Did the NFL Lose Ground With Female Fans?

NFL: Annual MeetingsIt’s only week two of the NFL season, and there has already been plenty of drama both on and off the field. On Monday, running back Ray Rice was cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after another video of him was released physically abusing his then-fiancee (now wife) this past winter in an Atlantic City casino. The original video, that surfaced shortly after the incident, only depicted Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body out of the elevator.

After the first video, the NFL utilized some reactive strategies to put a band-aid on the situation. It handed Rice a two-game suspension and held a press conference for Rice to apologize. Months later NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, admitted that the punishment was too lenient and had the NFL adopt a new domestic violence policy. Under the new policy, players are suspended six games for their first offense and are permanently suspended for the second.

The wounds those band-aids covered were reopened with the release of the second video. Fans have been scrutinizing the league since the original incident, but it hit a pinnacle Monday morning. Suspending Rice was the NFL’s only real option, it was the only action that would satisfy fans and the media, at least for the time being. The suspension was a long time coming, and it would have been in the NFL’s best interest to enact it the first time. There was enough evidence against Rice immediately after the incident.

Some pundits have called this mishandling the biggest “black eye” in Goodell’s tenure as commissioner. For months, fans have been under the impression that the NFL cares more about players who abuse drugs than abuse women. I don’t understand how Goodell ever thought two games would be enough. Did he not listen to the outcry from fans and even NFL players themselves? Those are your target audiences, you need to keep them happy.

This has the potential to undo years of successful NFL marketing campaigns aimed at women. Almost half (46 percent) of all NFL fans are female. The original two-game suspension and support for Rice sent women the message, that the NFL tolerates domestic violence. Most women and men are not the same kind of football fans. What happens off the field matters more to women. They hold the family purse strings, and are reluctant to open them up for an organization with questionable values. It’ll be interesting to see how this precious demographic responds in the months ahead.

A PR nightmare for the NFL can actually be turned into a PR opportunity for other professional leagues, such as MLB, NHL and NBA. The NFL’s loss can be their gain, by taking a strict stance against domestic violence and implementing a zero tolerance policy for their players and staff members. They can show women that they value and genuinely care about their safety.

The NFL hasn’t seen the last of this crisis. It will surely reemerge when a team tries to sign Rice, or when another player is involved in a domestic dispute. The domestic violence policy gives the league a guideline for dealing with future issues, but I’m not sure it’ll be effective. No two cases are the same, and I don’t think there is a one size fits all punishment when it comes to domestic violence. The policy has already been disregarded in Rice’s case. Six games would not have been enough to stop further damage to the NFL’s reputation, so they were right to break their own guidelines.

Do you think this crisis will have any long-term effects on the NFL’s reputation? What was its biggest misstep in handling the situation?  

What’s In a Name – Washington Redskins Edition

Redskins-Name-Football.JPEG-057dbThe 2014-15 NFL season is set to kick-off tonight when the Green Bay Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks. However, in Washington it seems like more attention is being paid to the Redskins’ ongoing name controversy than the impending season.

ESPN aired an episode of “Outside the Lines” this week about the debate over the Redskins’ name. The sports cable giant also released some interesting statistics to go along with the segment. ESPN found that 71 percent of Americans think the name should not be changed. Among NFL players, 58 percent agreed that the Redskins should be able to keep their name.

After looking at these statistics, you might think that the Redskins are in the clear. Only 29 percent of the public has a problem with the name. If 71 percent of voters approve of a politician, that’s a pretty good margin, but this isn’t politics; it’s branding. Brands need as many consumers as possible to hold a favorable opinion. Choosing a name is the most important marketing decision a brand makes. It sets the stage for the brand’s success or failure. There is only negative equity in a bad name.

In my opinion, the Redskins need to change their name, and change it soon. The negative publicity is mounting, and it’s showing no signs of waning. It seems like every week a new media outlet or personality is publicly announcing their refusal to call the Washington franchise by its nickname. Unfortunately for the Redskins, these opinion leaders strongly influence the general public. If they call for the franchise to change its name, more and more consumers are bound to follow.

