The always superb Advertising Age recently published a thought-provoking, post Super Bowl treatise on the current state of the National Football League. And, as a fan of long-standing, I must say absorbing the piece was akin to being blindsided by an open-field tackle from the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis.
Did you know the NFL's future is in deep, deep trouble? As a matter of fact, based upon the article, I'd list The National Football League right alongside Big Tobacco and McDonald's as the three most likely brands to be completely missing from the American landscape of 2050.
Try tackling these hard-hitting stats:
- 1,500 former NFL players are suing the league in federal court, claiming the NFL fraudulently concealed the risk of brain trauma from playing pro football. That's enough players to stock a whole new league.
- The NFL's popularity among Americans is in steady decline. In fact, it's dropped two percent in the last year. Big deal, you say? Well, guess what? Professional boxing and horse racing were both America's top sports in the first two decades of the 20th century, and each dropped an average of two percent a year during the 1930s.
- Every year, an additional five percent of American kids aged six-12 STOP playing organized tackle football. That means an increasingly smaller talent pool for the league to tap.
- When asked if he'd let a son of his play organized football, President Obama said it “would be a tough call.” To paraphrase LBJ's seminal quote about Walter Cronkite, “If you've lost (the sports-loving) Obama, you've lost the nation.”
Seemingly oblivious to this all-out blitz on the league's image and reputation, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has authorized a new branding spot from Grey Advertising that ran during the Super Bowl and will continue to air on the NFL Network. Its theme? 'Celebrating the Game of Football,' according to league spokesperson Brian McCarthy. Nice.
It never ceases to amaze me how many executives, and organizations, believe a major problem will simply go away if they keep ignoring the problem and, focus instead, on the excitement and allure of the product (and that holds true for nicotine, a Big Mac with cheese or head-jarring tackles).
Like other huge businesses, the NFL isn't about to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But, if they don't start admitting fault, making wholesale safety changes and instituting a middle school education and awareness campaign, those of us who are still alive in 2050 may find ourselves spending Sunday afternoons in the Fall watching water polo, Seinfeld reruns or, dare I suggest it, getting off the couch and engaging in calorie burning, artery de-clogging exercise that doesn't involve head-to-head contact.
Were I the ghost of Christmas Future (masquerading as an NFL referee), I'd penalize the league 15 yards for 'flagrant disregard of making changes while change is still possible.'