All of the major sports organizations in the U.S. engage in some lobbying. By far, the NFL leads the way, spending more than its three closest rivals combined. In a recent survey of sports lobbying activities, Washington, DC-based First Street Research Group reported that the league has internal lobbyists and employs outside firms to address issues such as broadcasting, internet gambling, drug testing and player safety.
The NFL makes the bulk of its money by selling rights to broadcast games, and spends much more to protect its rights than any other league. Online piracy is a major concern. The league generates billions of dollars in revenue from its contracts with DirecTV, ESPN, NBC, CBS and FOX, and works hard to promote anti-piracy measures.
Even with all the broadcast options, a Cowboys fan in Washington, DC, can watch only the Redskins or national game selected by the network. Thus, to watch the Cowboys play the Cardinals, a fan would have to subscribe to the DirecTV package to see his favorite out-of-town team. Illegal online streams circumvent the DirecTV contract.
Earlier this year, the debate over SOPA -- The Stop Online Piracy Act -- caused a high profile debate in which Google went blank for a day. The passage of SOPA would have given groups more measures to stop online piracy. While the legislation did not go through, the NFL has gotten issue on the agenda so that Congress learns more about the issue and demonstrates why piracy is such a threat.
"It's hard to push and see results immediately when lobbying," explained Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst at First Street Research Group, which collects lobbying data and examines impact on national policy. "Lobbying is a long-term strategy. With use of Internet video increasing, more people are willing and able to watch higher streams on their computer and can hook the Internet up their TVs. Eventually, fans may choose to watch games on their phones. The NFL is seeking to protect its most valuable assets through its lobbying activities.
The NFL is also very conscious about Internet gambling and wants to be heavily involved if Internet gambling facilitated by U.S.-based companies is allowed. Naturally, labor issues arise resulting from the league's collective bargaining agreements. Lobbyists approach Congressional leaders, as well as Federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor.
Perhaps the most high profile current issue is related to concussions. Concerns about concussions and their long-term effects on players have been a hot issue among NFL players and alumni. The NFL's lobbying efforts focus on concussion legislation and any pre-concussion safety standards and helmet regulations that might be set. The league wants to shape how standards are set and shares its viewpoints with government leaders before legislation is introduced in Congress.