Kicking Around Brand NFL

Time’s Sean Gregory wrote earlier this week that “Roger Goodell ascended to the position of NFL commissioner because, from the day he started at the league as an intern, no one was more zealous about ‘protecting the shield’ -– marketing jargon for making the NFL logo a symbol of integrity, gripping entertainment, and success.” And that’s what made his failure to reach a deal with locked-out officials until yesterday so “mystifying.” By allowing replacements to “embarrass the game,” Goodell was not protecting the shield, according to Gregory. “He’s smashing it with a battle-ax.’

The done deal is “Good News for Madison Ave.,” as the hed above Ad Age’s story says. Subway CMO Tony Pace tells Michael McCarthy that all the ire and idle chatter stirred up by the labor dispute was not a winning proposition for the NFL.



"Although casual fans may have paid more attention because of all the conversation and consternation due to the replacement referees, in the long run it was not a positive circumstance for the NFL or its advertisers,” according to Pace. “As a brand who is a supporter of the NFL, we want to see the best on-field experience possible and for the league to have continued success."

In a Marketing Daily commentary yesterday, RP3 Agency’s Jim Lansbury wrote that Monday night’s already infamous blown call during the nationally broadcast Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers game was “the latest in a series of gaffes that illustrate how the League is taking its incredible fan loyalty for granted.” He went on to list compelling examples of inconsistent brand message, brand dilution and disingenuous public relations messaging. “The NFL needs to admits it’s wrong,” he wrote.

Commissioner Goodell did not do that yesterday but he did issue a qualified apology to its fans ("We're sorry to have to put our fans through that") while stating the obvious about the labor negotiations ("When you have that kind of conflict, it's a process") and refusing to join the lynch mob calling for the heads of the replacement refs ("They kept the game going, they worked hard, they trained hard"), the Wall Street Journalreports.

Those torch-bearing citizens include the honchos of the Lingerie Football League, who took the occasion of Monday’s blown call to “go public” on Facebook with the news that some members of the replacement crews previously had been fired from its own ranks for incompetency. If you’re interested in trying out for the league, instructions are on its website, beginning with: “Attire is cute gym wear (sports bra and shorts) …”

Goodell, in fact, wouldn’t even admit that the officials got it wrong when they ultimately awarded Seattle a touchdown instead of giving Green Bay a game-ending interception Monday night –- with a destined-to-be-iconic photo of officials signaling two different opinions.

Fans watching the game, from President Obama on down, were not as reticent in their outrage over the call. “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon,” he tweeted with the savvy of a politician courting both sides of the aisle. “Funny or Die” includes it in a compilation of the “The 28 Best Reactions to the Packers Seahawks Monday Night Football Debacle” from Darryl Gudmundson. My favorite was the last. Someone is holding up a retro phone receiver to a pooch’s ear. The copy reads: “Yes, this is dog. I can referee.”

Before the deal was announced, former White House communications director Kevin Sullivan told Ad Age’s McCarthy that “15 minutes after they fix it, most people will forget about it. The NFL brand is virtually invulnerable.”

Probably. But in the [Manitowoc, Wis.] Herald Times Reporter, where loyalties no doubt run feverous for the nearby Green Bay Packers, an editorial Wednesday was quite levelheaded about the Monday night debacle, sticking to more severe lessons of marketing history rather than sticking it to the knuckle-headed officiating.

“At this point, the NFL resembles other exceptionally successful businesses that became so arrogant, they were blind to peril,” it says. “Back in the 1990s, Intel, the gold standard in chip-making, dismissed criticism of a flaw in its new Pentium chip as trivial. It eventually replaced the chips to save its reputation. Arthur Andersen, once the gold standard in accounting, failed to see the risk in its association with Enron, the corrupt energy company. It was driven out of business.”

In urging the owners to get the regular refs back on the field, it concluded: “The NFL is the gold standard in American sports, and other than game-fixing by gamblers, it’s hard to imagine a bigger threat to the integrity of its game than outcomes dictated by incompetent referees.”

One quibble, if I might, not that I don’t ardently watch a game or couple of dozen over the course of a season. What entity, exactly, made the NFL the gold standard in American sports? And what does all that vicarious bone-jarring and head-banging really say about us?

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