How To Kill A Brand: Just Add The Political Football

There was a time when tuning into a sporting event meant just that: a sporting event. However, now? Sporting events have turned into nothing more than political platforms, sporting better venues, camera coverage, and sideline commentary. Oh yes, and a little sporting activity once known as “the game” as to fill in any remaining dead air.

Today, nationally broadcast sporting events have become nothing more than events to be hijacked by the political topic of the day. But maybe “hijacked” is not the correct word. For I’m of the opinion in many such instances – they are either encouraged, are by design, or both. Depending on which political football is to be thrown onto the field of play.

And let’s make no pretense: when it comes to this “game?” There will be no place for civility, good sportsmanship, fair play, or the observance of rules, etc., etc.

No, once this “football” lands on the field of play – the only rules are – there are no rules, nor any boundaries where one can not venture. Along with no respect for your fellow players whatsoever.

The waged war of verbally thrown antics (and more) against one team vs the other would make a day in the Roman Colosseum look tame. For as you watch these now politicized sporting events, whether large or small, it is hard to miss the voracity of this take no prisoners blood-sport that has evolved; both in the media booths, and on the fields.

If this gamesmanship were focused upon the actual sporting event, and for talent which it is supposed to represent, rather, than the “political football” cause-of-the-day by not only the media, but by the actual players themselves? They might not be losing millions, upon millions, upon millions of viewers monthly.

I make this case for it would appear viewers who just want to sit back and escape the sheer never-ending onslaught of politics now permeating every venue of society as to solely watch, root, and pray for a championship are no longer the customers of sports. At least that is how it feels to someone like myself (and I’m far from alone) who just wants to watch a game.

No, it would seem “sports” has decided the only customers that matters are: You on the Red team? Or, Blue Team? (e.g., Republican or Democrat) Or, are you for, or against, the grievance of the day?

If you tuned it to see that game? Well grab you favorite beverage, snack and get ready to engage! For it will be hurled at you from not only the broadcast booth or sidelines. But from the actual playing field itself. Enjoy! And just as a reminder: If you need to make an additional “beer run” or have to make an unanticipated run for the lavatory? Not too worry – what do you think the actual game is for?

Harsh? Yes. Far from reality? Not by much in my opinion.

This is what far too many sporting venues along with their subsequent broadcasts have become. And – it’s absolutely destroying their brands.

I don’t believe that’s hyperbole, I feel there is now empirical proof to back up that assertion. Yet, it would appear the ones currently oblivious to such conclusions are: the sports media, franchises, sponsors, and advertisers themselves. However, that’s not that hard to understand. For if you look at politics in general – the ones most clueless about brand integrity are – the entire political class. And sports now seem to be emulating them with a vengeance.

So, is it any wonder when such franchises like ESPN™ and The NFL™(just to name a few) begin emulating the political, they begin turning people off? Not only that – seem oblivious as to the reasons why their numbers are falling?

Compare any Bob Iger or Roger Goodell statements as to explain the continuing falling viewership numbers of either ESPN™ or, The NFL. I wouldn’t fault you for wondering if they were explaining business metrics or, the latest presidential poll numbers. The lines have become so blurred I don’t think instant replay could add any clarity.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe there is now empirical proof that it is the politicization of sports that is turning fans away in droves. And it’s gaining momentum. Let me explain:

Back in September of 2015 I penned an article titled “ESPN: Cutting The Cord Or Political Turn Off?” It was in response to what was then the topic du jour “cutting the cord” as to explain the falling viewership numbers at ESPN. I proposed a different argument, to wit:

“ESPN (like a few notable others such as NBC™) has seemingly transformed at near hyper-speed from sports reporting – to political sports reporting. The political edge now rampant throughout the shows, games, interviews, et al is overbearing, overburdening, and overdone.

