Integrity Is What A Brand Lives By … Or Not

Brand IntegrityIntegrity … a brand lives and breathes by this. Right? All (ok maybe not ALL) business owners live by their integrity as this drives who they are and how they are perceived in the marketplace. Zappos did not become the best online retailer by not living by their brand integrity. Integrity drives as it is that adherence to principles that your customers embrace and gush about. Integrity is the fuel behind the unimpaired excellence that makes customers make you the only choice and have them sit around the campfire and sing your kumbaya. Many brands but cannot achieve that ultimate brand loyalty. It is earned and when there is a challenge of that very integrity that earned the loyalty, the brand image is tarnished. Over the past year or so, we have seen a lot of brand images being tarnished and it is up to us as the consumer to say yes I am in or no no I am going elsewhere. As a HUGE fan of the NFL and of course my beloved JETS I have been challenged by the integrity of the brand that is the NFL.

The Brand of the NFL

The brand of the NFL is huge. Ok bigger than huge. It is a 9 billion dollar industry and growing.  We trust you NFL that you will bring us the best of the best each week and when you do, we buy more thus adding to your revenues. We buy tickets to the games, we fly city to city to support our team, we are so proud to wear our jerseys, sweatshirts, jackets, boxers, socks, clings on our cars … we spend our money to show our support and in return we ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand.

Integrity of the NFL Brand

NFL, we as fans ask you to maintain the integrity of the brand. You are not above any other brand, though sometimes you make us feel that way. You are not there all year round like so many other brands. You are SEASONAL. Yes, NFL, you are seasonal but yet garner more revenues than many companies can even fathom. Forget Hello, you have us with the tingle in our ears from that last whistle in the ProBowl. We are that dedicated. We watch or go to the draft and fully engulf you as we love our teams and because you, NFL bring us our team, you become a part of us. We trust that you will give us what we give to you. We can see that the integrity of the NFL brand is an umbrella as each team and everyone associated with the team has to uphold that integrity. And when our team loses we are not yelling at you umbrella NFL or we used to not … now that umbrella has been flipped! We, the fans, the ones who trusted and believed that you would uphold the integrity of the brand, are screaming at you.

Losing Brand Integrity

The NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. If we did not see this in Weeks 1 or 2, we were slapped really hard in the face on Monday Night Football in the Green Bay vs Seattle game. I recognize that there are contract disputes and each side wants and wants and there is no giving. The NFL knew for months that the contract talks were not progressing, could stale and the refs would be locked out. We as fans trusted that the contract dispute would be worked out. Like any other brand that is in a crisis, we expected them to fix it. The replacement refs were that quick fix but this band-aid seems to be made of dental floss as boy oh boy it is quite thing and is not getting the job done. You NFL have caused chaos, come at a very big price.

Do the NFL refs make a lot of money? YES! But should we care? Really, should we? Some may say we should but, I think the greater question is, is it necessary to keep the brand in tact to pay them high salaries? The NFL refs are part time. Imagine on a part time gig making about 150K – not to shabby. But we have to think about the responsibility they have and how the pressure shifts to THEM to uphold the integrity of the brand. If the refs did not bear the burden on the field to uphold the integrity of the NFL brand, there would be no discussion about the replacement refs. Actually, if this was untrue, the NFL would have crumbled years ago as there would not be many players willing to play, there would not be any fans and without players and fans, there would not be an NFL, which would trickle down to College and then HS and Pee Wee. Game over. Instead, the refs bring a high level of expertise and professionalism which keeps the players playing, the fans coming and contributes to the success of the brand. Now with the replacement refs, the NFL has lost the integrity of the brand. They, the NFL exclusively OWNS the overall brand and the integrity therein, so it was theirs to lose.

Restoring Brand Integrity

Can the NFL restore the integrity of the brand? Sure. Like in any crisis, there can be a turn around. However, a chance was missed when the NFL made their official statement and felt that the replacement refs as well as the replay refs (who are not replacements) made the right call. The NFL created more of a crisis here and while the NFL will survive this, a crater larger than the Grand Canyon has been created. While the blown call is alarming, the official statement send up more red flags than meets the eye. Losses happen but when it comes at the hands of those who could have prevented this, it becomes difficult to swallow. It makes us think what is it going to take for the NFL to realize that there is a huge crisis and it goes deeper than the integrity of the brand. Fans love our teams and our players (though sometimes we are critical of their play) but we do not love you NFL owners and commission.

The safety of the players has been compromised and, as fans, we love them more than we could ever love the overall brand of the NFL. We have to wonder what will it take for the NFL to fix this? A catastrophic injury? As much some may believe that a boycott would evoke change, it would never happen as we love our teams and would never leave our players. You see NFL we do not come for you we come for them, our players. You now have separated the players from you and, unless you fix this right now, I am not sure any crisis communications strategy will bridge the gap you have created between you and the players.

