Tag Archives: brand

BountyGate and the NFLPA

11 Jun

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where holding all four Grand Slam tennis titles at once is a regular occurrence.

So much has been made lately of the concussion issue in the NFL.  What I find most fascinating about it is how the NFLPA is treating the issue.  On one hand, they’re working hard to secure benefits and compassion for injured players, especially retired players who didn’t make the millions that today’s athletes do…this played a major role in the labor disagreement that threatened last season.  But on the other hand, they’re now defending the very people who have emerged as a serious threat to their members’ safety.

I’m referring specifically to BountyGate, of course.  The NFLPA, very early on, had a very difficult decision: support the handful of players punished by the NFL and help defend their rights, or endorse Goodell’s rulings and condemn the guilty parties’ actions in a move to underscore their pro-health position for the rest of the league’s current and former players.  This was a decision they must have agonized over, but in the end they chose to support the handful.  The NFLPA is vigorously defending Jonathan Vilma and others, trying to get their suspensions shortened and the like.  I’m here to tell you I think they made the wrong call.

If there’s one thing the NFL and its fans have been adamant about over the past 6-12 months, it is preserving the health of players – current and former.  No one wants to see cases like Junior Seau’s, or others like it.  No one wants to see players carted off a field due to injury.  And, especially, no one wants to see actions on a football field that would be criminal off the field.  The evidence against the BountyGate players and coaches, at least the stuff that’s been released to the public, is jaw-dropping…and rock solid.  Yet the NFLPA still defends the handful, and undercuts its pro-health stance by doing so.  Put another way: by supporting the 1% on this issue, the NFLPA failed to support the 99%.  The result is that the NFLPA has brought into question where it stands on player injuries, and what side it will come down on in the future.

If I were a card-carrying member of the NFLPA (like Chris Kluwe, who’s ranted about this on Twitter @ChrisWarcraft), I’d be seriously concerned about whether or not the union I belong to really has my best interests in mind.  From the fan’s perspective, or the NFL’s, I’m seriously concerned that the NFLPA might not be committed to ensuring that the game continues to grow and prosper for decades to come.  Either of these matters is enough to generate a firestorm of debate and controversy for the NFLPA, and I think it’s only a matter of time before more people inside and outside of the league ask these kinds of hard questions.  The result could change the NFLPA as we know it today.

It’s simple, really: pick a side, and stick with it.  The NFLPA has acted to straddle both sides of the line on the broader topic of player injury, and I think it could blow up in their face before this issue runs its course…if it ever does.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Francisco Liriano.

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Anatomy of a Nickname – and a Fan Base

9 Feb

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where it’s always Rivalry Week.

Credit: Sports Flags and Pennants

Can anyone guess the most intense battle over a sports team nickname in recent memory?  Syracuse University?  Nope.  University of Illinois?  Think again.  Take a trip to Grand Forks instead, the epicenter of the debate over whether or not the University of North Dakota (UND) and its athletic teams can keep calling themselves the Fighting Sioux.

The arguments on both sides are no different than we’ve seen in other name-questioning cases around the nation.  In the “pro-change” camp, the name is offensive, disrespectful and even derogatory; in the “anti-change” category are those who value the logo, the tradition, etc.

What makes the UND situation so different from all the others, however, is the passion the resistance has fought with.  This battle has raged – no lie – since 2009, and it got new life yesterday with UND’s decision to go ahead and just keep the name and logo.  This, despite the NCAA’s standing ban on UND hosting any sanctioned regional/national events, UND’s conference threatening expulsion and more.  Yes, that’s all true.

It’s no shock that supporters of great brands are intensely loyal.  Look at Coca-Cola, or Skittles, or any major Detroit automaker…whether in business or sports, brands create experiences, feelings and identities that encapsulate us.  Over a very long time, the UND logo and nickname has become an identity for Grand Forks residents and ardent UND fans – in many ways, it IS who they are.  Syracuse?  It’s a city of 145,000, with 3-4x that amount in its immediate area, a dynamic economy and Buffalo, Rochester and even NYC within a few hours.  Champaign-Urbana, Illinois?  A smaller city and total college town, but still 200,000 people give or take in the area and definite ties to Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.  Grand Forks?  A population of roughly 67,000, and definitely the most isolated of the three.  Quite simply, there’s less in Grand Forks, and accordingly there are fewer things that residents naturally have to identify with, support, get behind and endorse.  This means their affinity for the local institutions/brands they do have – aka UND – is often stronger.  Conversely, this means it’s harder for them to disassociate from those entities, or make a simple switch to new ones.

I’m not here to say whether the school should keep their name or not.  I’m not ripping Grand Forks for being a smaller, more isolated city either…far from it.  All I’m saying is that the long history of the Fighting Sioux nickname and the unique geography of North Dakota have contributed to a particularly strong and passionate UND brand and identity.  While other institutions have found ways to adjust and move on, UND supporters have resisted hard, proving they can’t live without the nickname – or won’t it give up without one helluva fight.  It just reinforces how strong a brand can be, and how valuable significant/shared experiences can be to an institution.

But they can’t have their cake and eat it too – if they keep their name, and the rest of the college sports world moves on without them, they’ll have to adapt and assimilate or risk fading out of the picture.  That of course would be far more damaging to UND and the region than a name change, especially now when athletic programs as a whole are generally on the rise.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Carmelo Anthony.

Versus to Become NBC Sports Network

6 Sep

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always get a long weekend.

A few weeks ago, in an announcement that wasn’t talked about as much as deserved, Comcast and the NBC Sports Group announced they will change the name of the Versus Network.  The new name, effective January 2, 2012: NBC Sports Network.  Ratings haven’t been very good for the network, and they’re doing what they can to fix that.

I think they’re going to succeed on this one.  Comcast/NBC has it right, as you can tell from this quote in an article from the August 2 issue of USA Today:

“This is more than just a name change for Versus,” NBC Sports Group boss Mark Lazarus said in a statement. “It’s a complete repositioning of the brand.”

You’d better believe it.  Sure, ratings have a lot to do with the success of a television network, and when your most marketable asset is the NHL you’re not going to set the television world on fire.  Still, this was a brilliant branding move, and here’s why: brands are all about the experiences they drive for their consumers.  If you have a good experience with a product, you’re more likely to consume that product – and others like it, or others from the same company, etc. – in the future.  Is there a more trusted and valued brand in television than NBC?  If yes, there sure aren’t many…people will click over to the new network not just because they love the NHL or cycling, but because they think they’ll get a quality NBC product.

At that point, of course, the network still has to deliver the goods.  And I think they will – Versus has VERY quietly done some of the best sports production and broadcasting work anywhere in the last couple of years.  Plus, the NBC name, visual look and deep resources will open up negotiation channels for programming contracts that the Versus name hadn’t done before.  This move already means future Olympics will be aired completely via the Peacock, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NBC Sports Network land at least a partial TV contract with someone bigger than the NHL (maybe even the NBA, who already works has ties to NBC and whose owners surely wouldn’t turn down creative new revenue streams given their nasty lockout).  With a tipping point like that, you could have a new major sports network to contend with.

The NBC name will help people find the network, and then the product will win them over.  That’s exactly how you execute a successful re-brand.  There’s lots of work to do, but the NBC Sports Network is off to a good start.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like last year’s BCS title game participants.