Here’s what I know from my own experience: It has become near impossible to turn on something that was originally created for pure entertainment value without now being bombarded with how the “political football” issue of the day is being addressed by the commentators, sideline crews, as well as players and coaches. e.g., I tuned in to watch a football game – not a game about how today’s “political football” is handled and won. i.e., gun control, domestic violence, civil unrest, global warming, etc., etc., on, and on.

Important issues all. However, is there no respite today as to maybe catch a breather and just enjoy a sporting event and its minutia without having today’s “political football” and all its baggage forced down my throat by sports casters, players, and more? It would be one thing if these shows mentioned these topics when appropriate. But now? One would think they were watching a Sunday morning news show rather than a sports channel. Everyday 24/7.”

In response to my allegations (to be clear, these were made from my own viewpoint and perspective using myself as the example only) I heard from many in both the media, as well as colleagues that, “I was off base,” or “I just didn’t get it,” and more. Yet, it would seem based on this years ratings revelations I might have been far more on-the-mark than even I realized at first. As for proof? The current ongoing debacle in falling and diminishing viewership of the NFL.

In the U.S. the NFL is the most watched venue, bar none. It has been on a rise without pause for well over a decade if not longer. Till – this year.

Can you think of anything which has garnered the headlines of the sports media or, for that matter, media in general? Hint: It has nothing to do with sports.

Today’s topic is all about a backup quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) being paid millions, upon millions of dollars to sit on the bench. All while he makes public his political views by kneeling and becoming a first round, first choice, go-to player of the political.

Think I’m off base? Well, now it’s all about his views on the presidential race. But that was last week, next week I’m sure he’ll move on to something more sports orientated. Just kidding – that’s wishful thinking. He’s a now a political star. It would appear football is now secondary.

And with that said, the numbers are proving out that millions of once reliable consumers of the NFL are turning away in droves. In their views it would seem this “political football” is no longer worth the price of admission. Even if it is on basic cable.

Every game, of every week (as has been reported) this season has lost ratings. Season openers, Monday night, Sunday’s, Thursday’s. all of them have lost rating share. You want to argue that’s some “cutting the cord” phenom taking place? You could have held that viewpoint last year. But this year? Sorry, that would be more like a politician burying their heads in the sand. Oh, wait. Sorry, we are talking “political football” now so, why would the leadership at these outlets appear any different.

Parents don’t want to have to explain to their young children why players are doing X when they barely understand the rules of the actual game to begin with. And fans of the game don’t need to watch or hear players and broadcasters make political statements while admonishing any of those fans for having either a differing opinion or, just not up to speed on the political topic of this game day. Personally, I’m sick of it. Regardless of the cause. And as the rating continually show – I’m far from the only one.

I didn’t watch a single NFL game last year for the first time that I could remember. I was all set as to resume this year, then, the kneeling started. And with it I decided to take a seat elsewhere. As I’ve iterated previously. it would appear I am far from alone. And the numbers are chronicling it.

The problem is: once you allow politics into a venue where the arguments (whether good or bad) were basically shunned and the emphasis was placed squarely on the venue (e.g., actual game) at hand. The resulting hoopla of political frenzy and additional coverage at first appears to be some sort of “win – win” for both the ratings and subsequent ad revenues charged.

But it’s a “sugar-rush.” An ephemeral boost that doesn’t last, but actually destroys a brand in the end. The only brands (or outlets for that matter) which can play that game are the ones that are designed to play it. i.e., news media, talk shows, etc. But nobody’s watching those like they used to either. For they’ve turned reporting “the news” into today’s sporting event and many have destroyed their brands and franchises along with it.

The sports world is doing precisely the same by way of reversing the medium. But make no mistake, the results are the same, and again, the numbers seem to be accurately keeping that score.

You would think the “sports” media along with franchises such as the NFL and others would be cognizant of all that. But alas, it would seem they’re far too busy making excuses for their falling numbers, just like – you know – politicians.

© 2016 Mark St.Cyr