The other day someone asked my brilliant friend John DeMarchi what he thought would happen in the NFL scandal.
“Which NFL scandal?” DeMarchi asked, “the bullying scandal, the suicide scandal, the racial slur team name scandal, the concussion conundrum scandal or the guy who shot his girlfriend in the stadium parking lot scandal?”
Seems like the NFL has their hands full with bad press lately.
Like Captain Renault who was “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here” behind Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, none of us should be very surprised to find there is violent and anti-social behavior in professional football, nor that it’s been condoned from the top.
What is a bit more surprising is the belief that because it’s on top today, football will always be America’s king-of-the-hill sport.
My prediction? If you invest in the stock market of public opinion it’s time to short your NFL shares.
Sure television licensing revenues and Vegas gambling money will continue to support football for a long time. And so will the Midwest college and high school teams who play in communities where football is religion. But once the current fans start dying off and new fans don’t come along to replace them, the sport’s going to be in deep doggie doo.
Today’s rabid fans are the same guys who grew up playing football. But with more and more concussion-fearing parents forbidding their sons to play and enrolling them in soccer instead, that audience is not going to replace itself. And with the changing demographics in this country favoring populations who’ve brought their love of soccer with them from Latin America and Europe, that sport will only become more and more popular.
This is not to suggest that football will go away completely, just like the invention of television didn’t signal the absolute death of radio broadcasts. Instead, the two media learned to coexist and share a market that did not double in size to accommodate the second media vehicle. Football will just have to make room on its benches for other sports.
So what’s the game to do? The first thing is to accept that the world has changed and football needs to change as well. Just because the current owners, who were raised on a steady diet of college and pro sports, were willing to feed their outsized egos and buy billion dollar sports franchises doesn’t mean that our future billionaires – who will not be raised on the sport – will see the benefit of doing the same.
It’s not just football; obsolescence can be found in other businesses that prevailed for one specific reason once that reason is no longer around. Like the once successful motel strategically placed right alongside the busy road that was replaced by the new interstate, businesses that exist not because of their customers but because of an external factor out of their control have a tough road ahead of them. Trade tariffs, protective regulations, and subsidies often take the place of innovation, brand value, and marketing to keep these once ascendant businesses in the black.
But even government intervention is not enough for the ones that just become footnotes in the graveyard of once powerful names – Kodak, MySpace, Oldsmobile, Palm Pilot, and very soon – Blackberry.
Of course, companies don’t have to go belly up just because someone moved their cheese. IBM completely eliminated computer production from their business and built an even bigger operation around consulting and logistics. FedEx kept their overnight delivery business but also moved into ground freight and trucking for the products that don’t have to “absolutely positively” be there overnight. Target and Wal-Mart added grocery stores. Apple opened retail stores.
Successful brands, too, evolve what they stand for to respond to changing times and situations. Miami went from being God’s waiting room to the resort of choice for the hip and happening. “Made in China” went from being stamped on cheap crap to world-class products. Democrats and Republicans alike now love Bill Clinton.
Whether or not the NFL can rise to the occasion and rehabilitate their slipping perception remains to be seen. But right now, while all eyes are on them, is the perfect time to try.
Here’s my FOX Business interview where we discussed this issue (right after the Lululemon story):
Eddie and Bill were sitting at an outdoor table at Scotty’s Landing having lunch last Friday. I had run over to the bayside shack right after my downtown lunch meeting to chat with a potential client and then needed to zip out to check on a video production in Coral Gables. But I had a couple of minutes before I had to be at the edit suite so I finished my meeting and walked over to say hi to my friends.
Bill was in shorts and sporting two days of stubble. Ed was in khakis and sneakers. Ed had a beer. Bill was drinking wine. Neither one was looking at their smartphones. And did I mention that it was 1:30 p.m. on a workday?
“Look at the two of you – happy as pigs in mangos, enjoying a beautiful day with nowhere to go, I said. “Man, I want to be you when I grow up.”
I told them about Starbucks envy.
You know about Starbucks envy. That’s when you go to Starbucks and see those people just sitting there in the sun. Usually they have a bike leaning against their table or they’re there with their dog. They’re reading something on their iPad or thumbing through The New York Times. Not a care in the world and clearly nowhere to rush off to — just enjoying being there. They remind me of Satchel Paige’s old quote, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”
When I go to Starbucks, it’s usually to meet someone on the run — I’m meeting Marcos at the Starbucks in the Grove at 9 a.m. or Kim at the Starbucks on 69th Street at two in the afternoon. We’ll grab a cup of coffee or tea, share pleasantries for a moment or two, and then get down to work — exchanging ideas and layouts, strategizing next steps — and then run off to our next meeting. Of course, while we’re meeting we’re fielding text messages and calls, mostly about where we’re going next, who we’re going to meet, and what time we’ll be getting together.
But just to sit there and take in the scene, with nothing pressing to run off to… wow. My desires might be simple but that kind of takes my breath away.
So anyway, I told Bill and Ed about my fantasy — my Starbucks envy. Ed laughed and told me a story:
“I was walking through Coconut Grove one night and there were a couple of guys playing music on the street corner. They had a guitar case out in front of them and a few people gathered around and they were having a great time. I thought, ‘I want to do that, too.’ So that weekend I went out and bought a guitar and have been taking weekly guitar lessons ever since. I’m not so good yet but I’m giving myself 10 years because I want to be just like Turkel.” ( -PAUSE- Hey wait a minute, that’s me.)
Here’s the funny part. Until Ed mentioned that it was me and my buddy he stumbled upon playing music on that street corner in the Grove, I was listening to his story thinking, “I want to do that, too.” It wasn’t until he mentioned who he saw playing that evening that it dawned on me that I already do that.
It’s more than the old paradigm to “be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” In this case, it’s about realizing what you’ve already got, what the perception is of what you’ve got, and what your perception is of what else is out there. The grass is always greener, indeed.
And it’s not just a good thing to think about when you’re evaluating your life. It’s also a good exercise to do when you’re thinking about your brand. After all, a brand is not what you think of your company, it’s what the employees and your customers — and your potential customers — think about it, and what they feel about it. And it’s very possible that those two viewpoints are not in sync.
Kodak thought it stood for the finest in photography until its customers cared only about digital photography and Kodak found itself in bankruptcy. It might not have happened quite that quickly, but it did happen.
And Blackberry, who thought its brand was de rigueur for portable communication in the corporate boardroom, is quickly discovering that its customers no longer agree.
Even powerhouse Google, which preemptively purchased YouTube to maintain their superiority in search technology, is now concerned that Facebook and the voice-recognition company Nuance, will take their place in both search and ad sales.
So whether you’re dashing to a meeting, playing music on a street corner or piloting the marketing activities of some of the world’s most important companies, remember that when it comes to your brand, perception IS reality. Even at Starbucks.