Branding isn’t about what’s fair and what’s unfair; it’s about pleasing consumers. Regardless of if the name is offensive or not, it needs to be canned. The Redskins’ name is associated with mostly negativity and controversy. It might be expensive to rebrand, but a new name would give the team a fresh start. They can focus on football and not off-field drama. The Washington football team will always be the Washington football team, regardless of its nickname. It might take a few years for fans to warm up to the new name, but true fans support their team no matter what they’re called.

Student Athlete Pay For Play: Almost Everyone Loses

iThere are many problems facing the sports industry today. Each organization has its own unique challenges, and college sports is no exception. Whether or not student athletes should be paid has been a long debated topic, and it has once again been thrust into the spotlight by the ongoing legal battle of Northwestern University football players. Last week, the National Labor Relations board ruled that Northwestern football players on scholarship should be considered employees of the school and have the right to unionize. Even though unionization grants very few rights to these athletes at the moment, it is a step towards achieving their ultimate goal of being paid to play. However, it would be in the NCAA’s best interest if these ambitions fail. Paying student athletes has the potential to financially ruin universities and completely change college athletics as we know it.

The number one question that comes to mind when potentially paying student athletes is: where will the money come from? It certainly will not be coming from the revenue already produced by college athletic departments. Even though college sports bring in millions of dollars a year , they are quite expensive to operate. In 2012, only 23 out of 228 athletic departments at D1 public schools generated enough revenue to cover their expenses for the year (Berkowitz, Upton & Brady). The other schools cover their expenses by taking subsidies from student fees, institutional support or state funds. It has been widely suggested that schools pay student athletes by issuing them a monthly stipend of $1,000-$2,000 dollars a month. When you take into consideration that most institutions have more than 500 student athletes, this has the potential to cost a school somewhere between $6 million and $12 million extra a year. Out of the 23 schools that were self-sufficient in 2012, only six of them would still be able to take a hit of $12 million.

Schools would be forced to compensate financially by increasing ticket prices, slashing non-revenue athletic programs and asking for additional subsidies from the school itself. These subsidies from the school would likely come in the form of raising tuition, cutting employee salaries and reducing academic scholarships. The bottom line is pretty much everyone loses except football and men’s basketball players. Paying them even a small stipend has the potential to escalate into a much larger financial crisis. It would inhibit fans’ ability to attend games and cost thousands of other students a chance at an education. Colleges already pay for their athletes’ tuition, food and lodging, shouldn’t that be enough?

The problem of paying student athletes is unlikely to ever be solved in a manner that would satisfy all parties. Instead we’ll just have to put band-aids over the issue. One way to do this, would be by creating an emergency fund for student athletes. Schools should set aside a portion of their revenue specifically for athletes desperately in need of money. This fund could be used to cover injury expenses or help an athlete’s’ family in need. Secondly, schools and the NCAA should consider allowing student athletes to profit from their likeness. Players should be given a share of the revenue when their school sells their jersey in the bookstore or when they are used in a video game. It does not have to be a large share, but just enough so athletes do not feel exploited. This system may promote inequality, but it is all a part of the capitalist system. A handful of star athletes create revenue for the school and should be able to pocket a portion of it. These small changes could quiet the naysayers and still allow schools to operate effective athletic programs.

 

 

Why Jersey Ads Would Benefit the NBA and Its Fans

Last Tuesday, the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls officially kicked off the 2013-2014 NBA season. The Heat sported gold jerseys to celebrate the franchise’s third NBA championship, while the Bulls’ players donned traditional red and black uniforms. However, these uniforms came quite close to having one extra feature this season: advertisements.

Over the past few years, the NBA has openly discussed allowing its teams to put ads on their uniforms. This almost became a reality in 2012, when the NBA Board of Governors approved a measure that would allow ads on jerseys as early as the 2013-2014 season. The team’s owners eventually stalled that measure because they could not agree on a revenue sharing model for the potential new sponsorships. Still, the introduction of jersey ads into the NBA is inevitable.           

