Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

 

Fans are fickle and feckless.

They love you one minute, and the next, as Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper observed, they’re gone by the seventh inning.

The strength of a brand, though, depends on the strength of the emotional commitment offered by fans. So, as the NFL season grunts to a start, it's worth wondering which brands are strongest and which have a vast branding concussion.

For my information, I lean on the 2015 Sports Loyalty Index. This is produced by a company called Brand Keys.

Whether this company has the keys to brand secrets, you must decide. For now, perhaps you’ll be stunned into attempting to deflate yourself when I tell you that, for the second year in a row, the New England Patriots top the Brand Loyalty Index.

Yes, rather than be disgusted by allegations of cheating and, well, more cheating, Patriots fans are more committed than ever. Winning a Super Bowl tends to help.

The Patriots are closely followed by the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. After these, it's the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts.

But it's the basement that's the most fascinating.

At the very bottom, again for the second year in a row, are the Oakland Raiders. It seems that a commitment to excellence may not be enough. It seems that having some of the most rabid, black-wearing, mask-donning fans in the NFL may not be enough either.

A consistent spell of losing--and the team's threat to move to the glamorous confines of Carson City, California--has driven human feelings elsewhere. Perhaps it's that people flocked when the team was known to be full of bad boys.

Now the bad boys are in New England. Well, if you believe NFL management (and your own eyes and ears), they are.

Many in Oakland are expressing a quiet confidence that the team will show improvement this year. However, this hasn't yet reached fans' veins, it seems.

Let's pause here to consider how Brand Keys defines a sports brand's strength. This company has put numbers to the constituent parts of loyalty. Numbers have to define everything these days.

Apparently, 30 percent of sports brand loyalty is about history and tradition. Twenty-nine percent comes from the way fans love specific players on a team. Twenty-one percent comes from how entertaining the team is. Another 20 percent comes from authenticity.

And there you were, thinking that at least 10 percent came from alcohol.

While the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to be emotional--as well as actual--cellar dwellers, it’s instructive to see which team has fallen from the 23rd spot on the Brand Loyalty Index to the precarious 29th.

It's the Washington Redskins. Or, as some publications have now chosen to call them, the Washington "team." Or, that team from Washington that has a far, far worse name than the Atlanta Braves.

For years now, this team has talked big and produced rather small. But it's in Washington. It has a very famous (if now not appreciated by many) name. How could its brand loyalty have slipped so far?

You might first point to an owner who has yet to enjoy the respect that he seems to think he deserves. When it comes to a strong brand, there are those confident enough to think they can make it stronger.

Sadly, Daniel Snyder, the Redskins owner, began by charging fans to watch training camp workouts.

For quite some time, the local media warmed to him as Michael Moore warmed to Charlton Heston. Snyder made things worse when, in 2006, the Redskins’ FedEx stadium sold peanuts that had originally been made for Independence Air, which had been bankrupt for a year.

Once the media isn't impressed with your being, it tends to find such stories. It also tends to enjoy printing them, because it tends to think you deserve to have them printed.

And then there was (and still is) the saga of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Many believed he was the savior of the franchise. Now (perhaps the same) many believe that he was a disaster compounded by having a fairly substandard team around him.

At some point, no matter how strong your brand used to be, its image can become horribly tarnished. It can only withstand a certain amount of negative publicity and accusations of failure--or, worse, unpleasant people running things.

A strong brand like Apple can let its customers down on occasion and be readily forgiven.

A strong sports brand like the Golden State Warriors can let its fans down for decades, yet somehow those fans kept coming back, because they felt the team was still theirs. Golden State's average attendance and fan commitment was the envy of so many NBA teams all through the Warriors' awful years.

It appears that the Redskins are beyond that stage. Fans just don’t feel it anymore. Unless you define "it" as "I used to like this team, but now it's as rancid as a rat souffle." (Next for this designation? It says here it's the San Francisco 49ers.)

Still, if the team wins its first few games, I wonder if the fans will forgive--and how quickly.