In a new ad campaign for Super Bowl weekend, the NFL Players Association expects a social-media-backed video and petition drive will gain traction with fans.  The union is unveiling 30 – and 60-second spots entitled “Let Us Play,” in which players and fans alike intone “Let us play” and “Let them play.” The spots have no other dialogue and depict a padlock of a chain-link fence and images from an empty football stadium.

Players and fans began using #LetUsPlay on January 18, when the Twitter hashtag was one of the world’s top-four trending topics. The NFLPA is using @NFLLockout on Twitter and NFLLockout on Facebook as it’s Block the Lockout social media arms. The NFLPA will rely heavily on social media channels, but the spot will appear on TV only once: during CBS’s telecast of the NFLPA All-Star Game on Saturday, February 5, a day before Super Bowl XLV.

“In the battle to sway public sentiment over a potential National Football League lockout, the NFL Players Association is hoping a social-media-backed video and petition drive will gain traction with fans,” Rich Thomaselli writes, adding, “The union is breaking a 60-second spot entitled ‘Let Us Play,’ an impassioned sympathy play in which players and fans alike intone ‘Let us play’ and ‘Let them play.’ There is no other dialogue in the spot, which starts out with a camera zooming in on a padlock of a chain-link fence, and stark images from an empty football stadium.”

The campaign is designed to connect the players and fans of the NFL against the owners in the case against a work stoppage in 2011. “Let Us Play” was created in conjunction with Third Story Films and New Media Strategies. Third Story has experience working alongside the NFL as they collaborated with the Washington Redskins in their push to host the 2008 Super Bowl – ultimately held in Arizona. New Media Strategies planned the distribution of the campaign, bearing in mind that the video could have the same influence as much more expensive commercials that will run during the Super Bowl.

With their recently launched “Let us Play” campaign, the NFLPA is certainly testing the waters with an interesting approach. On the surface, the campaign seems to work on many levels. The NFLPA is using mediums that people use to interact with their favourite players on a daily basis. Given the generation gap between owners and players, it’s not surprising to see a stronger player presence using social media. For example, New Orleans Saints superstar and NFLPA activist Drew Brees has 363,716 followers on twitter. By contrast, Jim Irsay – owner of the Indianapolis Colts – clocks in at a paltry 26,645.

The social push from the NFLPA is quite smart. They make themselves more visible to the millions of fans who follow them via Facebook and Twitter attempt to generate sympathy from a fanbase that can interact with their heroes directly – a stark contrast to the Rich Uncle Pennybags portrayal they have generated of owners; and finally they avoid any accusations of hypocrisy by avoiding the purchase of TV airtime during next week’s Super Bowl that would go directly back to the NFL and its owners.

The overall reaction to the campaign will be interesting to monitor. A preliminary look-see yields mixed results as this whole lockout will be a tough sell. Looking at the make-up of NFL franchises, it’s hard to miss the sheer number of teams in blue-collar towns. How effective will this campaign be when a large number of fans see this as a spat between billionaires and millionaires? Social media is best used when you relate directly to your audience – beer advertisements have nailed this down. However, when a demographic (professional athletes) is pursuing a campaign that tries to paint them as martyrs in a standoff with their employers, where is the connection between Joe Fan and the first-round draft pick prima donnas in the advertisements? If the NFLPA is to have a successful campaign they will need to engage the fans directly since, up to this point, there has been no sympathy returned.

Think this campaign will be gain traction with fans?  You can dig in and sign the petition at