If You’re Up Uber Early…

You might hear my interview with Paul Haavardsrud on CBC Radio One, on the topic of controversial remarks made by executives of Uber, the revolutionary app-based taxi service.  What does it mean for the Uber brand?

The interview will run at various times in the morning across Canada, including in Toronto between 530 and 6am.

Related stories:
Uber Has Changed My Life and As God Is My Witness I Will Never Take a Taxi Again
Uber Executive Reportedly Advocated Smearing Some Journalists
The Moment I Learned Just How Far Uber Will Go To Silence Journalists and Attack Women
Uber on Wikipedia

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What Do We Know About BDO?

[Cache #179]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Several years ago, in an interview for a potential gig, I made an embarrassing admission.

I am not a multitasker.

I wasn’t the embarrassed one.  The potential client was.  On my behalf.  ”How stupid must this guy be to admit that he doesn’t like to multitask?” he was thinking, judging from the look on his face.  Such was and is the zeitgeist – that in the very first paragraph of one’s resume must be the claim that we can do a million things at once, and love every one of them with all our heart.

Instead I proudly wear the fact that I am a focuser.  The things I love to do, and do well, are things that require attention sustained over long periods of time.  And so an online ad I saw recently has irked me deeply.  The ad is from BDO Canada, an accounting, tax and advisory firm whose memorable tagline is People who know, know BDO.

For me the pivotal line of dialogue is this:

“For Brian, it’s about whether he can call the partner at midnight.”

This is the line spoken by someone from a firm thinking of hiring BDO.  He is saying that Brian, a guy on his team, needs a seasoned consultant he can call in the middle of the night.  This ad is telling us that partners at BDO are available for calls, well, whatever time the client feels like it, no matter how unreasonable – and I realize I am using ”unreasonable” improperly here, for this ad tells us that for BDO, the concept does not exist.

This ad is telling us that BDO partners are puppets.

How good can such partners be?  What is their level of expertise in a particular area, and what esteem do they hold in the eyes of their clients if, at this senior point in their careers, they have no control whatsoever – no focus – over their work day or personal life?

The answer is likely a simple one:  that BDO Canada consultants are a highly talented and respected group of professionals who have considerable control over their calendars and careers.  For this to be true, and it is fair to expect that it is, the ad must not be a reasonable portrayal of the BDO brand.  And indeed, on the BDO Canada website we find this:

“BDO helps its professionals meet their professional objectives, advance their careers, and establish an appropriate balance between their work and personal lives.” (emphasis added)

And this:
“…Our team members enjoy a well-rounded client working experience, a stable and suitable work environment…” (emphasis added)

So it turns out that BDO is a great place to work.  Or that it’s a hellhole.  The reasons behind this discrepancy could be many, including the Old Friends and New Friends problem, or the need for a CBO (Chief Brand Officer) orientation.

Any way you slice it, a brand is what people think of you.  That’s why the Number One Rule of Branding is: be consistent.  Because if you’re not, people won’t know – even about BDO – what to think.

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Apathy and The Facebook Solution

[Cache #178]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Why bother voting?

In what was effectively a referendum last week on whether to keep in power the world’s most famous Canadian, only 60% of Torontonians cast a ballot – and relative to past Toronto elections, that was considered a big and impressive number, characterized in the media as “high voter turnout.”  The 60% ballpark happens to be the same as the percentage of Canadians who bother voting in federal elections, which is also the same proportion as Americans who do.

So basically, barely more than half of us go to the trouble of getting off the couch, walking a few feet and picking up a pencil.

But here’s the problem: we have heard the reasons we should vote, and they are boring.  They are also irrelevant, because they do not sufficiently connect with some of the most fundamental needs that drive our behaviour, which are to feel useful, wanted, validated and shall we say liked – for it is these very needs that the most successful mass participation exercise in history, Facebook, presses directly upon.

Some of the boring and irrelevant reasons to vote are:

  • it is important to exercise your democratic rights, or guys like Stephen Harper will take them away.  Don’t be fooled by those hugs he gave Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulclair, because he didn’t really mean them.
  • use your vote or we’ll get invaded:  Vladimir Putin watches our federal elections very closely, and also the CFL draft, and when he sees voter turnout get below, say, 50%, he is coming over the North Pole, just wait and see.
  • it is your obligation as a citizen to play a part in shaping our civic life, whatever that means.
  • vote or you won’t have the right to complain for the next four or five years, as if that’s going to stop you.


facebook logo

None of these purported reasons can overcome the fact that in Canada and the United States we are very free, that our democratic systems are stable, and that government continues to deliver the services we care about most, despite low voter turnout.

