NFL -- a case study in the making for all brand watchers

9/14/2014 Unknown 0 Comments

American professional football has been untouchable -- by economic recessions, by sky-rocketing ticket costs, and by celebrity player periodic scandals.

But has the perfect storm of player traumatic head injuries and player inflicted criminal abuse finally hit the league? AdAge reports on September 13 that "The YouGov BrandIndex, which emasures daily brand consumer perception, found that the NFL's 'buzz' score fell from a yearlong high of 36 on Monday to -17 four days later, which marks the league's lowest score since June 2012 . . . . the NFL's score plummeted as it dealt with a constant drumbeat of negative headlines and scathing commentary . . . . Interestingly, the NFL fared worse among men, whose score was -27, than women, which came in at -8."

News report nationwide echoed the YouGov findings. sfgate writes, also on September 13, in a typical report: "Domestic violence rocks NFL image, threatens brand."  The Wall Street Journal also casts the conjunction of reports about player mis-behaviors as a corporate brand story: on September 12 the Journal reports: "Domestic Violence Incident Hurting NFL Brand." As evidence, the Journal cites social media: "About 29% of the comments during the opening week of the 2014-2015 football season were negative while only 8% were positive, according to Networked Insights. . . . It's a far cry from the year earlier period when 21% of the comments about the NFL were positive and 15% were negative."

Last week (September 9), Adweek focused on the women's market with "After Ray Rice, the NFL Needs to Go Big to Restore Brand with Women: It may be 'toast' if it doesn't, marketers say." 

Unsurprisingly, much of the media coverage calls for "new leadership" -- given what has been reported and what many suspect about the way that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff have handled the situation, it is a predictable crisis containment strategic step to fire the CEO (whether or not the decapitation of the leader means any deep structural or cultural change in the organization or not.) However, John Kass at the Chicago Tribune, offers an interesting recommendation which could have profound branding impact: appoint former Secretary of State (and well-known football fan) Condoleeza Rice as the next NFL Commissioner.

This is a brand story to watch.