This delay gives sports fans everywhere more time to debate whether team jerseys are an appropriate place to display ads. Lower profile leagues, such as the WNBA and the MLS, have already been placing corporate logos on their jerseys for years. However, the NBA would be the first of the big four sports leagues to attempt this sponsorship stunt. While some may argue putting ads on jerseys devalue a team’s brand and the traditions surrounding the franchise, a glance at the monetary figures would show this move could benefit fans and the NBA alike.

Sometimes fans may forget that professional sports are still a business, and in terms of revenue the NBA is falling further and further behind the NFL and even the MLB. According to Horizon Media, jersey sponsorships could garner the NBA more than $370 million per year. This strategy has worked well for European soccer leagues. Teams in the English Premiere League and the German Bundesliga now make as much as $30 million per year thanks to the sale of jersey advertisements. Jersey sponsorships command such an expensive price tag because of the high level of exposure. In addition to being visible to TV cameras, the ads would also be placed on all jerseys being sold to fans, which would essentially make everyone who bought a jersey a walking billboard for the corporation. Jersey sponsorships could easily challenge stadium naming rights as the most lucrative sponsorship deal in team sports.

It is unlikely that a fan will stop supporting their team just because ads have been placed on the players’ jerseys. Really, the worst thing that could happen to an NBA team is decreased merchandise sales and maybe some nasty comments on social media. There will always be those who argue that ads will ruin a team’s brand or compromise the historical traditions of a franchise, but the increased revenue would ultimately benefit the fans. It would allow teams to sign better free agents, upgrade facilities or perhaps even cut ticket prices for its supporters. Surely, any avid fan would gladly trade a traditional jersey for the tradition of winning.

The NBA could usher us into a new age of sports sponsorship. Someday, the NFL and the MLB could decide to start selling jersey ads as well. Professional sports are a competition on and off the field, and if one league can profit from jersey ad sales, you can expect the others to follow suit.

Image

Doping Isn’t “Dope”

For decades, professional and amateur athletes alike have been pumping their bodies full of dangerous substances to increase their athletic performance. While most leagues outlaw performance-enhancing drugs (PED), their prolific use has caused many to question if doping is even worth policing. Personally, I believe doping should not be permitted in the world of sports to protect the well being of athletes.

An athlete already risks injury anytime they step onto the playing field. By allowing PEDs, professional leagues would basically allow and encourage athletes to damage their own health around the clock. PEDs may help make an athlete stronger, but they take a heavy toll on the body. They have been known to increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.

It would also be illogical for professional sports leagues to allow doping when they have worked so hard to protect athletes from on the field danger. The NFL has come under fire for the high concussion rate in football, and PEDs are every bit as dangerous as concussions. If doping were allowed, leagues would begin to see lawsuits coming in from former players at an even more alarming rate. The NFL, or any other league for that matter, would be welcoming a lot of problems somewhere down the road.

In addition, allowing professional athletes to dope would make it more acceptable for amateur athletes. As much as we may not want to admit it, America’s youth looks up to professional athletes. They want to make the pros someday and believe they can do that by emulating their heroes. If doping is allowed in professional sports, it will tempt children to start doping at a young age, which will make it even more likely to damage their health.  

Finally, allowing doping would hurt the spirit of the game. Youth athletes can be so obsessed with winning they forget that first and foremost, sports are supposed to be fun while teaching children to live active lifestyles. Winning can be so important to athletes that they do not think about the long-term consequences. If PEDs were legal in professional leagues, it would teach children that winning is more important than their health and well being. 

The Seattle Seahawks are the Champions…..of Pinterest

ImageIt’s no secret that the NFL has been expanding its marketing efforts to women. The league has gone all out in developing its women’s clothing line and getting ladies excited for the games. It looks like the strategy is working, now almost 44 percent of all NFL fans are female. Women can be a forgotten target when it comes to sports, but they are actually a vital demographic. Did you know women make 85 percent of all household purchasing decision? I sure didn’t. That means most guys that are die-hard NFL fans are consulting with their female relatives before buying game tickets or that new jersey.

