Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How The NFL Marketers Deal With Injury

While I am the first marketer to take advantage of buzz, topical events, and clever marketing ploys, I do have to give the NFL "the finger" for this one.  And I love the game, the league, and the players so believe me it isn't my first thought to jump on the NFL.  But as you might have heard by now, Arizona Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson lost part of his finger in the game against the New Orleans Saints last weekend.   (Check out the pics on TMZ)

Up until that injury, my friend and Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott held the distinction of being the only player to have literally sacrificed a digit for the game.  It has always played into Lott's tough guy persona and I will now concede that Johnson can be added to that space, especially since he didn't know he was missing the end of his finger until he took off the glove and the finger tip stayed in it!

The great Ronnie Lott in action

But should the NFL embrace this and actually, um. point a finger to it?!  As a league that has come under fire for their handling of injuries including serious head trauma and even the symptoms of depression that may (or may not) have lead to the suicides of several prominent players including Junior Seau, is it wise to embrace this latest injury?
The late Junior Seau

I pose the question because the Arizona Cardinals are embracing the situation.  Rather than shy away or even approach the incident with a matter-of-fact strategy, they have decided to make fun of a pretty heinous accident.  Today, the official Arizona Cardinals social media pages are bragging about their new foam finger souvenir...
Now don't get me wrong, I once told Ronnie after a great personal appearance for hundreds of fans that I wanted to "High FOUR" him (to which he gave me a "look" that only terrified WRs and RBs have seen up close) but I'm also not representing a brand on the hot seat.  It's a funny little attempt to capitalize on the publicity of the gruesome injury but having worked with disabled players in need, being close with retired players who have had injury lawsuits against the league, and even having provided services for Gridiron Greats, lead by HOFer Mike Ditka and former All Pro Kyle Turley, I understand that injuries are no longer a laughing matter.  How can the NFL settle a $700+ million lawsuit with players over injuries and then make light (and actually promote) that exact situation within the same month?

I reached out to Kyle and he had a strong opinion about it, as expected.  Kyle said, "That doesn't surprise me at all.  It's ignorance.  They (the NFL) will claim they have no responsibility and frankly, just must be void of conscience.  The NFL has some of the brightest minds in their PR and Marketing departments so they had to have thought this through and decided to do it anyway.    The Cardinals obviously care more about buzz and sales versus player health and safety."  

Would it be ok if Marlboro made black-lung balloons?  Jim Beam had branded drunk-driving crash helmets?  Or Smith and Wesson had target t-shirts?  I'd like to think that maybe those marketers wouldn't be so quick to embrace the worst possible results of their product.  I'm all in favor of being creative but you also need to be smart!  Because nothing says "hysterical" like the local mortuary sponsoring "free casket" night for the first NFL player who dies on the field.

Maybe the NFL should call a penalty on the Arizona Cardinals and give them a one-and-a-half finger salute.

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