The brand problem of the NFL

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

17 September 2014

What does the future hold for the NFL?

We’re only into week 2 of the NFL season and the NFL is reeling from a series of events that it either failed to acknowledge in the first place, was incompetent to investigate, or simply did not think mattered enough to properly act upon. But the reality of the situation is that this is nothing new. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are just the latest players in trouble in a league with a history of looking the other way.

The third case on the radar concerns Carolina’s Greg Hardy, which exemplifies the league looking the other way. Hardy was convicted on domestic assault chargers by a judge earlier this year but the NFL is not imposing any sanctions until his jury appeal later this year.

Does the "shield" need protecting?

Is the “shield” crumbling?

We can go back to 2000 when Ray Lewis was charged with murder, later plea-bargained to obstruction of justice and was fined $250,000, the largest fine ever imposed for a non-substance abuse infraction, but pocket change to a player like Lewis. He was never suspended.

The NFL may think it has an image or PR problem but I don’t think many thought it had a brand problem – at least until late yesterday.

Anheuser-Bush sent a letter to the NFL stating its displeasure with the way the NFL has handled these most recent events. It reads:

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”

Anheuser-Bush spends more than $200 million a year with the NFL. McDonalds and Campbell’s Soup have also voiced their concerns, and Nike announced today it is suspending Peterson from endorsing its products.

The NFL has a serious problem.

A brand is certainly about what a company represents and stands for all in the context of those who use it, but more importantly it should be a reflection of those who consume the brand. The public outrage by itself demonstrates that the NFL brand (or “the Shield,” as commissioner Roger Goodell tells it) is failing.

Anheuser-Bush, McDonalds, Campbell’s and the rest know that when they advertise, their brands are always seen in the context of the medium it is presented in. That is, the NFL.

They now see the potential for their brands to be negatively affected by the NFL’s brand and are proactively addressing them by hitting the NFL where it hurts the worst, its wallet and the threat to pull out altogether.

The NFL’s brand seems to be more about protecting revenues than doing the right thing, which is why we have all the uproar, the NFL is being far too reactive in dealing with the issues.

And yet again, the NFL will react to Anheuser-Bush, not because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right move financially. The brand of the NFL needs to do better than that.

See more posts in the following related categories: NFL Brand NFL domestic violence Roger Goodell
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