So, how can NFL teams get even further into women’s minds? How about their favorite social media platform: Pinterest. Much like the Broncos dominated the Ravens Thursday night, women dominate Pinterest. According to Contently.com, 87 percent of Pinterest users are female. Most NFL teams have an official Pinterest page. The Packers, Raiders and Titans are the three remaining holdouts. Teams pin a wide variety of content, but they usually focus on things that will appeal to women. Almost every team has an elaborate women’s clothing board.

It’s fascinating to see how many Pinterest followers each team has; only two teams have more than 20,000 followers. However, those other two teams blow the competition away. The Buffalo Bills boast 139,200 followers and the Seattle Seahawks come in first with 144,884 followers. While the difference is staggering, Seattle is really no surprise. Citizens of the Emerald City are known to be the most active on Pinterest. The Bills are far more surprising, especially since Buffalo is the second smallest metro area with an NFL team. I honestly have no clue how Buffalo has so many followers, but if I had to guess I would say they do a great job appealing to women. Very few of the Bills pins focus on the actual games. They mostly focus on shopping, football themed crafts and the Buffalo community. The Bills really promote their relationship with the city of Buffalo and their player’s charitable efforts.

Even in the past year football related Pinterest activity has skyrocketed. A year ago, Sports Networker published an article about the top four NFL teams on Pinterest. Seattle and Buffalo were still the top two teams, but at the time Seattle only had about 30,000 followers. That means they have gained more than 100,000 followers in the past year! In the future, I think we’ll see NFL teams becoming more involved on Pinterest, It just offers such a great way for teams to showcase their product, both on and off the field. It’ll be interesting to see if any other teams will eventually close the gap with Seattle and Buffalo. Below is a graph of the top ten teams on Pinterest. I’m pretty surprised the Cowboys and the Bears aren’t on this list.   

Image

NFC Playoff Predictions

ImageNFC North: Green Bay Packers. This was a difficult pick, I think the NFC North is the most evenly matched division in football. The Bears, Packers, Lions and Vikings all have the potential to win at least ten games. That being said, the Packers are still the slight favorite. Green Bay still boasts playoff experience, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a much improved running game.   

NFC East: New York Giants. Just like years past, I think the battle for the NFC East will come down to the wire. The Redskins, Giants and Cowboys all look good enough to get into the playoffs, but no one really separates themselves from the pack.That being said, I think the Giants will solidify the division crown during their week 17 matchup with Washington at the Meadowlands.    

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons. There’s really no logical reason not to pick the Falcons to win the NFC South. Atlanta’s formidable offense only got better over the offseason with the arrival of Steven Jackson and now they’re out to smash some scoring records. Even though the South in improving, no other team has the firepower to take down the Falcons.  

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers. For the past few years, the NFC West has been the laughing stock of professional football. Last year, epic late-season performances from the Seahawks and Niners proved that the west could indeed be best. The two teams will likely be neck and neck again this year. It’s a close call, but I think San Francisco squad is better rounded and has a slightly more favorable schedule.      

NFC Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks. It’s no surprise that the Seahawks are landing in the first wild card spot. They could easily win the Super Bowl, but unfortunately got stuck in a division with the 49ers. Expect them to make some noise in the playoffs. Seattle may well finish with a better record than most division winners.  

NFC Wild Card: Washington Redskins. Despite losing in the first rounds of the playoffs last year, Washington ended the regular season on a tremendous run. They are an up and coming team with playmakers all over the field. I probably would have picked the Redskins to win the NFC East if not for RG3’s knee injury. I can see them struggling the first few weeks and then bringing it all together to close out the season.

The NFC Wildcard has the potential to be a fun race to watch, there are so many teams in the conference that have the ability to win nine or ten games. The Rams, Bears, Vikings, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers could all claim the final spot. I definitely think the race for the first pick of the draft will be in the AFC.