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How the NFL Tarnished Its Brand

Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks last play

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Dave Hoefler

I did not watch any NFL football this weekend, and I won’t any time soon. I’m a former NFL fan.

Why? Because, in my eyes, the NFL eroded its brand and tarnished its product greatly in the past week.

One week ago

It started one week ago when the Green Bay Packers (my favorite NFL team) traveled to the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 24.

On the last play of the game, M.D. Jennings of the Packers came away with an interception, but the replacement referees on the field called it a simultaneous catch, awarding the catch to Golden Tate of the Seahawks. With the catch, Seattle won the game.

The play was controversial because it exemplified how inept the replacement referees were at times. And, without argument (I think), it cost the Packers a win.

Hurting the NFL brand

But more importantly, the botched call showed that the NFL was hurting its brand of sports entertainment by having below-standard referees on the field, showing that the outcome of the games can be decided not just by the players on the field.

And I was ready to write a blog post about how that call, and about how the replacement referees, were hurting the NFL’s brand.

But then the NFL came out with a statement Sept. 25 about the game.

In it, NFL officials said it supported the referees in not overturning the call of a simultaneous possession. Notably, however, the statement does not say whether the simultaneous possession call was correct, only that it should not have been overturned.

Quite a nuanced statement, in my eyes.

Say one thing, display another

After the game, some players were decidedly angry. They took to Twitter.

That was arguably the most viral of all tweets about the game that night. And the NFL normally fines players for using profanity like Lang did. But on Sept. 26, the NFL decided not to fine the Packers players.

The NFL fines players when they are in the wrong. It is not hard to reach the conclusion that the NFL does not think the Packers players did anything wrong, and that they are siding with them in believing that Green Bay should have won the game.

Thus the NFL said one thing in its statement — the Seahawks won — and another in its actions — the Packers won.

And that was how the NFL tarnished its brand.

How I’ll come back

The end of the referee lockout was the biggest issue for me before Sept. 25. Reaching a conclusion to the dispute was a big step in the right direction.

It would be nice to hear the NFL apologize for its stances on the final call of the game and on not fining the Packers players for their tweets. But that won’t happen.

Instead, I will come back when NFL officials — I don’t mean the referees — are consistent in their rulings and show respect for the product and the fans, something that was quite lacking in the past week.

How do you think the NFL fared in the past week?

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  1. October 1, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Good for you, Dan! If we don’t stand up for something, we could fall for anything…

    In your situation, you’re standing up for what is notably right. Remain consistent and don’t give in, despite your love of the game. Hang tough and MAYBE the officials will one day eat crow and humble themselves to right this horrible wrong…

  2. jeffbelonger
    October 1, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Dan… hey, I believe in standing up for things and such. And I agree with your point of view 100%, but I love football soooo much, and because there are only 17 weeks.. and because hockey is in a lockout, I could not miss watching my team or football in general.

    One main problem I have with what happened.. See, in my opinion, the NFL is just too big. A huge audience. Yes, it hurt it’s brand name, and even though many were ticked off, most would not stop watching to protest. And I think the NFL knew this and showed me that they think they have the upper hand and didn’t care as much… and I truly believe that the Packers loss was the defining moment that was needed to end the referees lockout. The NFL knew and understood,but for the most part, they knew they had the upper hand on many levels and tried to use that. Good post and I agree that stuff like this can hurt a brand even more, but re: the NFL, I just think it was a dent in their armor. Just my opinion.

    • October 1, 2012 at 11:40 am

      I agree; I don’t think too many people will tune out over the past week.

      But I think it’s worth noting the NFL’s missteps, especially since I agree with your sentiment that the NFL knows it has a huge brand loyalty and can really do what they want.

  3. October 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I agree with your stance. It is one I took several years ago. I decided to watching the NFL when Tebow went pro. I know, I know, a controversial player but he served as an example of what is missing for me in the NFL today. My decision is to stick to college ball where the passion and drive is bigger than the paycheck.

