|Is The NFL Brand Indestructible?
By: Alexander Villeneuve
With the National Football League appearing to be on the cusp of a new collective bargaining agreement between its ownership and its principal labor force, the professional football fans who pay the bills are preparing to take a deep breath any day now. Wait a minute, isn't that backwards? Shouldn't the NFL be begging the fans to come back? Despite taking them for an unwanted ride, I don't think football fans ever left.
The National Football League risks losing the most by not playing football in 2011. If that happened, millions of Americans would have to find another use for their nine billion discretionary dollars — certainly a lot of money to lose. Meanwhile, the fans trade potential boredom on Sundays for more time and money. On the surface, it's an easy decision. However, humans are complex beings, especially when it comes to how they spend their dollars. For the most part, the fans have stuck by the league that chose to jeopardize the fans' near-certain nine-billion-dollar gift in the hope of getting a little more from the pot. That's one hell of a branding problem to have: customers so entrenched in the brand that if the brand willingly closes its doors, its customers still come knocking anyway.
There should be a better way of doing business without dragging the customers and employees through the trenches. Some interesting theories have been proposed to solve this. But perhaps the NFL is willing to risk potential destruction to the brand because they, too, realize that it's nearly indestructible anyway. The Shield is barely touched by multiple player arrests and conduct issues every year. It largely escapes the opinion that these athletes cheat the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs — despite playing a game where bodily harm and short recovery times are necessary for these athletes to stay on the field to make a living. Fans will overlook self-made billionaires asking for and taking unreasonable amounts of public money from overburdened tax bases (or threatening to move the team) for their own private gain. And the Shield barely gets nicked when its labor force and retirees continually suffer from highly debilitating and paralyzing injuries sustained at work and consequently have a typical life span far shorter than what's normal today. That's because, unlike the Shield brand, the bodies of its labor force, while built to be indestructible, never are. It may seem silly to think, but we not only tolerate this, we justify it, simply for a game that serves to entertainment us.
Yet it's the great branding of the NFL (and other sports leagues) that serves to transform a game played to entertain into a community and civil institutions that customers develop deep and lastly emotional connections to. It's why us fans are happy to put up with all the crap that they do.
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