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September 14, 2014#

Is the NFL Brand Damaged?

There’s been much talk recently about how the Ray Rice mess is damaging the NFL brand. But is it really?

Certainly, perceptions of the NFL are more negative today than they’ve been for some years. A recent study by YouGov BrandIndex shows that consumer perception of the NFL has dropped to the lowest point since June 2012. They 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?’

But does this really tell us anything about the enduring strength of the NFL brand? Not really.

On the basis of the key measures of brand strength–relevance, perceived product quality and loyalty–there’s a good chance that the NFL brand remains largely unscathed.

Will the behavior Ray Rice, Richie Incognito, Michael Vick or the other bad boys of football, compel fans to turn-off their TVs on Sunday afternoon, stop attending games, stop placing bets on fantasy football, substitute Madden NFL with Minecraft, take long walks instead of watching the Super Bowl? What’s more, are sponsors going to stop advertising on the most popular product on TV? (Despite the recent Rice controversy, 20 million Americans tuned into the Ravens’ game last Thursday night).

As long as people love the NFL product—the game itself, and they do—the brand will be just fine. Players come and go. The game endures. The bigger issues are more likely to be too many commercials, too many replay reviews, too many time-outs, and too many brain damage causing injuries which may turn-off protective parents from allowing their children to enter the sport.

More than anything, the Ray Rice mess, and other negative incidences involving NFL players, spotlight national attention on the pervasive real-life societal issues of domestic violence, child discipline, drug use, drunk driving, and racism that face all Americans.   Because the NFL is such a deep part of the American experience—an imbedded part of our cultural DNA—it’s really a refection of ourselves.

No question, the NFL needs to get its house in order; not simply to protect its brand, which would be cynical, but because it’s the right thing to do—and because as a beloved national institution it has an obligation to set a higher standard of human behavior for all of us to admire and aspire to.