  4. October 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I am not a huge football fan, but really enjoyed your post. I agree with what you said and liked the perspective you took on the NFL hurting their brand. I also agree that most Packer fans just want an apology and then they’ll accept what happened.

  5. October 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Not watching will not change anything so why bother. Sometimes our actions only hurt ourselves even when we have a principle we feel has been violated. It is always s judgement call we have to make.

    I agree with your assessment that the NFL is hurting it’s brand and wonder why they could not factor that cost in the lockout and fix things.

    • October 2, 2012 at 7:37 am

      Michele, I’m not saying anything will change. But if you bought a product from a company, and that company decreased the quality of its product and was disingenuous about its business, would you continue to buy that product?

  6. Andy
    October 1, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    OK Dan, we’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve enjoyed your writing and your insights. But this blog post is ridiculousness. Well thought out ridiculousness.

    Basically, here is your entire blog post summed up.

    I am boycotting watching NFL football unless TJ Lang gets fined for tweeting profanity against the replacement refs or the NFL overturns the call and the Packers win.

    Now you know as well as I do that the NFL cannot overturn the call. If they overturned that call, then every botched call by the replacements would have to be overturned which would be way, way too many to do. It’s either all or nothing, they can’t pick & choose what plays get overturned and what doesn’t.

    So now your post is basically saying:

    I am boycotting watching NFL football unless TJ Lang gets fined for tweeting profanity against the replacement refs.

    Really? This seems kind of asinine don’t you think? To me this is the statement of someone who shouldn’t be calling themselves a football fan, past or present. Here in Wisconsin there are 2 types of football watchers. 1) The people who just blindly watch the Packers & don’t pay any attention to the rest of the league because they’re only rooting for the local team. (I have no respect for these people), and 2) People who watch for love of the game. Football players are the best athletes in the world. There’s something beautiful about 11 players of super human size, strength, and speed executing plays while 11 players of equal size, strength, and speed oppose them. It’s a work of art (replacement refs or not). Up until this blog post, I thought you fell in the #2 category.

    I had much more written here when I realized I was basically repeating the post of JeffBelonger.

    Let me ask this. If that infamous call happened to the Cleveland Browns or the Miami Dolphins, would you still be boycotting watching football? Or was it because it happened to the Pack?

    A couple more things…

    You lose some credibility when you call the NFL “sports entertainment”. That’s what WWE Wrestling calls themselves. NFL players are not there to “put on a show”.

    It’s not the NFL front office’s job to sell the “brand” or the “product” of football. The game does that itself. I admire Roger Goodell’s no-nonsense approach to handling issues in the league. Should TJ Lang be fined? I say absolutely. You want the front office to apologize for their stances on not overturning the call and for not fining TJ Lang? Don’t you see that not fining TJ Lang ***WAS*** the apology for the bad call, and on behalf of all the replacements. That’s why they came to an agreement so soon after.

    And finally, that last play should’ve never happened anyway if TJ Lang & his O-line counterparts didn’t do such a sh#tty job protecting Rogers.

    • October 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

      A few points:

      1. It’s not about the call. It’s about what the NFL did after the call (and the game).

      2. The NFL is sports entertainment. It’s sports and it’s entertaining.

      3. It’s most definitely the front office’s job to sell the brand. And with their recent actions, they are essentially saying we can do what we want, and you will keep watching. The game does an excellent job of selling itself, and that’s in large part because of the job that the front office and Roger Goodell have done. I think Goodell is the best sports commissioner, but he had some missteps with this.

      4. And the fact that not fining T.J. Tang is the NFL’s policy: That’s exactly my point. The front office believes the Packers should have won and “said” as much in their actions by not fining. But in the statement the previous day, they said the Seahawks should have won. It’s a bit duplicitous, I think. (They certainly could have done so because publicly admitting that the Packers should have won would have probably weakened their position to bargain with the referees union.)

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