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The Kinder, Gentler NFL


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NFL launching ads to rebuild positive player image

By Stuart Elliott | New York Times News Service

August 30, 2007

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Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Furl Google Newsvine Reddit Spurl Yahoo Print Single page view Reprints Reader feedback Text size: In one spot, a father sits on the sofa with his young children, reading to them from a large book, while a daughter nestles her head on his neck.


In another, a man talks on the telephone to his mother, telling her "I love you," then tells the camera that she encouraged him to play football as a child to keep him out of trouble.


In a third, a man describes his goal of going to law school and talks about how hard he worked as a student at Notre Dame.




The latest Hallmark campaign? No, the National Football League.


Concerned by growing uneasiness among fans and marketers about athletes gone wild, the league is embarking on an effort to burnish its brand image by accentuating the positive aspects of the on- and off-field lives of its players.


In a television and online campaign that is to begin Thursday, the league and its advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide, are borrowing the playbook, so to speak, of industries like Big Oil and the big drug companies, which have relied on the magic of Madison Avenue to redeem their public images.


The NFL's idea is to counter the outcry over the criminal behavior of some players, not by apologizing for the misdeeds of a few but by shining a spotlight on what is presented as the good behavior of the many.


"It's as simple as this," said Lisa Baird, NFL senior vice president for marketing in New York. "We're going to do everything necessary to protect the strength of our brand."


The past year has brought plenty for the league to want to neutralize. The news coverage of professional football has read more like a police blotter. This week, Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of conspiracy stemming from a dog-fighting kennel, while Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after crashing his Lamborghini sports car.


The commercials feature five players, selected for their marquee names and clean-cut images, and are planned to run through the 2007-8 football season, appearing on television and on Web sites such as NFL.com.


The man reading to his daughters is Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks. The one who loves his mother is Willie McGinest of the Cleveland Browns, whose teammate, Brady Quinn, is the aspiring lawyer.


The origin of the campaign dates to January, Baird said, after discussions among league executives about player misconduct. Within the league, people were worried that "the misdeeds of a few" were starting to "represent the image of all 2,000," she said.

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