media and content produced is for the fans. So if I were to go back in time, I’d try to find ways to remind myself that a lot of what I am doing on a daily basis helps enhance the fan experience. All of the photo shoots, sit down interviews, radio hits, talkbacks and podcasts are simply ways to bring fans inside the locker room, let them get to know the players they root for.

I found that it was important for my work to find the time to enjoy being a sports fan and evaluate the media and content that helps enhance the fan experience.

Learn to Find a Middle Ground

Being the intermediary between the team and the media can put you in a lot of difficult spots. It’s hard to satisfy all parties, especially when things aren’t going well on the field.

When a player is struggling, oftentimes the last thing he wants to do is stare into a camera and talk about why he’s not playing well. But fans want answers and it’s the reporter’s job to get them. The point is, there is no avoiding the questions…that only makes things worse.

So I worked with players to find ways to efficiently answer the questions on their terms. If a guy didn’t want a huge crowd or cameras, then three minutes in a quiet place with a select few print reporters was the goal.

Bringing These Lessons to FINN Partners

While I’m no longer working inside an NFL facility, our team at FINN is constantly collaborating with pro and college athletes on behalf of our sports clients. In doing so, I have found the athletes we work with — as well as their representation and the staff members of the franchises they play for — are comforted by our team’s collective understanding and ability to navigate the sports media landscape.

Working at the intersection of outdoor, wellness, fitness, food and wine, adventure travel, sports and consumer lifestyle industries, the Consumer Lifestyle and Sports team is passionate about authentically representing, infiltrating and generating exposure that makes a difference for our clients. Ultimately, I believe this is what truly separates our sports team at FINN and defines why clients and athletes alike can feel confident in our ability to find the right media opportunities that amplify their sports initiatives and partnerships in an impactful way.

TAGS: Sports Marketing

POSTED BY: Zach Groen

Zach Groen