The National Football League – commonly referred as the NFL or just ‘the league’ – is a favorite pastime of mine. Throughout the year, pro football is the prime mode of entertainment for millions of fans worldwide.
Primarily I enjoy the exceptional product the NFL puts on the field. Any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday, fans enjoy attractive team matchups with compelling storylines and intense competition.
Viewership, brand loyalty, and game attendance are at all-time highs for the League. Television networks fiercely compete just to secure a sliver of the NFL’s broadcasting rights. Advertising and sponsorship opportunities continue to drive revenue up and up.
Fans also appreciate the way the NFL continues to innovate the game. For instance, quarterbacks and linebackers have wireless devices embedded in their helmet so that coaches can radio plays and formations to their on-field generals. Genius.
Protect this Brand
But the thing I most admire about the NFL is how they protect their brand. A recent scandal involving the New Orleans Saints was handled about as well as you can handle a crisis. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell worked swiftly and fairly to squash a potential brand management nightmare.
As you’ve probably read, the scandal in question involved a bounty system established for Saints’ players.The bounty concept was straightforward – injure an opposing player and you were rewarded – typically with a cash bonus. Saints defensive players were compensated for “cart-offs” worth $1,000 and “knockouts” worth $1,500, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.
The NFL said the scheme involved 22 to 27 defensive players, targeting opponents including quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre, and Kurt Warner. Another way to look at it: 22 to 27 NFL players were paid to damage the top brand ambassadors in the league. Just shameful.
Had Goodell and NFL officials let this behavior go unchecked and unpunished, permanent brand damage would have resulted. Fans (customers) will not stand for despicable behavior. Once customers lose respect for a brand, they no longer buy the brand’s products, don’t talk/blog/post positively about the brand and, most importantly, don’t remain loyal to the brand.
The bounty penalties imposed are harsh. Saints coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for all of next season. Former New Orleans’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams is banned indefinitely. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is barred for half of 2012, assistant head coach Joe Vitt has a six-game ban, and the team is docked two second-round draft picks (one in 2012 and another in ’13) plus a $500,000 fine.
Among essential values and beliefs listed in the official brand guide, the NFL lists ‘Integrity’ as an important aspect of the organization. The brand guide states that “together our actions and values shape our brand image.” Indeed.
I applaud the NFL’s sanctions against the Saints. In fact, I believe the league has emerged stronger than ever. League officials continue to prove they understand the complexities of brand management without comprising competition, innovation, and yes, integrity. There’s no wonder the NFL’s brand equity is better than ever.
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