On the defensive

Tuesday 23 September 2014 by Drew Heatley

Ray Rice

To say it’s been a tough start to the season for the NFL would be an understatement. Controversy has pelted the league like defensive linemen bouncing off a running back who’s charging up the field towards the end zone.

The league’s rarely been out of the headlines during the past month – for all the wrong reasons – and it doesn’t look like the storm will dissipate any time soon. The NFL's official sponsors are reportedly evaluating their position in the wake of a spate of domestic abuse scandals to rock the NFL, but it’s unlikely that any large backers will walk away from the most lucrative deals in US and global sport. Brands including Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch (makers of Bud Light) have taken steps to publicly condemn players involved, and, while they insist they’re monitoring the situations, don’t expect them to pull the plug on their multi-million dollar deals with the league any time soon.


It’s a different story for the superstar athletes that have brought the NFL’s name into disrepute. Running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and, most infamously, ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, have all been placed on the deactivated list by their clubs (while Rice is indefinitely suspended pending appeal) following their separate altercations. It’s having a material impact on their wallets – and their personal brands.

Rice has lost endorsements from a host of sponsors. Brands like Nike, EA Sports and UnderArmour have all cut ties with the athlete, wiping out the majority of his $1.6m annual earnings. Peterson has waved goodbye to a similar deal with Nike, while Castrol has pulled the player’s image from its ad campaigns. Even if they make it back to competitive action, they’ll likely never command the same earning power.


Aside from the obvious point that associating with individuals who engage in such reprehensible acts can be hugely damaging for a company, the fall-out from the scandals highlights the importance of character when building a personal brand in sport. Your efforts on the field make up such a small percentage of your overall brand capital – athletes must have a clear understanding of what their broader brand represents – and stick to those values in everything they do.

The contrast between these disgraced stars and Roger Federer, a man taking full advantage of the strength of his brand, couldn’t be clearer this month. The 17-time Grand Slam winner is featured on the October cover of affluent lifestyle magazine Town & Country – resplendent in a plaid suit and gripping a tennis racquet. The decision to place him on the front of one of America’s longest-running publications, recognised for being read by the country’s most wealthy, illustrates just how versatile and powerful the Federer brand is – and that’s down to Roger’s conduct on and off the court.

Roger Federer on the front cover of Town & Country

Such deals for fellow tennis star Andy Murray may be put on ice after he waded in to the debate on Scottish independence last week. While the 2013 Wimbledon Champion is more than entitled to his views on the future of his country, lending his support to the break-up of the union drew more than a little ire from his English fans. And despite expressing his desire to move on this week, advertisers may wait until brand Murray is back on more solid ground before launching any new campaigns.

Athletes take note: victories and defeats aren’t just decided on the field of play. Modern sport is a 24/7 business and things can go wrong very quickly for those that drop the ball.

Drew has left The Frameworks.


  • Sport
  • Football
  • Branding
  • Strategy
  • Athletes
  • Brand value
  • Celebrity