Tag Archives: branding

When safety and branding collide, NFL style

It’s Football Season Baby! The time of year when roughly half of America tunes in to see if their favorite city can capture the elusive Lombardi Trophy. With the NFL looking to build on its profit of roughly 10 billion dollars last year, nothing appears to be getting in its way…other than safety that is.

In 2013, The NFL made roughly 1 billion dollars in merchandising revenue and more than a fair share of that merchandise features the league’s iconic helmet design. The sleek helmet and the uniform’s Storm-Trooper-like appeal represent a symbol of masculinity in American culture that is unrivaled by any other professional sport. Take these two key components and slap a few aggressive looking logos on them and BAM! you’ve got people lining up at the cash register all around North America. The problem is, (and this isn’t news) as cool as it is, the helmet doesn’t really do much to keep the player’s heads safe.

The same can’t be said about the past 50 years of automotive safety, we’ve seen revolutions; collapsible steering columns, airbags, crumple zones, three point safety belt you name it and automakers have done it-heck they build their marketing around it. If you need a visual watch the video below of a ’59 Bel Air smashing into a 2009 Corolla.


What does it mean? It means the safety can be achieved if it is really desired. The NFL meanwhile, just seems to be spending a bunch of money on research that leads to very little and when it does, they just brand it as safety, even when it’s not.

This is not to say progress hasn’t been made. The creation of the plastic helmets, which replaced leather helmets in 1949 for example, stopped a lot of players from dying. The evolution of the teardrop design then reduced the amount of head on collisions. Perhaps the most innovative modification occurred in 1971 when air valves where added and helmets could then be pumped with air to soften blows. Chinstraps were created in ’76 to keep the helmets from popping off and new material but since the 1990’s little has changed. The most recent attempt at fixing the helmet, the Riddell Revolution, really just made the helmet more intimidating looking, despite the fact that the company boasted the helmet curbed concussions by 31%. This claim was later refuted and Riddell’s subsequently abandoned the claim, only further strengthening the argument that safety still isn’t the number one concern.

Existing helmet designs have had debilitating effect on progress. With other high-impact sports such as lacrosse, stock car racing, and motocross also establishing helmets as the centerpiece of their branding, the NFL, along with helmet makers (Riddell and Schutt) work hard not to blur these product lines. Not to mention the NFL nostalgia just doesn’t seem to jive with these designs.

Sometime in the very near future the NFL will be opening its giant wallet and giving back an Enron-sized wad of cash to many of it’s former players. Will the suit set a new precedent for safety? No, the NFL will just continue to do what it needs to do to protect its brand. We will continue to see research, safety committees and eventually the removal of kickoffs but until the NFL breaks down and allows safety engineers to rebuild its helmets from the ground up, we’ll continue to hear the sad stories of former players developing early onset dementia, CTE, and suicide. Design and functionality can live in harmony but only if the NFL allows it to.



The “Field of Jeans” and a red zone that has fans seeing red

It’s that time of year, that’s right it’s football season! And football season means one thing to the advertising world—lots and lots of new branding. If you’re like me you probably tuned in to the 49ers-Broncos game not really expecting much besides a few hours of second-string football and a chance to check out the shiny new Levi’s Stadium. What I got was that and a one two punch of advertising that inspired this week’s article. Let’s take a closer look at the good and the bad.

First up, lets get the absolutely awful out of the way…

The photo above needs very little explaining (and is the NFL’s image not mine). I got my first glimpse of the atrocity, which appears to be the future of the NFL red zone, during the middle of the first quarter. Yep, that’s right the entire red zone was blanketed with a giant Toyota advertisement…and not even a good one. It actually looks like someone hijacked a teleprompter and slapped a clipart on at end zone. The stretched out text seemed to grab hold of the players as they sliced through the on screen sea of red. Not only did it annoy me, it actually interfered with my ability to watch what was happening on the field. Not since the invention of the popup ad can I remember being so agitated by a form of advertising. Hopefully the NFL hears the fans on this one, although it’s planned for all the home games. I guess they had to do something to offset the $1.3 billion dollar price tag…

And now on to the brilliant…

Once I got past the eye trauma, let me rephrase that, once the action moved beyond the 20’s were the field was much less Toyota, it gave me a chance to absorb the NFL’s newest stadium, the brand spanking new Levi stadium.

Let me first say the idea of branding a stadium beyond the name and various items within has always been slightly annoying to me as a fan, but working in design and advertising I know these things are an absolute must for all parties involved, not to mention a cash cow which has allowed professional sports to become what they are today. I have to give Levi’s props though, they actually executed stadium advertising quite beautifully and even pushed the marketing envelope without making fans hate them-for that I applaud everyone involved.

So how is this stadium branding different from any other?

The first stroke of brilliance is the harmonious marriage of the 2 company’s primary color-red. By no mean is this the first time companies with similar identities have partnered together so Levi’s isn’t breaking any new ground here but rather it’s the way Levi and the 49ers have woven the two brands together that I can really appreciate. The 49ers red and the Levi’s red fit together so cohesively that I actually had check to see if one of the two companies had altered theirs Pantone colors to complement the other-They didn’t but the colors are so close it actually gives the illusion they are one and the same. In doing so, Levi’s slapped a giant red tab on everything 49ers without upsetting the masses and compromising the integrity of the 49ers brand.

Beyond the color connection, one of the coolest aspects of the merging of the brands is the history between Levi’s and the actual 49ers of the 1800’s. Levi jeans were designed specifically for the 49ers during the gold rush, and the have finally reunited in the advertising world some 160 years later.

And then they took it a step further…and I’m still okay with it

Speaking of a gold rush, the stadium will also include a giant pro shop which will feature staples such as Nike, New Era, Mitchell & Ness and, of course, Levi’s products. By doing so, for 8+ games a year, roughly 550,000 fans will pass through the gates of the “Field of Jeans”.

In addition to constant NFL foot traffic and brand exposure, Levi’s has essentially bought themselves a 3 and half hour Super Bowl commercial in 2016, which the stadium will be hosting, for a fraction of the price. A slice of the Super Bowl advertising pie will reportedly climb to $4 million dollars in 2014. Not only did they get a bargain in that sense, the stadium is brand new and located in a warm weather climate, which makes it a lock to host future Super Bowls.

Partnering with the Niners looks like a huge victory for Levi. The acquisition has positioned the company in the passenger seat of the Cadillac that is the NFL. Sporting events are one of the few places people still spend money frivolously and Levi’s has plenty of products to sell. The only question that remains now is, with its new footing in the sports world, can a full on entrance into the sports apparel market be far behind?