Not Responding to Fan Mail

Today Bleacher Report ran a story about a 12-year-old kid who did something pretty cool (and also really annoying). He sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams asking why he should be a fan of their organization. With all those letters sent across the country, he received only one response. The correspondence came from the Carolina Panthers and it wasn’t just from their marketing guy. Rather, the owner of the Panthers sent a handwritten note with some swag included. Bravo, Carolina.

But I am not here tonight to pat the Panthers on the back for what they did. Instead, I am here to defend the 31 other NFL teams that didn’t write back.

I am sure the “noble” fans of some of these teams will blast their organization for not responding to the kid but I find it hard to blame them. Until you work in sports marketing for a team with a decent fan base you really have no idea about the mail that rolls in.

When I worked at Grizzly Athletics I saw it all. You had the uninspired form letters that went out to 300 other colleges. You had the post cards from super weird collectors in obscure parts of the country wanting pocket schedules. You had people writing in that didn’t know the name of your mascot. You had people requesting swag from sports that didn’t even exist within the department. You also constantly had teachers asking for mementos for their whole classroom, usually not even caring about the shipping nightmare it is to send 30-odd trinkets hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles. And of course, you have the letters such as the one from the boy who reached out to all 32 NFL teams.

Here is the thing: Many of the people who request these items are frauds. They don’t really care about your team, your college, or your organization. In reality, they just want free stuff. Some have weird obsessions with stockpiling random mementos in their cramped basement apartment. Some hassle teams to try and somehow turn a profit with what they get back. Teams don’t have unlimited swag, unlimited time, and unlimited employees to fill requests. Clearly, I will never get on a department/organization for exercising their best judgment and not responding to a piece of fan mail because they feel it is either a sham or a waste of time.

Now you might question how an organization couldn’t take the time to respond to a precious 12-year-old boy. There are two main reasons why I think the other 31 teams didn’t respond (besides the fact that possibly some of these teams have in fact sent correspondence to the boy, he just hasn’t received it yet). First off, the kid had obviously pitted all the NFL team against each other. He wanted to see which one would come through and send the biggest, coolest package. It is not worth it to engage in a silly battle like that. People like to exploit the competition between rivals for their own gain. Sometimes it is best just not to give in.

Secondly, perhaps, the request might have seemed illegitimate. Dirt bags pose as kids over the internet and through the mail all the time. They also say they have cancer or that they lost all their possessions in a fire. Sometimes if you look closely, red flags start to pop up. It is best not to reward these scam artists.

I sympathize with these sports teams. Even though at Montana we responded to pretty much every single request and letter we received, I know for some bigger entities it is not possible. You have to pick and choose. I am not calling out the kid, in fact, I used to be just like him. Rather, I am sticking up for the other organizations in the NFL who might come under fire for not sending Little Johnny a football helmet. Don’t Blink.

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