Defining a brand can be challenging, but at MGA, we define it as how you feel about an organization. So how do you feel about the New Orleans Saints? If you follow football, I would imagine it is very different than how you felt about them two or three years ago.
The Saints have damaged their own brand in such an absurd and audacious manner it is hard to believe they were recently America’s sweethearts.
Few things galvanize American sentiment more than the combination of tragedy and sports. Such was the case for the Saints.
That was 2009 and the Saints’ brand was at its zenith.
In 2012 the Saints are villains – the team found guilty of placing bounties on opposing players. That’s right. The Saints former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, and several players allegedly promised to pay players that knocked opponents out of the game. The result has been lengthy suspensions for key personnel including their head coach, general manager and several players.
Damage control is nothing new in the Big Easy, but it usually pertains to natural disasters.
The overriding cause of damage control in this case is negligence. For organizations trying to recover from a public misstep, pleading ignorance is a common practice. The Saints aren’t that lucky. Their guilt is enhanced because of the malice behind the bounties.
New Orleans has faced adversity before. Perhaps the organization will be stronger for it. However, it is much more likely that it will be feeling the repercussions of this for years to come – and rightfully so.
The ring leaders will be gone – if they aren’t already. America is no longer smitten with the underdog Saints, and their star quarterback, Drew Brees, might be in his final year with the team. In this bizarre year for the Saints they need a positive headline, and there is no better place to start than by signing Brees to a lengthy contract now.
While Brees had nothing to do with the bounties, securing his position will allow the healing to begin for the Saints.
Brees has been a positive on and off the field for the Saints. However, he recently voiced his frustrations with the Saints in a radio interview. He has been looking for a long-term deal, but may now opt to find his way into free agency and go the route of Peyton Manning.
In recent years, several organizations have had to deal with brand damage control to varying degrees, with varying results – Toyota, MySpace and British Petroleum to name a few. While this is hardly a deathblow for the Saints organization – it isn’t as if people will boycott their games – it is an interesting study in branding and brand awareness.
People across the nation cheered for the loveable heels of the NFL. It is highly unlikely anyone outside of Louisiana will cheer for the detestable Saints. Much like “Spygate” lingers over the New England Patriots, the stench of “Bountygate” will hover like a swamp fog over the Saints.
Similar to Michael Vick, the Saints will have to let time pass before they can begin to actively salvage and rebuild their brand. After the suspensions pass and people find another controversy to focus on, the team should consider sponsoring youth sportsmanship programs or champion player safety in high schools. I’m sure their public relations or communications consultants have already made such recommendations.
One thing is certain. If the Saints want to win back American sentiment they will need to start marching to a different drummer.