Sunday, December 09, 2012

The National Football, a $9.4 business with a serious brand challenge

Two consecutive Saturday’s filled with terrible news relating to the National Football League. Early Saturday morning Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent set to make his sixth start of the season Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals instead posted a $500,000 bond from an Irving, Texas, jail after being charged with intoxicated manslaughter after a car accident in which teammate Jerry Brown was killed early Saturday morning. Nine days earlier, on December 1, Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher murdered 22-year old Kasandra Perkins before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. Domestic violence ending in murder, intoxication resulting in a charge of vehicular manslaughter – terrible times for the $9.4 billion known as the National Football League.

Brent became at least the 15th National Football League player arrested for drunken driving and the 22nd athlete from one of the four major pro sports to be charged with a DUI (driving while intoxicated). In a six day period in early June three current NFL players were arrested and charged with DUI according to CBS Sports Mike Freeman. Nick Fairley, who was accused of driving under the influence at a blistering 100 mph along with Justin Blackmon, the first round pick of the Jaguars, for his second DUI arrest in two years. Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton was the third NFL charges with DUI.

The National Football League’s ‘company line’ relating to alcohol education – it’s a cornerstone of the league's rookie education program, according to Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of player engagement.

"That particular subject matter is one that is a constant. There is constant education," Vincent told USA TODAY Sports this week.

The NFL holds a meeting at each team’s training camp where league officials as well as law enforcement officials discuss alcohol, banned substances, prescription drugs and guns discuss these and other issues with team members and officials. Each the NFL delivers a message about behavior to every NFL player.

"That's built into our DNA in terms of educating and identifying," Vincent said. "That's one of our hot spots. It's a hot spot nationally. It seems like we become the center of issues that plague our country."

Whatever message the NFL is trying to deliver, something is being lost in translation. Thirty-seven NFL players have been arrested in 2012 and that does not include Jovan Belcher who murdered Kasandra Perkins.

In 2009 Josh Brent was arrested and convicted on a DUI charge while he was attending the
University of Illinois on a football scholarship. Brent served 60 days in jail and while attending the Cowboys training 2010 camp teammates remember Brent having to ask his Cowboys teammates for rides, Brent was without a car.

"Players are reminded of that every year and responsible drinking is covered in the life skills sessions that every club is required to hold annually for the players," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the USA Today.

Said Vincent: "In addition to holding players accountable through our long-standing league discipline for substance abuse and alcohol-related violations of the law, we emphasize personal responsibility and decision-making."

The National Football League is in the third year of a league partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving MADD. The program’s focus has been on educating fans attending NFL games on alcohol consumption at NFL games. According to a USA Today report only two of the NFL’s 32 teams have worked with MADD to better educate players on the dangers of intoxication, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I would say that the NFL and the league office are very supportive of MADD providing this type of presentation to all of the teams," MADD CEO Debbie Weir told the USA Today. "They sent out a memo at the beginning of the season to each team saying, 'This is our partnership with MADD, this is what MADD can do for you.' I'm not sure why more clubs haven't engaged with us on that level. You'd have to ask them. The NFL is hoping this can grow next year."

For the Steelers and Buccaneers, MADD provides "panels of speakers to talk about the tragedy that drunk driving creates," Weir says. "We're hoping that next year teams will do more to reach out to us to do more engagement with their staff, coaches and players so MADD can educate them on the choices they have."

Football is a vicious, unforgiving sport. National Football League players are trained warriors, to be a their best on any given Sunday, they train hard, play hard and unfortunately enjoy life more often than not in ways that can only be described as ‘living on the edge’. Sadly control off a football field has become an issue for many National Football League players.

In April 2007 National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell instituted an NFL Player Conduct Code: The NFL conduct rules hold those associated with the NFL to a higher standard of behavior than the public at large. Punishment can be dished out for simply appearing to have committed a crime. A criminal conviction is not necessary. Any kind of arrest or criminal charge qualifies as a violation of the conduct rules. The NFL is especially strict when it comes to drug and substance abuse arrests and charges. They will also punish people associated with the NFL for any alleged acts of violence, possession of an illegal weapon or acts that undermine the integrity of the NFL.

Brent’s first offense took place before he was a National Football League player – nonetheless Goodell will likely suspend Brent for a least eight to 16 games, after Brent faces the legal charges he is now dealing with. Josh Brent may have played football for the last time. Brent’s 2012 NFL salary was $501,887; $405,000 in 2011. He signed a $1,838,755 four-year contract with a $47,000 bonus after the Cowboys drafted Brent in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL supplemental draft. His 2010 salary was $331,887.

The Dallas Cowboys loved being referred to as America’s Team. Forbes Magazine 2012 subjective valuation for NFL franchises suggested the Cowboys are worth $2.1 billion, more than any other North American based sports franchise, the second highest for any sports team according to Forbes, second only to football (soccer’s) Manchester United. Forbes reported the Cowboys generated more than $200 million from premium seating and through sponsorship sales, more than any National Football League franchise. The Cowboys lead the NFL in merchandise sales. What happened Saturday didn’t make Cowboys owner Jerry Jones a happy man.

Speaking on Fox’s Sunday NFL game day show, Jones offered this on how his team was dealing with the tragic series of events.

"Our team loved him. They certainly are conscious of him and want his family to know and have as much of them as they can give. At the same time, they know that one of the best things they can do for him and his memory is to come to the game today, is go out and play well.

"First of all we all know, but we remind ourselves that there is something more important than football, and this is life, and certainly the lost life of Jerry," Jones said.

"On the other hand, they know the best way they can honor Jerry, because he was such a hard worker, so conscientious and enthusiastic about his career, the best thing they can do for him is go out and play the way he would have liked to have seen them play and a team that he would have wanted to be a part of."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell zealously protects the NFL brand. As has been well documented when NFL players do damage and harm to the NFL’s brand, Goodell reacts with an iron fist. It can be argued that Goodell has overreacted from time to time, but as Josh Brent will learn soon enough it is a privilege and not a right to play on any given Sunday. Jovan Belcher is dead, Josh Brent is facing very serious legal charges, if he is convicted of vehicular manslaughter along with a second DUI conviction, his National Football League career will be the least of his worries and sadly Brent is looking at a lengthy prison sentence.

The NFL regular season ends on Sunday December 30, NFL playoffs start the weekend of January 5 and 6, with the Super Bowl set for Sunday February 3 in New Orleans. The NFL is having a great year on and off the field, or at least it was until Jovan Belcher and Josh Brent on two consecutive Saturday caused irreparable damage and harm to the $9.4 billion business known as the National Football League. The challenge Roger Goodell faces is undoing the damage he had nothing to do to create.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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