With compounding scandals plaguing the NFL and controversy over the handling (or mishandling) coming from fans, players, politicians, and even between the 32 teams and their franchise owners, the league is in desperate need of a rebrand. And the decision over who will be the next owner or owners of the Carolina Panthers could be pivotal in how the NFL repositions itself.
The original owner of the Carolina Panthers, Jerry Richardson is selling his rights to the team after it became public that the Panthers organization made multiple confidential settlements for incidents of sexual misconduct and a racial slur by Richardson.
It's not just Richardson though. The last five years have been the perfect storm of scandals contributing to indicators of slowing growth in the NFL brand. The newly formed Carolina Keep Pounding, LLC, a diverse ownership group, is shaping up to be the bid that could help the NFL brand pivot to put a bigger emphasis on fan value.
Scandal Effect Indicators On Brand Value
The NFL is the most popular sports league, reportedly earning over $14 billion in the 2016-17 season. It's not new to dealing with potential brand (and revenue) damaging scandals. But the long-term effect of compounding scandals potentially impacting the bottom line should be the most troubling for brand NFL:
- Drop in TV Ratings - Ratings and viewership has been trending down due to a slow adoption of new media arrangements and controversial sponsorship with DraftKings and FanDuel that has fallen flat with many fans.
- Empty Seats - The divisive scandal involving kneeling during the National Anthem is reported to have been impacting ticket sales with many fans streaming videos of low attendance and empty stadiums.
- Decreased Interscholastic Football Participation - The pervasive concussion problem has resulted in lower enrollment of kids playing football. According to the California Interscholastic Federation, football participation decreased by 3.12 percent this year and is down 10 percent this decade.
- 20 Percent Dip In Product Sales - The National Anthem and sex scandals have been noted by licensees as contributing to the problem of declining merchandising revenue. If you follow my column you know how frequently I cite the statistic that 85% of retail sales is controlled by women. NFL merchandising is no different and the effect is being seen at the cash register with a reported 20 percent dip in NFL merchandise, the largest decline in a decade. Note: The Washington Redskins name controversy alone, led to a year-over-year drop of 43.8 percent.
Carolina #KeepPounding In Charlotte
So who's behind Carolina Keep Pounding? It's a coalition of seasoned and multicultural entrepreneurs, investors, Hall of Famers, political figures and philanthropists aiming to acquire the Panthers and keep the team in Charlotte. The group is led by Charlotte-bred entrepreneur Arthur Wylie, whose team of advisors includes civil rights pioneer and Washington Post proclaimed power broker Bob Brown, and his firm B&C International's senior partners, Osyris Uqoezwa and Larry Yon. B&C is the oldest and most respected minority-owned global strategy firms.
In addition to Wylie, Brown, and Uqoezwa, the Carolina Keep Pounding team also includes: former Carolina Panthers; John Mazzarino, founder of the $2 billion fund Cherokee Investment Partners; Michael Rollins who runs Jamaica's Rose Hall Estates and is a member of the Rollins family, the commercial services company behind Orkin Pest Control; and Dale Godboldo philanthropic investor and actor ("The People v. OJ Simpson"). The group is already gaining support from local and state government officials for the city of Charlotte and the Carolinas. Discussions are underway with other high-profile investment partners in efforts to build a well-resourced, diverse team.
Do They Have What It Takes?
If this group is committed to developing everything they need to be a strong franchise partner and direct the Carolina brand, then they need the right skills for brand value zone coverage. Every good brand needs to have these four critical factors to build sustainable growth value:
- Media Business Skills: In this case, being business savvy means media and merchandising more than it does sports. The members of the Carolina Keep Pounding team have depth in many diverse areas of media and sports business strategy, investment and tactics making them a fit to steer a brand franchise.
- Fan First Focus: According to the Carolina Panthers Twitter page, "The fan is the most valuable member of our team." Understanding who Panther fans are and why they love the team is essential to building fan trust - the real key to brand growth.
- Integrity & Heart: This goes deeper than supporting local charities, having a youth program and wearing camouflage on Veteran's Day. This is a commitment to the responsibility as role models and people of integrity. Doing what has heart has always been a better bottom-line strategy.
- Diversity: Again this goes deep...deeper than skin color. This is about diversity in perspective, age, political leanings, cultural experience, gender, and economic background. Retail brands that have homogeneous management have weak products and even weaker fan loyalty.
This Carolina Keep Pounding team seems to cover the field with cultural and age diversity, heart, media experience, and passion as fans and as locals. But the question remains as to whether or not they fit the brand plans and re-brand efforts by the NFL and its ownership. There is a tremendous amount of NFL franchise brand value riding on the decision of who will be awarded this elite investment opportunity. It is not just about who can write the biggest check.