• January 17, 2022

Micah Warren – NFL Had Better Watch Itself

I’m concerned about the National Football League.  It is really easy to look at the NFL’s brand right now and recognize how large and powerful it is. 

 No other professional sports league in this country even comes close to its popularity and revenue generation.  But the way I see it, the NFL is flirting with disaster for several reasons.

I think the NFL Network is an incestuous train wreck waiting to happen.  The idea of a league reporting on itself doesn’t sit well with me.  At first, the idea of a 24-hour football network had me doing back flips.  But, then came the reality.  I live in North Jersey with Time Warner Cable and I don’t get it.  Why?  Because of a childish dispute over a few dollars, which prevents anyone with Time Warner to get the network.  That stinks, and it’s being penny wise and pound foolish.  And now, Comcast has added it to their sports tier service, which requires customers to pay an additional $4.95 a month if they want to see it.  Bad idea.  
Aside from all of that nonsense, the NFL Network is now broadcasting games, which many Americans can’t see.  Another terrible idea. A league should not broadcast its games on its own network. Their effort to have complete control over their own brand could blow up in its face.  
Look what happened to the sport of boxing.  Remember when you could see Roberto Duran against Sugar Ray Leonard on ABC on a Saturday afternoon?  Now, if you want to see any fight worth a darn, you have to pay $54.95 or whatever they are charging.  While there are other factors that have contributed to the sport’s demise (lack of a heavyweight division is a big reason), pay-per-view has a lot to do with it.  I know the NFL isn’t pay-per-view, but continually banging consumers with extra fees is a bad idea.
My point is that the NFL isn’t managing its brand very well right now, and they are getting a bit too big for their britches so to speak.  A company’s brand is what the consumer makes it.  Whatever experience that a consumer has with a company’s product or service is what that brand is to them.  A great example of this is that of Youtube.com. The NFL wants all NFL content off of the site.  Dumb, dumb and dumb. The book “Brand Hijack” by Alex Wipperfurth talks about consumers “hijacking” a brand and making it their own.  That’s what they are doing on Youtube by making their own videos and truly experiencing the NFL brand. Like the book says, Mattel made a huge error in the mid-90’s when they had lawsuits against people that were making Barbie into something that the company hadn’t intended, such as Biker Barbie and Gangster Barbie.  What did Mattel care?  The consumers were making the brand into what they wanted.  The lawsuits backfired, and people were so turned off that Barbie’s popularity fell through the floor. Good work, Mattel.  Look at the success of brands like Red Bull and Tommy Hilfiger, who allowed themselves to be hijacked.  The NFL should read this book.
How can the NFL not recognize free publicity?  People are having fun with Youtube and the NFL monster was continuing to grow at no cost to them.  And the league is contradicting itself by imposing this ban.  They want to spread the brand internationally by having games played in foreign countries, but guess what?  The internet is international!  Kids in China can access Youtube and interact with the NFL’s brand at their leisure, yet the NFL doesn’t want that.  Knock it off, NFL.  Let the brand be hijacked.  Let people have fun and enjoy your wonderful product.  The NFL is trying to hold onto their own brand so much, that this is a big potential problem. Wipperfuth makes an excellent point in his book:  The brand isn’t yours, it’s theirs.  
There is other evidence of the NFL trying to make their brand their own.  The crackdown on end-zone celebrations is a perfect example.  You can’t celebrate in groups.  You can’t use the ball as a prop now.  Why?  The fans love it and it makes the sport more fun.  Is the NFL doing this to protect the fragile egos of millionaires who just got scored on?  If you don’t want the other team to celebrate, don’t let them score!  Is a defensive back going to commit suicide because Chad Johnson used the pylon to putt the ball like a golf ball?  Of course not.  The worst thing that can happen if a player goes overboard in the end zone is that he comes off looking like a jerk.  That’s on him, not the league.
As far as uniforms go, they are also being a bit stupid.  In December of 1990, the Eagles were playing the Cowboys and Eric Allen and Ben Smith decided to push their socks down like they were in college.  All in good fun, I say.  You can’t do that anymore or you’ll be fined.  We’re talking about socks for crying out loud!
I will say that the NFL is also doing some good things.  Cracking down on off-field behavior is wonderful  You can’t have the appearance of a league of criminals, that will hurt your brand tremendously.  I also support them in clamping down on players like Chad Johnson putting “Ocho Cinco” on the back of his nameplate in pregame.  While “Ocho Cinco” is completely harmless, you don’t want this to become a habit around the league, because eventually someone will put something offensive on there.  
Clamping down on Youtube and broadcasting your own games on your own network (that is available to a fraction of the population due to a squabble over a few dollars) is as potentially harmful as letting criminals go unpunished.  The NFL has to recognize this and let go of their brand a little bit.  Otherwise:  see Mattel.  


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