I was watching TV Thursday morning, and, big surprise, more news from the NFL. Another player, another beating. Not in an elevator, not with a switch. This time it was more news on Greg Hardy. Not the best timing. Hardy is already on the Carolina Panthers' de-activation list for having threatened to kill his girlfriend while tossing her around his apartment like a pom-pom.
My friend and I watched the broadcast. My comment: "Another one." My friend's comment: "It's the theme of the day: News outlets are outdoing themselves trying to report something, anything about football players. People like to pile on. This is old news."
Because of this, the NFL, as reported by all and sundry, including me, is seeing its consumer perception drop faster than any brand since the Vandals sacked Rome. Or, more recently, since Target was sacked by a hacker. But will this last? No, probably not. Football's enduring popularity will put this in the past pretty fast, and nobody will be the wiser. For better or worse. Probably worse in the long run since the League is facing growing competition from other sports, including soccer, especially soccer. It's worth noting that right after the news about Panther linebacker Hardy, the broadcast I watched went right to … soccer. The same guys commenting on football, including the week's games, shifted right to the other sport and actually sounded like they knew what they were talking about. That's emblematic of the sport's mainstreaming.
Major brand sponsors are issuing releases of censure, meanwhile, with threats perhaps implied. Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, McD's, Visa, Campbell Soup, the big guns who delivered NFL's revenue to the tune of over a billion dollars last year. But I'll wager nobody is going to pull ad dollars unless a team releases a pride of lions in the stands to beef up the half-time show. Or players start getting serious brain injuries. Oh, wait, that's happened already.
Sure, there's morally reprehensible behavior everywhere (look no further than pro baseball from Ty Cobb all the way to the '86 Mets and beyond); football villains — they tend to follow the troglodyte model more than the pharmaceutical one, it seems — are probably not greater in number, even if they are greater in savagery. But the game won't suffer. The players and maybe the individual teams will.
National consumer brands should pull advertising. Really? Where else will brands go to get TiVo-proof viewers? “Downton Abbey”? I've read expert opinion that teams and the League are taking notice, whatever that means, and will take action, whatever that means, because they risk losing ad dollars. No, they don't. And they won't unless football departs first, à la boxing. But a football game doesn't carry the possibility of lasting one round. And it is still the most popular televised sport.