Colts brand bigger than Dungy

January 13, 2009
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dungyMaybe it was the team’s experience with Eric Dickerson. Maybe it was a string of flame-out first round draft picks shortly before the days of Peyton Manning. Heck, who knows, maybe it was the Bert Jones era, or the way Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas turned on the franchise after it left Baltimore. But somewhere along the line, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and his marketing staff adopted a theory of never pegging their marketing campaign on any one player or coach, no matter how bright the shining star.

“We emphasize the brand of the horseshoe,” Irsay told me in 2006. “We want that to embody everything we stand for.” Former Colts marketing guru Ray Compton emphasized the same sentiment to me several years before.

That’s why retiring Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy will be missed by fans and players, but his departure won’t detract from the team’s positive brand image. That image has been carefully smelted and pounded into the hearts of Colts’ faithful through a strategy that emphasizes the franchise and its accomplishments—on and off the field. Did Dungy embody that image? Absolutely. But he didn’t give birth to it.

Relative to other franchises in the often controversial, high-turnover NFL, the Colts enjoy a reputation for stability, consistency, personal character and a workmanlike approach to winning, says Larry DeGaris, who directs the University of Indianapolis’ sports marketing program.

“The Colts’ brand is pretty much bulletproof,” DeGaris said. “At this point it’s been built up to a level where it’s not contingent on any one person.”

After watching the Indiana Pacers the last 10 years, I’m not sure any brand is bulletproof. I also watched the iron-clad image of the Dallas Cowboys and its fedora-wearing coach Tom Landry go through the wringer when losses mounted and ownership changed in the late 1980s. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, fixed all that. Right? Luckily, the Colts won’t have the kind of controversy that followed Landry’s ugly firing.

DeGaris notes that the Colts handled the transition smoothly, following a logical succession plan and announcing the retirement and the promotion of new Head Coach Jim Caldwell in a single smooth stroke. “This is another thing the organization did right,” he said. “They gave a heads-up, named a successor, so really it’s not a big deal, is it? There's no search, there's no controversy. It’s a tight ship.”

To see a video capsule of Dungy's career, click here.
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  • Well, I disagree that the brand won't be hurt by Dungy's retirement. He is the glue. The brand has gained value by having Tony on board, by having Peyton Manning, by winning. Peyton's not getting any younger, so winning will become harder. All good things end.
  • The Colts brand may be bigger than Dungy, but it takes high-quality guys like him and Peyton to keep it alive. Remember when the 49ers were the class of the NFL? No one could touch them. Where have they been the last 10+ years? If you spend too much time in the valley, people forget. This is why it's important for Irsay to keep his hands on the reigns and demand the same type of things he got from Dungy. Caldwell doesn't have to be a clone, but some core values must remain. Reggie meant everything to the Pacers. And after the brawl, the value of the franchise went down the toilet. Let's hope the culture of winning - and doing it the right way - holds firm.
  • I think using the term bulletproof is wrong. But as long as Jim keeps doing what he is doing with hiring the right people to do the job and keeping a high moral standard among the franchise the brand will survive. We may not make the playoffs every year, no team does. We may not have a winning season every years, no team does. But we will have a team to root for and be proud of. The Pacers found that out. They did not lose fan support because they were losing, they lost fan support because they started doing whatever it took to win which included bringing in some very questionable players.
  • The man most likely to tarnish the image is Irsay himself. Troublesome players can be (have been) cut and forgotten within months. He did the right thing by hiring good people and getting out of the way. He also solved his personal issues (or hides them better than before).
  • The word is that the NFL stepped in shortly after Bob Irsay died and basically mandated that Irsay hire Polian (or someone like him capable of running the franchise) or sell the team.

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