What do you do when half of your multi-billion-dollar fan-base begins to slip through your fingers, driving with them a storm of negative press? That’s the crisis the National Football League is currently handling, as a domestic violence scandal involving Ray Rice escalates into a full-on press nightmare, bringing with it stigmas of the league’s alleged “disrespect for women.” The problem now stretches far beyond the poor handling of the incident and into territories of how the NFL addresses women as a whole.
The stakes are high. Reports recently stated that women now make up 45% of the NFL’s audience, a strikingly high number for a sport considered to be male-dominated. Yet even now, with Rice dropped from the Ravens and suspended by the NFL, and calls for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign, the storm of negative press still continues.
The heat is so high that the league recently brought on 3 female domestic violence experts to help navigate the disaster, including a sexual crimes prosecutor, the founder of the NO MORE organization against domestic violence, and the former head of The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rita Smith. The league also went as far as to name Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s community affairs vice president as the new vice president of social responsibility, hoping to remedy some of the damage done by Commissioner Goodell.
The move is a smart one: domestic violence is not an entirely new scandal for the NFL, as players Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and most recently Adrian Peterson have all been cited in incidents relating to both domestic and child violence. And adding to the rage is the league’s former drug regulations which enforced stricter punishments than those relating to domestic abuse. All of which leaves female audience begging the question, ‘Does the NFL care about domestic violence as seriously as it should?’
Regardless of one’s answer to that question, one consensus can be met: The NFL is at risk to lose a significant chunk of its audience. And considering the $1.1 billion behind the 21 sponsors it boasts this year, that could be a major problem. Adding to the frustration is the NFL’s recent efforts to cater to female audiences, sponsoring Marie Claire articles, supporting Breast Cancer foundations, and releasing new pink-colored female apparel. But women’s reactions to the Ray Rice scandal may negate any effort the NFL has put into cementing this new female audience. The current sentiment amongst women in the media seems to be one that translates the NFL’s poor actions to a blanket ideology of disrespect for women in general. Recent articles have even criticized the NFL’s payment towards Cheerleaders as well as its somewhat-biased use of the color pink towards all of its female-geared marketing items. And while these topics remain completely unrelated to the actual domestic abuse incident, the message is clear: women are not happy with the NFL, and it doesn’t end with Ray Rice.
What the NFL now faces is more than one bad PR incident with one bad player. It’s an entire typhoon of negative press towards half of its audience. It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and while Ray Rice may only have been a spark, this fire doesn’t seem to be calming anytime soon.
Read more about the NFL’s PR Woes at http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/female-fans-sponsors-forgive-nfl/294889/
AP: Kirstie Chapman
Image Copyright to Ken Durden and ShutterStock