Poll: Millennials already distrusted NFL
Even before the Ray Rice domestic abuse case ascended to the top of America’s news consciousness, one market researcher had data that he says shows the image of the NFL has already started to erode.
While nearly every NFL league business metric is at an all-time high, based on interviews with a random sample of 3,000 Americans from February through May, Jeetendr Sehdev said the NFL’s shield was sullied long before the Rice affair when it comes to brand-perception measures, particularly among the millennial audience.
Sehdev is the author of “The Art & Science of Celebrity Branding.” He previously was the global chief marketing officer for consumer electronics manufacturer Belkin. He also has held executive-level positions at Ogilvy & Mather and TBWA\Chiat\Day.
Among the survey’s findings:
- 48 percent of respondents identified the NFL as a “sleazy” organization (millennials: 61 percent). That description comes from respondents being asked to rate the league on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “respectable” and 10 being “sleazy.”
- 54 percent said they don’t trust NFL players (millennials: 67 percent).
- 74 percent believe NFL players take illegal steroids to improve their performance (millennials: 78 percent).
- 54 percent believe the NFL is anti-gay.
- 54 percent believe the NFL’s image on matters of sexual orientation will not improve even with the drafting of openly gay player Michael Sam.
The survey was conducted online and in-person. Based on its results, and comparing the data to related brand research from the past five years, Sehdev predicts that the NFL is on its way to becoming one of the country’s least trusted brands within five years.
“The consensus is that the NFL brand is durable enough to withstand any PR disaster, but it really is in crisis from a consumer-perception standpoint,” said Sehdev, adding that in his studies, NFL trust measures have slipped to a point where the league is comparable to brands such as Malaysia Airlines and Wal-Mart. “What we’re really seeing are issues when it comes to trust. There’s a lack of openness [related to concussions], a lack of acceptance [related to race and sexual orientation], a lack of compassion [respondents found the NFL six times less compassionate than MLB or MLS].”
The NFL also scored 82 percent lower than some of the most trusted brands Sehdev has measured, like Amazon and Johnson & Johnson, on the criteria of openness.
Sehdev’s survey on the NFL was conducted as part of his overall work as market analyst and researcher.
NFL officials were unavailable for comment at press time on the data.
Looking further at specific demographic segments in the survey:
- Women were 13 percent less trusting of the NFL than men; that’s an 8 percent higher level of distrust compared with the average of other sports leagues.
- Among millennials, four out of five said they were less trusting of the NFL than of the NBA, MLB, NHL or NASCAR.
- While all multicultural segments said they trusted the NFL less than the NBA, MLB, NHL or NASCAR, African-Americans were 7 percent more trusting of the NFL than the general population, followed by Hispanics (+2 percent). The LGBT population was 5 percent less trusting of the NFL than the general population.
So when will those negative perceptions affect NFL profits? Particularly at the league level, business has never been better.
“Eventually, as trust erodes, it will impact the bottom line and you have to be concerned about whether the NFL will lose relevancy to up-and-coming sports like soccer,” Sehdev said. “The key finding for us is that transparency is the cost of doing business now for most organizations, especially among millennials, and that’s where the problem lies.”