The NFL is notoriously straight-laced (pardon the pun) when it comes to regulating player appearances on the field.  Want to a wear a brand not affiliated with the NFL as a sponsor?  Stricly a no-no.  Want to customize gear and/or share a written message with fans using any part of the uniform?  Go for it, just expect a hefty fine and stern condemnation from the league office.

However, last year, the NFL actually encouraged its players to wear cleats customized with a message supporting causes each player supports for one week.  It was a great way to raise not only awareness but also money for causes ranging from mental health, ALS, cancer and animal welfare to children who need reading glasses (see Von Miller, Denver Broncos).  Cleats were then auctioned on the NFL’s official auction site (yes, that is really a thing) with proceeds going to each respective charity.

The initiative was a smashing success.  This year, the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” program is back, and the message is being amplified using all of the league’s marketing might.  According to the league, more than 800 players will showcase their causes this weekend. This year, the NFL even celebrated “Unboxing Day”, where teams and players were encouraged to unveil their custom cleats through various online and social media platforms.

Overall, the #MyCauseMyCleats is a fantastic program that generates an overwhelmingly positive response from fans.  Look for the league to build on the program’s momentum as they continue to look for ways to position the brand more favorably in the minds of consumers.

For More Info:

Custom Cleats List

Click here to see a slideshow featuring some of the custom cause-related cleats players will wear this weekend.

“Unboxing Day”

Click here to see teams and players unveiling their custom cleats from the NFL’s website.

“NFL’s Cleats for a Cause”

Click here to read ESPN’s recap of the league’s Cleats for a Cause program.

NFL’s auction site

Click here to link to the NFL’s auction site to see bids on the game worn cleats from the #MyCauseMyCleats initiative.

Are athletes role models?

This week, Peyton Manning was in the news for something other than throwing touchdowns or winning football games. In an open letter to the Broncos’ star QB in the Indianapolis Star, it was revealed that Peyton Manning responded to a letter from a fan with stage four cancer by requesting to meet her, flying her and her husband to last weekend’s game in Denver, providing them field passes and spending a few minutes with the couple during pre-game. An amazing gesture that provides an example of how influential athletes and celebrities can be in our culture when they decide they want to help make the world a better place.

Then, the next day, it was announced that P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens (one of the best and highest-paid players in the NHL) donated ten dollars to a local children’s hospital. Yes, you read that correctly. $10 MILLION. Sure, he will make $72 million over the span of his contract, but that’s an incredible contribution that will help make a difference in the lives of many, many children.

Other sports stories making headlines this week? Rutgers suspended their head football coach three games for NCAA rules violations. The UFC banned one of their top athletes for FIVE years after his third positive test for marijuana. One of the NHL’s biggest stars denied any wrongdoing in a sexual assault investigation. Soccer’s International governing body (FIFA) fired a high level executive after allegations of unethical behavior. And in a story that just won’t go away, the NFL filed papers to clear the way for an appeal in the already infamous “deflate-gate” scandal.

The point? Sports CAN provide feel-good stories from time to time. Athletes can and often do have a positive impact on their communities. In an era where it doesn’t always seem to be the case, not all the news needs to be negative…

1993 Nike commercial featuring Charles Barkley

In 1993, NBA star (turned announcer) Charles Barkley was featured in an ad that was at the time deemed to be very controversial in which he declared that he was not a role model. The commercial sparked a fierce debate as to whether athletes and celebrities should be perceived as individuals that children should look up to…that debate has never quite been settled. However, in today’s day and age, with an increase in player salaries, influx of new social media channels and explosive growth in the number of media outlets, athletes are under the microscope now more than ever.

So, ask your students in class:  Should athletes and celebrities should be considered role models?

Around the Horn: April 17th

Groundbreaking news from the racing world:  Announced today, the Ford Focus will become the first ever electric car to lead the field as the pace care at a NASCAR event during the April 28th Sprint Cup race in Richmond.  The decision drives homes NASCAR’s continued emphasis on green initiatives, but Ford has the most to gain by showcasing an electric model and educating a large number of consumers about new technologies.

Today a Kenyan runner won the men’s division of the Boston Marathon, marking the 19th time in 22 years that a Kenyan has won the prestigious race.  A Kenyan runner also finished first in the women’s race, the 3rd time that has happened in the previous 5 years.  The big winner, however, is the city of Boston.  According to estimates from the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (via myfoxboston.com), the race was expected to bring in over $137 million to the Greater Boston area, an economic impact roughly equal to that of a Final Four.

With 22 million hits already, I must be one of the last to see this TNT viral video…however, if you are like me and hadn’t seen it yet, you should definitely check it out.  The stunt provided a brilliant means for building buzz surrounding the launch of the station in Belgium…

Did the Planned Parenthood PR debacle back in January really result in a significant drop in participation rates for Susan G. Komen for the Cure events as USA Today is reporting?  If so, that’s the sad end result of a botched crisis management effort, providing a perfect example of why the “all publicity is good publicity” theory isn’t exactly spot on…

Last night, the world of entertainment marketing gave us one of the most innovative things we’ve seen in a while after a performance at the Coachella music festival managed to create a frenzied buzz among fans all over the Internet.  During a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg concert, a 3-D hologram of Tupac Shakur (who died 15 years ago) created the illusion of the legendary rapper performing live.  As a testament to the stunt’s overwhelming popularity, 2pac’s HOLOGRAM had nearly 3,500 followers within 12 hours after his “appearance” on stage…

The Twitterverse (via @msament) presents this week’s installment of Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm:  “Misplaced priorities? KY public colleges fund subsidize athletics by $50M while state cuts school funds by $105M..http://bit.ly/HCr2ah.”