Branding Needs Appropriate Follow-Through. . .Even in Professional Sports--Especially in Professional Sports
There was a time when baseball was king. It was truly the American Pastime. Then the NFL grew like a monster, escaped its cage and starting eating the world. Nobody could argue that the NFL wrote the book on how to brand a league, how to promote its stars and how to add additional days to the schedule (other than Sunday) to extend the fun and satiate our continuing need to consume football games.
But a strange thing happened on the way to the bank. Concussions, restrictive rules, a divisive tension between almost all players and "the league." The result is that while the NFL did a great job building the brand, they forgot how to protect it, and they are now paying the price with double digit drops in viewership. Like a pharmaceutical company that has a monopoly on a patented new drug, patents run out after a period of time and you better have a Plan B.
Now, we have just come off the highest rated World Series in years and everyone jumped on the bandwagon for a championship featuring the two teams with the longest championship droughts in baseball. While baseball does not have to deal with concussions like football does (at least not the quantity), baseball has its own issues. Length of game leads the gripes. There were numerous playoff games this year that topped off over 4 hours for a nine-inning game. No matter how big a baseball fan you are (and I'm all in), that takes quite a commitment.
There are no lifetime warranties in sports loyalties. You have to keep earning the fan's interest and respect every day. The NFL has proven that no matter how much money you throw at it, your #1 goal has to be to entertain the fan. Isn't that why they play the games? Otherwise, just play them in some undisclosed location and report the scores online the next day so fantasy leagues can do their thing.
All of this also holds true for business. Having a great brand is powerful, but having a large share of the market or a lot of brand supporters does not guarantee you will forever ride high. Brand maintenance means listening to your customers, addressing issues, and staying ahead of the curve. We'll see if Major League Baseball can keep this tide of popularity rolling.