Brett Favre’s brand = sort of sad, can’t let go Has Been?

Brettfavre Unless you’ve been in a cave, by now you know that:

  • Brett Favre was one of the most revered quarterbacks of the last 20 years
  • He broke records left and right, and is the only 3 time MVP in National Football League history
  • Has a Super Bowl ring
  • Played one season (his first) with the Falcons but really has always been a Packer
  • Tearfully retired with glory and honor at the end of the 2007 season

Now that’s the way to end a career and control the legacy of your brand.  If the story had stopped there…that is how Brett Favre would have been universally remembered.  Even people who dislike the Packers or Brett himself could not deny or really sully his greatness.

But…Brett messed with his own brand story.

Note:  I don’t know if Brett has more good games in him.  This post isn’t about the viability of his playing skills or if he retired too early.  It’s about being mindful of managing your brand.

Brett Favre retired at the end of last season.  His tearful press conference was the perfect end to the brand story about an ordinary guy who just loved the game. 

But, for whatever reason, Brett couldn’t leave it alone.  He put the Packers in the unenviable position of having to be the villain and trade their legend to the Jets.  The Packer fans are angry that their team traded their hero, the Packers organization has to feel a whole lot less love towards him for making them the bad guy, Brett has to be secretly disappointed that his team didn’t want him back but has to put on the fake smile as he dons a Jets ball cap at the press conference and…the brand gets muddy.

Now, for a lot of fans…Brett has become the guy who couldn’t walk away.  Couldn’t be decisive about his own career.  Wasn’t a Packer to the end.  Sort of a sad story — the man who couldn’t quite step out of the spotlight. 

I’m not saying it wasn’t his right to decide to come back.  I’m suggesting that he had, through his choices and actions, created the perfect brand story.

Until he didn’t anymore.

What do you think?  Will Brett’s choices change the way he’s remembered?  Will his brand now be marked with an asterisk?

Update: Rush Nigut adds his thoughts to this debate from a perspective that only a great business attorney could bring to the conversation.

Check out BizBox’s well-written take on Favre’s decision.

21 comments on “Brett Favre’s brand = sort of sad, can’t let go Has Been?

  1. Steve Harper says:

    Drew,

    Great points all of them. I also know that not even, in my humble opinion, the greatest player to play the game, Joe Montana, could go out without the one last hooray in Kansas City. Even when forced to move from his coveted # 16 to #19 – the whole process just seemed weird.

    But years later…did it affect his legacy – did it affect his brand? I don’t think it did….not a bit.

    Though none of the greats could successfully move from the teams that they were known for to “another” team and repeat their history of greatness – think Namath, Unitas, Montana. Imagine the impact to the brand if they did? Imagine the impact and allure it would create if Favre could be the first? Would the brand be even more valuable?

    I think there is a high likelihood that Brett goes out the same way the other greats did…without much fanfare. But the short-term bump that both the Jets and the NFL stand to have in terms of sales of the a green and white #4 Jets jersey will certainly make the potential for an uncinderella-like story easier to stomach.

    I just hope Brett comes out and leads the AFC in every fricken passing record that can be obtained (the ultimate screw you to GB). If he does that or not…I think ten years from now he will still be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.

    Either way it will be fun to watch. I am picking him back up on my Fantasy Football team right now!

    Ripple On!!!

  2. Jeff says:

    I think you’ve encapsulated, perfectly, my exact thoughts these last few weeks. I agree with you completely. I will never see Brett Favre the same way again. To me, the events of the last few weeks have undone a majority of what Brett has worked so hard to establish the last few years.

  3. Laura says:

    Drew–great thoughts. I’ve pondered this myself.

    I think Steve might be right that the overall legacy will not be tarnished among most football fans. These blips tend to fade, and will likely do so in this case (especially if Favre puts up good numbers this season).

    That said, I wonder how viewing his legacy breaks down among NON fans. I’m not much of a football fan–I only watch when forced to do so–and because this story has gotten so much attention (particularly because I live in MN), it’s unlikely I’ll remember Favre as fondly as I may have. Because I will certainly not follow his new career in NY, it’s highly unlikely I’ll remember more than this headache.

