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):