If electoral officers, voters’ rights organizations, political parties and candidates actually want more people to vote, they will forget about the traditional, failed arguments  – and rebrand voting as something that feels very validating and incredibly good.

I was reacquainted with this feeling last week, while walking, skin tingling, out of the ballot box.  Sure, my guy won, but that wasn’t clear until hours later.  The basic fact is that the voting experience was all about me.

Indeed, the carefully scripted ritual of ballot-casting puts the customer in the middle like few other experiences.  You are snail mailed an invitation – how classic – to appear at a certain place at a certain time for a rare event.  The polling place is like a nightclub:  there is a lineup, you show your ID, and then they check to see if you’re on the list.  Then you get a secret ballot, which in municipal politics happens to be the size of a surfboard, walk to a booth protected from prying eyes, mark your vote(s), cover up your secret ballot again, and proceed to the voting machine where you, and only you, are allowed to cast your vote or even touch your ballot.

To borrow an American phrase, we, the people, are the stars of the voting process.  Forget about the fact that many of us don’t trust politicians, that we feel betrayed by the political system, and that our vote will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever to the outcome.  We are the same people who get a thrill from a handful of likes on the photo we posted of our morning coffee, our glass of wine, our pedicure or our cat.  We are the same people who post Facebook updates that literally say, “I’m going to find out who my real friends are by seeing who shares this.”

In that profound need to be appreciated, there is much for anyone who wants a voter – or a customer or an investor or any stakeholder – to lever.

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Jian’s Gone. What To Do About Q?

[Cache #177]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

Jian Ghomeshi has left the building, literally.  You know you’re done when your bosses let the media take pictures while your face, 10 feet high in the lobby of your workplace, is torn down and into shreds.

That or when your PR firm, on whose shortlist of responsibilities is that of taking the facts and bending them, publicly fires you.

The only ones left are Jian’s lawyers, whose $55-million action against the CBC is a contrived ”joke,” according to a labour lawyer/commentator, because unionized employees have no standing to sue for “anything arising over the employment relationship.”

The lawyers and Jian’s dog, if he has one – and we know dogs are more likely to leave if they’ve been kicked.

So what to do about Q, the show that Jian created and for which he was the only host?  Should the CBC keep this brand name or scrap it and start fresh?

Against the backdrop of the very serious allegations being levelled by a number of women, and the trauma it seems clear they have suffered, consideration here of the show’s name should not be taken as trivializing in any way.  There are obviously more important issues at play than whether or not to keep Q as a name, and the Internet and media is full of them – hence the narrow, brand-centric approach being taken here.

In favour of keeping Q, public awareness of the name is extremely high because of the scandal.  Not only that, media attention on Jian Ghomeshi’s acknowledged talent as an interviewer has ensured that the public knows this show is based on intriguing and unexpected questions – an understanding amplified by the memorability of this name (aided by both its brevity and allusiveness), standing as it does for “question.”

If the CBC chooses to relaunch the show with a new broadcaster in the chair, tastefully, after an appropriate period of time and without too much fanfare, they will get an unheard-of amount of positive publicity and incremental audience listening in.

If on the other hand they choose to scrap the name and fill Jian’s timeslot with a newly-named show, they will get a small fraction of the attention, a bare blip on the radar.

Of course there is the question of whether Q is synonymous with Ghomeshi, and on that basis whether it makes any sense at all to carry on with the name.  Imagine Coach’s Corner without Don Cherry:  the man is the lifeblood of the show, and it will be gone, or at least it should be, when he retires or is pushed aside.  But I was not highly aware of Q until recently, so your comments on this dimension would be appreciated.

Weighing against maintenance of the name is the concern that the CBC might be seen as profiting from Ghomeshi’s alleged ill-deeds.  This concern will only be magnified if evermore serious allegations surface, especially if criminal charges are filed.  At some point along the continuum of bad to evil behaviour, it becomes inevitable that the name must be dropped.  Whether we will arrive at that point is unknown until we get there.

If, that is, we have not arrived there already.  It could be that the Q name is already irretrievably tainted.  It is very likely that for some people, that point has indeed been reached.  The name “Q” means Jian Ghomeshi to them, and Jian Ghomeshi means, well, more than a few deeply unpleasant things.

