Another year, another dominant performance by the NFL. One of the world’s best businesses (even the bad teams make money), it is easy to see why the NFL always captures so many eyeballs nationally (and internationally, if we are counting those games played in Wembley Stadium, London).
The NFL is one of those rare parts of society and life that equally appeals to the brainy and brawny folks. Complex week 15 playoff scenarios, the off-the-field news stories, the draft scenarios per team, and the in-game strategy are all examples of aspects of the NFL that appeal to brainy people (like, say, for example… sports geeks…). “People hit hard, fall down” is an example of why the NFL appeals to brawny folks (uh, not sports geeks).
The NFL has an amazing ability to be in the news – and create positives out of potentially negative news situations. Consider the case of former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth. He struck and killed a pedestrian while driving intoxicated – a terrible tragedy with the ability to cast a large shadow of negativity over the league. Instead, the NFL’s punishment of Stallworth turns out to be more effective and harsh than the penal system. And, out of the this incident is berthed the official “NFL Conduct Policy” – a legacy of active commission Roger Goodell. The NFL is the first league to put a stake in the ground and muddy the lines between personal and professional lives. If the penal system fails to punish, the NFL will not. Tough.
The NFL is also about brand… about creating and protecting an image. While the Stallworth situation conveyed toughness, the idea of toughness was born and now thrives in the locker rooms of every NFL team. For example, remember all of the hubbub about concussions in the NFL, and how some serious changes were on the way to being made to make the game safer, and force players to sit out extra time to avoid long-term damage? Yea, that noble imperative lasted a week, and now it’s “toughness as usual” in the NFL. No league demonstrates – or values – its tough brand more than the NFL (paying attention, NHL???).
One more example of PR prowess… there is a terrible fight going on between the owners and the players association right now… even to the point that there is legitimate talk of a work stoppage before the 2011 season. But, how much of that story do we find in the mainstream media? A couple of random mentions, at best. The one story I found to support my argument is dated in March.
The NFL had the best 2009 of any league because it has the ability to dominate any sports news cycle any time it wants. From future hall of famers making playing or not playing choices to Tom Brady’s return after a devastating injury to the Saints fast start to the season, to the Colts near perfection, etc., “The League” dominates the news. The NFL is a television ratings draw, an ad space seller for sports websites, and the recipient of more ink in newspapers and online than any other league – no matter what time of year. The NFL has the uncanny knack of making relative non-stories into major stories. For example, it seems only in the NFL are teams achieving (see the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, and New Orleans Saints) as much of a story as teams not achieving (see the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants, and Carolina Panthers). Heck, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden was RUMORED to return to coaching and it was a major story that helped him capture a long-term deal with ESPN. Being in an NFL story is neither bad news nor good news – but it is always news.
Whether evaluating business, brand, public relations, or fan enthusiasm, no league demonstrates more of each than the NFL, making it the best league of 2009.