America’s Nine Most Damaged Brands

3. New Orleans Saints
“Saints coach suspended for season over bounties”–WSJ (3/21/12)

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson had a team that was worth $965 million, according to Forbes. That was before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced its head coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year and general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games for their role in the so-called bounty system. The suspension left the team, which had won the Super Bowl in 2010 and contended in several other recent seasons, without leadership. What’s worse is that a few of the team’s players could also be suspended for participating in the bounty system that paid players to hurt opponents.

The Saints had come from nowhere seven years ago. They rose to become the symbol of a city nearly destroyed by one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the U.S. The team’s stadium, The Superdome, was used to shelter thousands of people and was nearly ruined by wind. The Saints surged from a 3-13 season the year Katrina hit to a 10-6 performance the year after, making the playoffs in the process. All along fans cheered on “Who Dat?” — the team’s battle cry — from the cheap seats. It was the city’s phoenix.

Now, Benson has to wait to see if the fans will come out in the numbers they have since 2006, and whether all the sponsors will hold their places. He has to wonder whether his team can make the playoffs again without its gifted coach and probably some of its key players and earn him some extra money again.

2. Chevy Volt 
“8,000 Volt Hybrids Recalled For Possible Battery Fire Issues”–CBS (1/6/12)

The Chevy Volt was supposed to be the start of a revolution in car technology. The car was launched on September 16, 2008, by GM CEO Rick Wagoner, who soon after lost his job because of GM’s poor financial performance. “Revealing the production version of the Chevy Volt is a great way to open our second century. The Volt is symbolic of GM’s strong commitment to the future … just the kind of technology innovation that our industry needs to respond to today’s and tomorrow’s energy and environmental challenges,” Wagoner said. When the EPA issued new methods of measuring mileage efficiency later in 2009, the Volt was rated at 230 miles per gallon, effectively making the price of gas nearly irrelevant.

The Volt was not just another car. It was the beleaguered car manufacturer’s signal that it could compete with major competitors like Toyota and VW. GM particularly needed the Volt to show the bankruptcy Chapter 11 process had not robbed it of its ability to innovate.

Despite the high public relations value of the Volt, GM set only modest goals for first year sales. It said it would sell 10,000 Volts in 2011. It ended up selling only 7,671. Even if the Volt was the perfect car, not many people wanted one. Demand dropped even further when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that two out of three Volts had battery fires after side impact tests. GM recalled about 8,000 Volts. The carmaker then offered loaners to owners who wanted repairs. Finally, the No.1 U.S. car company said it would buy back any and all Volts with the troubled batteries.

Corrections made to the Volt’s engine structure satisfied the NHTSA, and the Volt was proclaimed safe to drive again. The damage, however, was already done as the Volt’s already modest sales plummeted further. In March of this year, GM said it would suspend production of the Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant from March 19 until April 23 because of lack of demand. GM’s 21st Century flagship had become a bust.

1. Keith Olbermann
“Current went through eight different [limo] companies with Keith. Each and every time . . . he didn’t like them”—NY Post (4/2/12)

Keith Olbermann quit, or got fired, from tiny, struggling cable network Current TV on March 30. He joined the organization in February 2011 after a successful but rocky stint at MSNBC. Olbermann claimed that the Current TV did not have professional production facilities and misused his time. The network claimed he did not fulfill his contractual obligations. Each side has sued the other, and the cases may go on for months.

Before he departed MSNBC to go to Current TV, Olbermann was that network’s star with an average audience of about three quarters of a million viewers. He battled NBC management as well and was suspended for two days in early November 2011 for making political donations which he did not disclose to the network. The suspension only made Olbermann more popular. The first night back from the suspension, his audience number reached 1.5 million.

Now, one of the most popular TV personalities will not be on the small screen for a very long time, if ever at all. His $50 million contract with Current TV could also be voided in court. Perhaps the greatest insult to Olbermann is that he was replaced on Current TV by Eliot Spitzer, a former governor who cannot seem to find permanent work.

Olbermann’s obnoxious behavior, which alienated management at MSNBC and Current TV, may cost him tens of millions of dollars. Beyond that, his career in television may well be over completely.

-Douglas A. McIntyre

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