PR Lessons from New England’s ‘Evil’ Empire

An informal poll conducted before the start of the 2014-15 NFL season showed the New England Patriots to be the NFL’s most hated team.

We can expect the recent Deflategate scandal, in which the Patriots are accused of deliberately deflating footballs against the Indianapolis Colts, to only fuel the rage of ordinary fans across America.

The Patriots have a lot of image cleaning up to do in the coming weeks, but it’s worth using this episode as a way to think about how New England can learn from its PR mistakes for the future.

Here are 4 rules for the Patriots to think about in 2015:

     1. It’s Okay To Be Hated, Just Not For The Wrong Reasons

While growing up, my parents used to tell me that people “love to hate you” for the things you’re good at. Baseball fans everywhere hate the Yankees for grossly outspending every other MLB team, for their ability to consistently make it to the playoffs, and of course, win championships.

It would be fine if America despised the Patriots only for their ability to win an impressive three Super Bowls in the last fifteen years. But I sense that emotions run high when New England is brought up for other reasons. It was only a few years ago in 2007 when the Patriots were implicated in another scandal, “Spygate,” where head coach Bill Belichick admitted to videotaping opposing teams to gain an unfair advantage. Belichick was personally fined $500,000, while the Patriots coughed up $250,000 and a coveted first round draft pick in that year’s draft.

During Spygate, Belichick immediately apologized and took full responsibility for his actions. To regain the trust of fans and revive the Patriots brand, it would be wise to follow in similar fashion. To clean up their image, the Patriots should stay away from sabotage and return to what they do best–winning games. Its okay to be hated, but New England is doing it for all the wrong reasons.

     2. Smile When You’re On Camera

According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, Bill Belichick smiled only 7 times this entire season. After reviewing 114.5 minutes of video from this season’s postgame news conferences, the WSJ learned that those 7 smiles come out to an average of once every sixteen minutes.

Some perspective: the Patriots’ season record was 12-4 this year and the team is heading to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in fifteen years. There’s certainly more to smile about there.

For a team that is mired in controversy, it might help if Bill showed a different side of himself than the one he’s normally used to. An attitude that’s more personable and willing to engage reporters would go a long way in shoring up the team’s image.

     3. Give the Media Something to Work With

Bill Belichick is notoriously known for conducting odd press conferences filled with a combination of curt answers that he then proceeds to repeat continuously. Here’s just one example from September of last year:

While the above conversation got a good chuckle out of the average fan, answering the press with vague, repetitive answers is only going to create more problems for the Patriots as they battle through Deflategate.

Perhaps Belichick doesn’t care to think about it, but someone working in Robert Kraft’s offices should take heed. This coach needs coaching. Giving five seconds of thought into the answers he provides the media isn’t going to cut it anymore.

PR works when there is a standard message being repeated confidently and consistently to the public. Pats fans have stood by their team, but a new poll shows that 50% of NFL fans label the team cheaters. Belichick’s shenanigans might win him Super Bowls, but it won’t help the New England Patriots regain the trust of NFL fans.

     4. Don’t Talk About Things You Know Nothing About

At a press conference, Belichick surmised that rubbing the footballs to break them in was the main culprit for the loss of pressure.

Speaking on Good Morning America, Bill Nye The Science Guy called out Belichick’s “science” as bogus and simply wrong. The only way to really change the pressure of a football, according to Nye, is by using a pump.

The best way to put your foot in your mouth is by jumping into topics you have no knowledge in.

Good PR means being authentic, sticking to what you know best and not veering off into unknown territory. Belichick and the Patriots should stop talking about the physics of pressure and focus on their strengths: stopping the run and making sure Tom Brady throws at least 30 passes every game.

What’s Next for Pats PR?

The only thing harder for New England than winning the Superbowl is shoring up its NFL image. Patriots fans will always love their home team, their star quarterback, and mastermind coach. But to be remembered in the the great halls of history, the Patriots will need to do more than just win. They need to engage the public and remind fans that they play by the rules. After all, no one likes a cheater.

About Mower Boston

Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.


  1. […] Let’s start with the obvious: the PR lessons from Deflategate. Our Spring 2015 Intern (and native New Yorker) Ryan Yuffe had some thoughts about how the team could recover from the scandal. It might be time to revisit these – perhaps before the bosses decide to write another 20,000 word rebuttal. […]

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