NFL Opinion, Loyalty Way Down, But Teams Keep Fans

Anybody think the NFL desperately needs a couple of new letters? How about PR? Or maybe FIRE, which has been liberally painted on signs and banners tugged by airplanes flying past stadiums during games?

Some new data coming down the pike shows how dire a pass (so to speak) the franchise has reached. YouGov BrandIndex, for example, says people's opinion hasn't been this bad since 2012 when the league banned purses and bags in stadiums, and the world learned that the New Orleans Saints paid team members for injuring opposing players.

And it is a far drop from the league's highest 2014 perception level, reached on Sept. 8 -- the day the Baltimore Ravens cut Ray Rice after TMZ's posting of what will henceforth be known as "that elevator video." 



Interestingly, in YouGov's research of 15,000 consumers 18 and over, the drop is led by men more than women. For the BrandIndex score, the firm asked respondents, "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?" With a zero score as the median between positive and negative buzz, on Sept. 8 the league's score was 36. Four days later, it was minus 17, constituting a -8 score for women and a -27 for men. The June 2012 low score was -26.

How about fan loyalty? The news isn't good there either -- although on a team level, the story is a bit different. Brand Keys' Sports Fan Loyalty Index compares home-market team loyalty versus corresponding values for fans of other teams or leagues in that market. 

The firm's research finds that the NFL has gone from first in January to third place today in fan loyalty versus other major league sports, thanks largely to the Ray Rice scandal. That means the league's own fans are rating the NFL behind Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. Ironically, loyalty at the team level for the Baltimore Ravens stays at seventh place, and seems unaffected by the Ray Rice fiasco. 

Brand Keys also looks at team and league loyalty drivers: history and tradition constitutes a third of the loyalty fuel mix; fan bonding constitutes about 30% of loyalty influence; a team's entertainment value, in terms of on-field playing style (versus sheer win/lose numbers), is about 20%. And authenticity, which is 17% of loyalty, is where resides the Rice situation, including how the league and team handled it. 

Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys president, said overall league and team rankings correlate very highly with game viewership and purchase of licensed merchandise. “But you have to know what the fans really expect -- beyond a winning season." He notes that with the merchandise-to-loyalty connection in hand, it isn't a big surprise that retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Modell’s pulled Ray Rice jersey’s from the shelves, and the Ravens said they would exchange Ray Rice jerseys at stadium stores. 

“This kind of widespread negative publicity, fan outcry and the appearance of a player letting his fans down and of league indecision or whitewash, unfortunately raises issues regarding not only player behavior but league standards as well," he notes. "When that happens, bonds of loyalty are weakened for all teams. And when that happens, nobody wins.” 

But will fans actually boycott? Not likely, suggests marketing decisions firm Networked Insights, which says consumer sentiment toward the NFL post Rice dropped to a new low, the firm's sampling of more than 900,000 social media posts suggest no boycott is coming. 

According to the research firm, a third of the social posts it sifted expressed disgust or disappointment in the league, Goodell, and/or the Ray Rice situation. But fewer than 4,000 contained any variant of the term "boycott." Fewer than one-fourth of those posts were legitimate calls to action, as most talked about the inability to boycott the NFL.

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