Character Counts, Just Not So Much at Nike: Ben Roethlisberger’s Fumble
Update April 21, 2010: The NFL announced it is suspending Roethlisberger for six games as a result of violating its “personal conduct policy.” Steelers President Art Rooney hedged on answering whether the team was shopping the quarterback. Will Nike continue to stand behind bad behavior?
Nike’s ads have long captured winning athletes and sports “heroes” as symbols of inspiration, tenacity, and personal empowerment. Increasingly the message from the thought-to-be role models has been torpedoed by their behavior off camera; the consequence of bad behavior hasn’t led to Nike dropping them from their marketing strategy. Think Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods.
Nike’s most recent bad boy is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who has been involved in two different sexual assault investigations in the last year . Earlier this week, Fred Bright, a Georgia District Attorney, said Roethlisberger would not be prosecuted for rape because while significant questions persist about what happened, the evidence was insufficient to prove the case beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Nonetheless, Bright had a message for Roethlisberger: “Ben, grow up. Come on, you’re supposed to stand for something. I mean, you’re the leader. You should be a role model…. You need to be a role model for your team, your city, the NFL. You can do better.”
Not all goes well for Roethlisberger. Big Ben Beef Jerky has been pulled from the website of food marketing company, PLB Sports. While no criminal charges were filed against the quarterback, President Ty Ballou said PLB Sports was dropping its endorsement of Roethlisberger because he is “falling short” of company standards. Roethlisberger, faces potential disciplinary action from the Steelers and the NFL. Steelers President Art Rooney has said Roethlisberger’s conduct didn’t live up to team standards.
The bad boy as marketing draw is a business strategy that has failed to appeal to brands including PLB Sports, Accenture, AT&T, and Gatorade who’ve cut their ties to sports icons crippled by their own bad judgment.
Women are a huge market for Nike. It isn’t enough to market to women inspiration for what they can do wearing sneakers when the company stands by athletes like Woods and Roethlisberger who’ve operated with little evidence of character. Nike apparently has a different approach to falling short of company standards. Incensed at inhuman treatment of animals, Nike dropped Michael Vicks in his canine abuse scandal; dogs seem to rate higher here than women.