Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pictures, icons, and brands

Pro football is America's game. It is the most popular sport with fans. It dominates television ratings. Every year the Super Bowl is the most watched show on TV. Until television came along, the NFL was less popular than baseball. Television and the NFL Films changed that.

The NFL mystique transcends any particular season. The league defines its brand through video. The clips are repeated so often that even casual fans recognize them in just a second or two.

Dwight Clark flashing open in the end zone for The Catch.

The Packer sweep grinding through the mud toward the end zone.

Unitas picking apart the Giants in Yankee Stadium.

The Immaculate Reception.

The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and the Ice Bowl.

John Elway breaking Cleveland's heart with The Drive.

The Chiefs matriculating the ball down the field.

Namath trotting off the field waving his arm with one finger extended

For many fans, these images have become iconic. They are the NFL.

These brand-defining film clips have several things in common. They mark big moments in big games. But beyond that they are great images. They have a quality that let them stand on their own beyond their role as a historical record.

They have two other traits in common. First, they come from games that were played outdoors in the daytime. Video and photographs have a sharpness, depth and richness that is lost when stadium lights replace sunshine. The game situations might be the same, but the resulting pictures are far different. (The cinematographers and photographers of NFL Films are adamant on this point and can demonstrate their point with hundreds of examples.)

The other trait they share is that most of the clips are old. This is directly related to the previous point. The NFL has chosen to play most of its recent big games at night and/or indoors.

Doing so helps television ratings and increases league revenue. But I wonder what the implications are for the long-term image-brand-of the NFL.

Does the scarcity of new images insinuate that the game is old-fashioned? Does that turn off young fans? Does it imply that (unintentionally) that the modern NFL is inferior to the old school game?

Nostalgia is a dangerous brand attribute for pro football. Baseball has owned it for nearly a half century. Yet it is not so simple as promoting clips from recent games. The game setting automatically yields inferior images, which only adds to the problem.

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