Lately, the NFL has been at the forefront of challenging societal issues. For example, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.
These stories transcend the sports world and become a part of American culture. Social media allows all of us; especially millennials, to voice our opinion now more than ever and our voices are definitely being heard.
Unfortunately, the NFL has had far more bad stories than good lately. Ray Rice has caused a huge uproar after TMZ leaked a video of him knocking out his then-fiancé in an elevator, and now Adrian Peterson faces accusations of child abuse after using a switch to discipline one of his sons.
Even more troubling is that these problems are nothing new. Big-name players such as Plaxico Burress, Richie Incognito, Ben Roethlisberger, Donte Stallworth and Michael Vick have been suspended over the last few years for a variety of off-the-field behaviors.
With the NFL not enforcing higher sanctions in high-profile cases, one of America’s most profitable brands is in danger of losing its millennial audience. Here is why:
Lesson No. 1: Millennial trust is crucial to Brand Love®
Just like a couple can’t build a lasting relationship without trusting one another, brands cannot win over their millennial audiences without gaining their trust, too.
A recent survey conducted by Jeetendr Sehdev spoke with 3,000 Americans from February through May (before the Rice and Peterson scandals) and what they found is truly bad news for the NFL.
The survey found that 61 percent of millennials identified the NFL as a sleazy organization, 67 percent of millennials don’t trust NFL players, and 54 percent of all respondents believe that the NFL is anti-gay. With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that the NFL is in danger of losing the trust of its viewers.
On the other hand, the NFL’s TV ratings so far this season are as strong as ever. And the numbers show that more adult females are watching the NFL, too.
Lesson No. 2: High-performing employees don’t want to associate with weaker performers
In any high-performing work environment, the super high-performing employees want to work with other super high-performing people. And super high-performing players certainly appreciate playing along side team members who have the same work ethic.
However, in any business environment, there should be minimum standards around ethical behavior and general workplace conduct. Even high-performing employees who fail to meet these minimums would get removed by their co-workers or by their managers when their co-workers didn’t force their hand.
This means that by not reprimanding the players accordingly, Roger Goodell is not only losing the trust of his audience, he’s losing the respect of the players who perform and live up to higher standards.
Lesson No. 3: Taking a “BrandStand” means standing for more
There are a lot of signs pointing toward brand decay for the NFL. While business has arguably never been better, setting profit records left and right, the NFL has lost sight of what matters.
The NFL hasn’t taken a BrandStand against workplace and home violence. Put your money where your mouth is today, not tomorrow.
The NBA has taken a stand against racism, banning former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life. MLB realized that no star is bigger than the game, banning some major names for PED usage.
Five years from now, how the NFL reacts today will determine whether its brand is more or less loved by millennial consumers. The early signs point very clearly to a brand decline.
The ball is in your field Mr. Goodell. What do you stand for and when will you take a stand? How would you handle staff at NFL headquarters if some of them faced the same allegations Rice and Peterson face?
Brendan Shaughnessy contributed to this post.