Advertising Age reported the NFL is looking for a new CMO, and the trade journal even presented an attempt at humor by offering a job description. To be clear, the vacancy is not a response to existing PR nightmares ignited by Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson; rather, the position is open because the former CMO was promoted. Not sure how to process the mess. On the one hand, the NFL appears to be taking a brand beating. On the other hand, the league has survived arguably worse scenarios (see Michael Vick, more domestic violence incidents, Ray Lewis, Ben Roethlisberger, Minnesota Vikings Love Boat affair, Richie Incognito bullying, New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, New York Jets sexism scandal, etc.). By the time it’s all over, Adrian Peterson will just be a man who disciplined his boy—and Ray Rice will just be a man who disciplined his girl.
Amid PR Crisis, NFL Searches for New CMO
Sponsors Stand by NFL—for Now
By E.J. Schultz
The National Football League had a very bad week last week. That much is obvious. What is less clear is how much lasting damage the seemingly teflon league sustained from its bungling of the Ray Rice domestic-violence matter.
“The ultimate response of fans and sponsors will depend on whether they believe the NFL ignored or avoided evidence … and whether there has been an attempt by the league to cover up its actions or mislead the public,” said Jim Andrews, senior VP-content strategy at sponsorship consultancy IEG. “The jury is still out, but there potentially could be serious damage to the NFL’s reputation that could cause some fans and sponsors to walk away.”
The NFL’s consumer perception plummeted to its lowest point since June 2012 last week, according to YouGov BrandIndex.
There’s a lot at stake for the No. 1 sports league, which draws in $10 billion in annual revenue. As of late last week, sponsors—which pump more than $1 billion into the NFL, according to IEG—were sticking by the league, or did not comment. Verizon Communications pledged to help the NFL develop a program to combat domestic violence, as the marketer’s CEO, Lowell McAdam, called embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a man of “very high integrity,” Bloomberg News reported. PepsiCo stated that “we are encouraged to see the NFL is now treating this with the seriousness it deserves.”
Nationwide Insurance said it will “stay in contact with the league to understand the findings of the third-party investigation currently underway. We are counting on the league to handle this issue appropriately.”
The NFL, whose fans are 45% female, is under more pressure from women’s advocacy groups and politicians. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called for Mr. Goodell to step down if an Associated Press report is true that a full video of Mr. Rice knocking out his then-fiancee was sent to the league in April. The report, citing an unnamed law-enforcement official, raised questions about the NFL’s assertion that it had not seen the video until TMZ published it early last week. Expect the NFL to apply damage control in the form of volunteerism, financial support and outreach to women’s groups.
But while NFL administrators and Mr. Goodell are certainly reeling, the league’s most important asset—its individual teams—are likely to escape unscathed. Claudia Caplan, senior VP-business development for MDC Partners, who has experience working on sports accounts, compared the situation to people giving low marks to Congress while still liking their hometown congressional member.
“If I’m a lifelong Bears fan, I can hate on Roger Goodell all I want, or hate on the the league all I want, but it’s not going to stop me from being a Bears fan, and it’s not going to stop me from going to the game or wearing the gear,” she said.
Evidence the fact that ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” doubleheader, which aired just as the Ray Rice controversy was gaining steam, finished as the two highest-rated telecasts of the night, attracting 12.6 million viewers.
And where there are eyeballs there are pricey sponsorship deals, including some that court female fans. Consider Procter & Gamble’s CoverGirl, the league’s “official beauty sponsor.” “We support all women and believe that everyone has the right to live in a world free from harassment, discrimination or abuse,” a P&G spokeswoman said when asked about the Ray Rice incident.
As the NFL deals with one of the biggest PR messes in its history, it is also searching for a new chief marketing officer. The opening was created when Mark Waller, who had the job since 2009, was recently elevated to exec VP overseeing international operations. He will continue as acting CMO until a replacement is found, according to published reports. The job becomes a lot more interesting after the Ray Rice crisis, leaving Ad Age to speculate about what the NFL might need in its new marketing chief:
Oversee all advertising, including public-service campaigns featuring NFL players’ wives talking about the seriousness of domestic violence.
Above all else, if a law enforcement officer sends you a video of a player breaking the law, send it immediately to the commissioner. And keep Rihanna off the field for the time being.
Crisis communications. Also, crisis communications. Exxon Valdez experience preferred.