NFL Draws Yellow Flag With Dictum on Journalist Attire

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Normally, we'd loudly applaud any franchise that was finding innovative ways to give its marketing partners more exposure. After all, this is Advertising Age. But the move by the National Football League to force photographers to wear vests with the logos of NFL sponsors deserves a hearty Bronx cheer.

Call us biased, but journalists shouldn't be billboards. And press credentials shouldn't be issued on the condition that journalists cooperate with sponsors.

Spokesman Brian McCarthy had plenty to say in the league's defense. He said it's done in other sports. He argued that the Reebok logo was there because the company made the vest. He countered that this was all part of a sideline identification procedure to help with security. That's ridiculous. If this were a security issue, just administer a red vest and be done with it. How does a Canon logo on the breast further enhance security? And are we to believe that Reebok is suddenly marketing ugly red vests? Finally, that it's been done before doesn't make it right.

The NFL also made the point that the Reebok and Canon insignia will be small, that this isn't a play for media exposure. Then why bother? Why risk the brand damage that someone, somewhere in the organization must have known would come?

The NFL would do well to remember what happened when Major League Baseball agreed to let Sony Pictures promote "Spider-Man 2" on the bases back in 2004. Fans went ballistic, and the marketers involved seemed to be caught off guard. We're not arguing that fans care what photographers are wearing. After all, they're watching the athletes on the field, not the guys on the sideline (yet another argument against this branding effort). But the NFL executives showed a similar degree of tone-deafness in proposing this.

Did they not think that journalists -- a prickly bunch that prides itself on quaint notions such as ethics and independence -- would raise a fuss? Could knuckling under eventually lead to other demands to compromise their neutrality in order to trod the sod?

Not only did the NFL -- as well as Reebok and Canon -- come off as clueless, greedy marketers, they stirred up a hornet's nest of angry media types. And considering the mess it has on its hands with the Michael Vick fiasco, the NFL needs all the help it can get.
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