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NFLPA Elects DeMaurice Smith As New Executive Director

Posted by sportsmarketingguy on March 15, 2009

Update 3/16/09: Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks provides some great insight into how the NFLPA came to their decision of unanimously electing DeMaurice Smith, an outsider to become the new executive director of the  NFLPA.  A strong vision and detailed strategy on how Smith will approach the CBA discussions with the NFL and the belief that applying congressional pressure that threatens the NFL’s tax exempt status to ensure the league operates in good faith is just one of the strategies that put him over the top.  That strategy makes it clear that Smith is ready to play hardball in the CBA negotiations with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and could be a sign that a lock-out could realistically happen in 2011.  It is going to be a very tough negotiation with the two sides looking like they will want to hold their ground and demonstrate their power as new leadership.

Breaking from Hawaii: The NFLPA has elected Washington DC attorney, DeMaurice Smith as their new executive director.  Smith, an NFL outsider was considered a dark horse candidate behind former NFLPA Presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent.

Smith created a detailed business plan on how he would run the NFLPA that was more than a 100 pages long and highlighted the key issues facing the NFLPA and shared it with the NFLPA Executive Committee during his interview process, his initiative propelled him into becoming a finalist for executive director and the most powerful union in sports.

While he has no labor or employment background, Liz Mullen and Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal point out that his experience is similiar to NBA Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter and the NHL Players Association Paul Kelly. Smith was an assistant U.S. attorney and has political connections to the Obama administration and U.S. attorney general Eric Holder.  Hunter had been a U.S. attorney and Kelly was an assistant U.S. attorney.

The NFLPA’s decision to go with Smith will allow the organization to move forward with a united front and put behind the controversies that came up during the selection process.  Smith’s election and position as an outsider with no sports industry experience symbolizes a major change for an organization that had been run by NFL Hall of Fame player, Gene Upshaw for the last 25 years and indicates that the players were able to break from what was thought to be a comfort-level of having a former player serve as the union boss factor into the decision.  Smith’s election also signifies that the NFLPA was looking for someone to serve as a competent CEO that also understood the importance of understanding the political landscape and ensuring that the NFLPA had a presence.

Smith’s first order of business will be to introduce himself to the players he will represent as the union faces negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL.  Given the timing and the need to move quickly, I would:

  • Put Smith through a media training boot camp
  • Take a proactive effort to introduce him to current NFL and retired players by holding a series of conference calls
  • Conducting select sit-down interviews over the next week with ESPN, SI’s Peter King, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Sports Business Journal and the NFL Network (all media outlets players are sure to be paying attention to)

More will be written over the next few days that will introduce Smith to the sports business world.

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