Vikings executives’ support now of Peterson a ‘positive risk’
By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- With two top Vikings officials having said they are open to bringing Adrian Peterson back, several sports marketing experts called the timing right for such comments. Peterson is serving an ...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - With two top Vikings officials having said they are open to bringing Adrian Peterson back, several sports marketing experts called the timing right for such comments.
Peterson is serving an NFL suspension until at least April 15 because of a child-abuse incident, although the NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit seeking immediate reinstatement. Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf and chief operating officer Kevin Warren both said this week they would welcome a return by the star running back if he fulfills NFL-mandated conditions.
“In today’s environment, with the media and with social media, the time frame that people stay shocked and horrified is a much shorter time frame,” said Mollie Young, founding principal of Nametag Inc., a Minneapolis-based global branding company. “It’s not that they’re forgetting but something else is taking its place for the next shocking and horrifying situation.”
Peterson was indicted last September on a felony charge of child abuse before pleading no contest in November to misdemeanor reckless assault. He played in just one game last season.
Peterson admitting hitting his 4-year-old son last May with a wooden switch but said he did not mean any harm. However, photos taken of the battered boy and posted on the Internet shocked many.
The Vikings received heavy criticism after reinstating Peterson on Sept. 15 following his first missed game and sponsors distanced themselves, including Radisson Hotels suspending a deal with the team. Two days later, Vikings principal owner and chairman Zygi Wilf said the team “made a mistake” and Peterson was placed on the exempt list.
Zygi Wilf has not commented publicly on Peterson since then. But Mark Wilf said Wednesday he “would love to have him back,” and Warren said Thursday he “would welcome Adrian back.”
“I’m sure the Vikings already have data on essentially what does the public think of having a person like Adrian on our team,” said George John, a marketing professor and associate dean at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “It’s kind of like TV anchors, they have these Q scores. … They’re putting their best foot forward and saying we’d like to have him back if conditions are met. … We teach in marketing that whether it’s good news or bad news, it’s best to get ahead of something.”
In announcing the Nov. 18 suspension of Peterson, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued behavioral mandates to deter him from hitting any of his children again. Requirements include examinations by a panel of league-appointed physicians.
Peterson is under contract next season with the Vikings for $12.75 million, but none of it is guaranteed. The Vikings have not commented on whether they would be willing to bring Peterson back under that contract or whether they would want to renegotiate his deal.
Before his suspension, Peterson was a fixture in marketing efforts for the team’s new stadium, which will open for the 2016 season. If Peterson were to return, Young said the Vikings likely would not use him in promotional efforts, at least at first.
“Would he be used as a cornerstone in their marketing promotional activity?” Young said. “I would say probably not right out of the blocks and not for a while. But the odds are that if he continues to perform at the athletic level that has made him successful over time, you’d start to see him back out in the forefront as a marquee promotional tool for the Vikings.”
It remains to be seen how sponsors would look at a Peterson return. In an email Friday to the Pioneer Press, a Radisson spokesman wrote “we have no comment” on Mark Wilf and Warren’s recent comments and that “our sponsorship remains indefinitely suspended.”
When the Vikings reinstated Peterson last September, other sponsors reacted negatively as well. Target stores stopped selling Peterson merchandise. Peterson has had several endorsement deals affected since the September indictment, including Nike suspending a deal and Castrol dropping him.
“With the Vikings saying what they have (this week), I think you’ve got two different audiences,” said John Wendt, a professor of sports law and sports management at the University of St. Thomas. “You’ve got the audience of the fans, and all they care about is winning. They’re thinking, ‘Now we’ve got (coach Mike) Zimmer, Teddy (Bridgewater, the quarterback) and Adrian and we’re going to be good.’
“Then there’s the sponsors. I just wonder how (a Peterson return would) fly with Radisson, Target and some other sponsors. They can be very, very slow in thinking about coming back. They might want something more from Peterson than, ‘I just served my time.’ ”
Wendt said it would help Peterson’s cause in team and individual marketing if he shows the public he is contrite and is willing to be a “real positive role model.”
For now, Wendt called it a “positive risk” that Vikings executives have called for Peterson to return. He said Peterson has settled the charges against him, a reinstatement would mean fulfillment of his NFL requirements and that a good amount of time has passed since he first was benched.
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