  4. BIG Kahuna says:

    I can’t disagree more with your assesment and wrote my take on it here:

    http://www.brandidentityguru.com/wordpress/2008/08/help-me-out-here/

    Brett changed his mind, he’s a person and was not thinking as a “brand”. Nor should he have.

    Why wouldn’t the Packers just embrace him back (wasn’t it just last year he was MVP runner up)? Aaron Rogers is a nobody with no proven track record. Brands are all about trust. Who do you trust more Brett or Aaron?

    The Packers should be ashamed for how they handled this. The majority of sports people can’t believe how the Packers have handled this.

    Brett is going to have a good year (even though my Patriots are gonna kick his butt 2 games) and the Packers will not win more than 5 games (you heard it here first).

    Brett’s brand is going to be fine. The Packers? We’ll see, they’ve pissed off a lot of their brand ambassadors.

  5. Josh Klein says:

    Let me respond with a definitive “maybe” 🙂

    You’re right in so many ways, but I can’t help but think of two big examples that stuck out in my mind of this sort of behavior in the past.

    The first is Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of all time, retiring as a Bull … then trying to make it in minor league baseball … then returning to play for the Wizards (as only a shadow of his former self).

    Yet, his brand is impeccable to this day. Maybe the difference is in how he handled the situation (with class, and a keen defense of “doing what he thought he would enjoy” instead of acting vindictive).

    Then there is Mario Lemieux, who came out of retirement post-cancer and as an owner of the Penguins, to play for his own team. But then again, he was coming back from cancer … no small feat, and he was still near the top of his game.

    What’s really interesting to me is not the choices – those are his own to make – but the way in which the choices were handled.

    It really goes to show that the perception of your actions are influenced by the framing of your brand, and a strong brand is able to frame an action positively while a weak one cannot.

    Yet another example of why to seize the opportunity to build your person brand now (start by reading Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog – http://personalbrandingblog.wordpress.com/)

  6. Mark True says:

    Wow, Drew. You know how to drive the comments, don’t you! 🙂

    I think if Favre plays very well or just well, he’ll maintain “the greatest quarterback” tag.

    But if you read between the lines of commentary, you’ll start to see something very sad emerge. Brett Favre has some mental baggage…he can’t make up his mind…his work ethic has been questioned…his attitude has been challenged and nobody wants a screwball leading their team. And it sounds like he’s gotten this way just in the last year.

    The Packers made it clear that they’d love to take him back, but just not on the terms that he seemed to want. It sounds like he came down with a nasty case of TO-itis in the off season and the Packers didn’t want that spreading to the rest of the team.

    Of course, some day, John Feinstein will write a book about it and we’ll all know what we don’t know now. Anybody that says they know exactly what happen, today, is lying!

    -Mark

  7. Rush Nigut says:

    Drew:

    Great post. No question Brett Favre has damaged his brand. While the Packers may have upset some fans, they will keep coming to games and supporting the team. After all, the Packers have a waiting list a mile long for their season tickets, win or lose. That won’t change.

    On the other hand, Brett has pulled a Michael Jordan. Jordan finished his career the first time (or was it the second time?) with the winning shot in the NBA championships. He could not have planned it any better. Then, he did the unthinkable and diminished his unbelievable career through his lackluster play with the Wizards. Not to the point that people still don’t consider Jordan one of the best players ever but his reputation was diminished nonetheless.

    Despite the records, I don’t think most football aficionados believe Favre is the best quarterback ever. He has thrown too many interceptions and takes too many chances. He has one only one Super Bowl. And when he gets pounded into submission by defensive lines this year his career barometer will definitely drop a couple of notches. Even if he plays well this year, fans will always dwell on the fact he left the Packers rather than the records.

