The current sports story that fascinates me the most is the Peyton Manning HGH narrative, as first reported in a documentary by Al Jazeera.
I’m not so much interested in the truth or falsehood of the report but how the reaction to it differs from other NFL scandals, specifically Tom Brady and Deflategate.
Brady, who was charged by the NFL with leading an operation to deflate footballs (and, therefore, being easier to throw), has been under a cloud of suspicion by just about everyone but Patriot fans.
Manning, who has been Brady’s on-field rival for decades, has seemingly risen above suspicion for a whole host of reasons.
One of them is brand. Brady’s is painted with the New England Patriot brush, whose colors include Spygate, the Jedi-mind genius of head coach Bill Belichick and four Super Bowl rings. Those prompt jealousy and distrust.
The Manning HGH report can’t overcome the Manning brand.
Manning, who is the extremely popular and likeable spokesperson in many TV ads, has a brand that’s locked into the powerful myth of the Manning family (Archie, Eli, Cooper and his mother, Olivia), the legendary stories of his intellectual acumen and an athleticism that borders on being laughable.
That is, because of the how the brands of the two quarterbacks are perceived, the Manning HGH story hasn’t nearly been as a high profile as the Brady Deflategate narrative has.
That’s what I’m talking about here. Beliefs. Beliefs don’t have to be true to be powerful. They just have to be believed. In fact, when you know a target audience’s belief system, you can predict its actions and influence them. That’s how brands steal market share.
There are other reasons, of course, why there is some cynicism about Al Jazeera’s Manning HGH report. The source of the documentary has recanted the story and even Al Jazeera is saying it isn’t reporting that Manning took HGH. Just that HGH was delivered to his wife.
But Manning understands his brand, which is why he appeared on ESPN the morning after the report. He came off as angry, passionate, serious and forthcoming. It was such a powerful performance that it sucked the air out of the Manning HGH storyline.
Brady, when first confronted with the Deflategate charges, took a different approach. He was flippant and dismissive, and has remained so. That doesn’t mean he’s guilty and Manning isn’t.
But belief systems come into play when forming public opinion about each situation.