NFL, it starts with you as loyalists like me are not even on the same street as your ballpark. Houston, we have a very serious problem!

What do  you think? Can the NFL repair their brand image?

photo credit: Parker Michael Knight

Michael Vick’s New Ink: Nike



nike signs michael vick againYes, it is true, Michael Vick and Nike have inked a new deal. After being quite verbose about dropping him due to his legal problems conviction for dog fighting they have now renewed their love for Vick. This is not something we should be shocked by as athletes such as Vick are as explosive on the field as they are off field. Athletes make money for sponsors and sponsors have to be in the game and attach themselves to the athletes to make the money of the contracts back. It is the nature of the business and how athletes themselves are able to gain popularity and exposure which, in turn, brings fans to the stadium. It is the same concept with someone who is getting a lot of retweets or comments on their blog, everyone wants to go and see who they are and friend/connect with them; in pro sports it is on a larger scale.

Michael Vick Inks Nike Deal

Michael Vick seemed to have it all. A dream that every Pop Warner, high school and college football player dreams of every single day. A career in the pros. He was, what seemed to be, on top of his game. But, as we know, fame brings a whole lot of new challenges that poverty does not always bring. Fame brings opportunity, and, as some have said, a thug is a thug and sometimes that is the life they know and no money in the world will change that; it will only enhance it. The deal with Nike prior to 2007 was equally profitable for Nike and Vick as he joined the reigns of those before him with his signature shoe. Now that he has paid his dues and regained his fan base, it is not surprising that Nike and Vick came back together. Or is it surprising? Is this a move to gain attention as the NFL is in a lockout and more advantageous to Nike to create a buzz if there is not a season?

Nike As Official Apparel Supplier

The NFL season right now is looking kinda grim. If they do not hash out a deal soon, the season will be over or shortened. As a fan, who on earth wants to be the team that wins the Super Bowl with only 8 games. I suppose a Lions fan but really that asterisk will always be next to it. Is there a hidden asterisk with the new deal with Vick that Nike is hoping that people forget come April 2012? We know that they supply him his cleats, for which they do for many other players, whose names are unknown to most unless they have Theisman moment, and ESPN shows it over and over. To say that they were/are treating Vick differently is kinda unwarranted in respect to his cleats.

So, what happens in April 2012? Nike becomes the official NFL apparel supplier. Which, for the players, means not too much as a jersey with their name on it spelled correctly, is a jersey. However, for the fans with the authentic NFL apparel jersey, it will not be official anymore. For most, this is not that big of a deal as your favorite, past, present and even traded favorite player will still adorn your body until it starts to look different and different stands out. That different or non-authentic is what Nike will be banking on. Jerseys are big business and only certain players get a jersey (unless you customize). At over $200 a pop they are not only a big deal for the player, but the manufacturer and the supplier/retailer. Once again, it is big business. The bigger the athlete name, endorsements, exposure and of course skill, the bigger the sales. Marketing comes more into play than we think of. Or maybe better said, in our world, with social media and Klout, the more we are seen, talked about by the elite, the higher our score and the higher we are regarded which leads to more business.

Time Forgets The Time

This is not the best header but yet maybe it is. Does Vick deserve that 2nd chance? He committed a crime, was convicted and did his time. Does everyone get this chance of being convicted of a federal crime to return to their career? We know the answer is no. We have seen where there was no conviction in the courts but yet with public opinion where people have lost their career (Weinergate come to mind?). What about the attorney who goes too far and gets disbarred, or the teacher who has a clause in their contract whereby if they get a DUI/DWI they lose their teaching license? Do they deserve a 2nd chance? Most will say no, they screwed up and they deserve to pay. Well did Vick? He did and he was able to return. Most do not have that option. He is incredibly talented and his return got the attention of the media. Shelters that he was seeking to perform  his community service were not welcoming in Philadelphia. Should they have been? Those that did not, got media attention for turning him away, which was less than the ones that would have opened their arms to him.

In social media, we see scandals where brands muff it. They mistweet, they sometimes apologize and sometimes they lose customers. In celebrities/athletes, we see where they are getting back into the groove and we jump on board. They are once again socially acceptable so we are ok with it if a big brand is. Not everyone is but, we know, that behaviorally we do not want to be left out and not on the latest and greatest. It may not be our team or brand but we take notice. This could be why brands that muff it are not back on the good side. We are fans of celebrities and athletes but yet brands we are a part of them. We can buy them easily where with the athletes and celebrities we yearn for their attention. Hmh, maybe the Facebook “Fan” of a page underestimated us all and thought that “fan” meant something more loosely than it does.

In the end, Vick is back with Nike and Nike will be the official sponsor of the apparel of the NFL next year. Sorry Indy as you are set to host the Super Bowl next year … well hello NOLA for the year after and the real/new official NFL gear. I guess we cannot so much complain about that with NOLA still being the real hero of a city recovering.

photo credit: studentofrhythm