    Rush

  8. Alan Wolk says:

    I just think it’s funny that you guys are all having a debate about football and disguising it as a debate about branding and marketing 😉

    But to answer the question: it really depends on how badly he does next season. If he gets injured or if he really doesn’t play well, then Drew is right. If he somehow takes the Jets to the playoffs or, lo, the Super Bowl, then he’s a legend for the ages and a movie will be made.

    Gamble either way.

  9. CK says:

    I know nothing about football or this revered player. Nada.

    I just know that NY’ers around me left and right are talking about this and are really excited about it.

    Just in case anyone wanted to hear what a NYer has been hearing.

    (disclaimer: again, this NYer knows nothing about football–but has been to a superbowl and the sugarbowl in NOLA that made Bo Jackson a legend 😉

  10. Steve,

    It will be interesting to watch it all unfold, won’t it?

    I know other players have done the same thing…but as another commenter points out — it’s not so much that he’s doing it. It’s HOW he did it that I think puts hid brand at risk.

    Time will tell.

    Drew

  11. Jeff,

    It’s been really fascinating to hear people’s take on all of this. It’s not so much about who is to blame or should he play.

    To me, it’s about changing the course of his own history/biography.

    Drew

  12. Laura,

    First and foremost — MN rocks!

    I hadn’t thought about how non-fans would react. Does it look like he couldn’t walk away to you? Or greed?

    Drew

  13. Scott,

    Looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

    In your post, you compare Favre’s return to a key salesman returning. A salesman doesn’t get creamed by 300 lineman. A salesman doesn’t have to be in a physical place where he can compete and excel compared to 20 year olds.

    But time will tell. Let’s check back in January.

    Drew

  14. Josh,

    You know…between Montana, Jordan etc. — all good examples. But, don’t you think that all those stories would be “more pure” in terms of brand if they had left their legacy alone?

    You’re right about personal branding. And in fairness, Brett has done a remarkable job of creating a very authentic brand. Which has served him well. But, this move seems to be in absolute conflict with all his choices and behavior from the past.

    It will be quite a study to watch it play out.

    Drew

  15. Mark,

    Well, you know how we brand people are. We can see a brand story in just about anything. And as I have watched this story unfold, it just seemed to me that it was as much about Brett’s brand as it was about his career.

    Everyone is having such strong reactions (on both sides of the arguments) and we know that’s the sign of a great brand — highly emotional responses.

    It does seem, as you suggest, that Brett has somehow fallen off the path of his own making. He’s not behaving consistently — and he was the model of consistency. That’s why we are so hyper aware of it.

    I’m sure you’re right. There’s a lot we don’t know. Too bad that Brett doesn’t know one of the core branding truths — with a strong brand, you can behave yourself out of a tailspin by behaving absolutely consistently with your brand.

    Drew

  16. Rush,

    Don’t forget Jordan’s embarrassing baseball career attempt. That would have been like Brett accepting the gig with the Iowa Chops!

    All in all, I think he made a very human but very big mistake.

    Drew

  17. Alan,

    Come on…it’s about branding. AND Football. I think, even if Favre has a great season in NY, has changed his own brand story and not for the better.

    But…as we’ve said before, time will tell.

    Drew

  18. CK,

    Your comment is a good reminder — there are many angles to how a story/brand are perceived. Most of the football loving world is pretty unhappy about either Brett’s decision or the Packer’s decision. But New Yorkers are probably the exception to that rule.

    I swear to God, there is a marketing discussion being had here. 🙂

    Drew

  19. Hey, great post. We responded here: http://bizbox.slate.com/blog/2008/08/brett_favre_the_brand.html

    and made a few additions. Still can’t get over Favre’s willingness to play for any team besides the Packers, both from a brand standpoint and just generally.

  20. Hey BizBox,

    Your additional thoughts were right on the money. I’ve updated the post itself to include your link. Thanks for continuing the conversation both here and at your blog.

    Drew

  21. buy ativan says:

    Of course, some day, John Feinstein will write a book about it and we’ll all know what we don’t know now. Anybody that says they know exactly what happen, today, is lying!

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