Then again, Rob Ford has committed an almost inconceivably long list of ill deeds, and his constituents still voted him in by an overwhelming margin.  And so it is that some people’s tolerance for bad behaviour knows few bounds, although it is a mammoth assumption that devoted fans are even capable of recognizing bad behaviour in the first place.

A final major factor is whether Ghomeshi can rehabilitate his brand to the point that Q is made viable for the CBC moving forward.  The point has not yet arrived (although it is still 1030am) that Jian’s brand is toast forever.  If criminal charges for truly abhorrent acts do not come to pass, and Jian immediately opens the PR handbook and…

-admits every deed
-admits they were wrong
-admits he has a problem
-makes a real apology (not one of these “if you were hurt” excuses) directly to the victims
-seeks extended counselling

…he has a chance of emerging one day and continuing his career, somewhere.  Human capacity for forgiveness is that strong, and his talent will help him.

So should the CBC keep or kill Q?  Fundamentally, it is a question of time.

Jian Ghomeshi allegedly choked, beat N.B. woman with belt
Carleton University looking into allegations against ex-CBC host Jian Ghomeshi
Jian Ghomeshi dumped by PR firm over “lies,” sources say

Andris Pone is President of Coin, a leading branding firm with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Through naming, tagline and brand foundation services, Coin pursues its vision:  a world in which every person can share their unique gifts in pursuit of their livelihood.  Coin clients include Sun Life Financial, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, BMO Nesbitt Burns, RBC Wealth Management, Oaken Financial, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Canadian Tire, The National Ballet of Canada and many others.

Andris is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1 business bestseller, Brand: It Ain’t the Logo.  He frequently provides expert comment on branding for media outlets including CBC Radio One and the National Post, has appeared on BNN and has written opinion pieces for Marketing magazine.  He can be reached at andris@coinbranding.com.

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I Won’t Be Voting For Darrin Davidson – But Orangeville Should

[Cache #176]

By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding

This Monday October 27th, I will not be voting for Darrin Davidson, candidate for Councillor in Orangeville, Ontario.

Because I do not live there.  Instead, I live and run my branding business in faraway Toronto.

But if I did live in Orangeville, I would vote for Darrin, more than once if it was allowed, because we are very good friends and have been for almost 20 years.  But it’s not the simple fact of our friendship that made me get out of bed this glorious Saturday morning, likely one of the last warm and beautiful days this year, after a long and tiring workweek, and break my rule not to do a stitch of work on Saturday if it is humanly possible to avoid it, least of all for my good old buddy, Darrin Davidson, who has not met me for a beer in say, two months, because he has been up in delightful Orangeville, Ontario, hammering in lawn signs, going door to door, kissing babies, handing out flyers and doing a whole bunch of other campaigning stuff that does not involve going out with his old buddy Andris for a single blessed pint.

Instead, it is the simple fact that the brand messaging for Darrin’s campaign is really well done, and he did it all himself, with absolutely no assistance from me, as I am on a boycott until he can peel himself away from his precious Orangeville and make at least a passing glance at the 416 area code.

That said, I would not be a friend at all if I did not examine his campaign materials and take potshots at them, and tell him, like the closest friends are obligated to do, what I would have done differently if he had bothered asking me to help with his campaign in the first place.

Like this piece here:

Anyone even passingly familiar with Darrin will recognize this message right away as Darrin being Darrin – for expressing clearly, firmly and without apology a bold point of view. You will never lament Darrin being passive, wonder how this guy views a particular situation or wonder what he is going to do about it.  It takes some substantial cojones not just to stand up your friend for 60 days and counting, and to take not just the typical approach and say I am different than the next guy (what we in branding call positioning), but to go to the considerable next step of literally saying that I am better than the next guy.

Now, in terms of the visuals, I would have Photoshopped in some more hair for my old buddy, but there are of course limits to what technology can do.

Here is what looks like a selfie, and what seems to be some kind of cross-branded campaign to get the Beach Boys back together, which I would tell my friend is just a tad off-message, but the main branding point here is that Darrin’s campaign has been full of these self-taken shots, which conveys more than anything his do-it-myself, take-charge, get-things-done attitude, which comes as close as anything to defining the man.

The your vote is your voice message is of course a way to inspire people to get off their couches and get to the ballot box, which seems as sensible a campaign strategy as any for a guy who hopes to get the most votes, but again, the key branding takeaway is that this image conveys that Darrin actually believes deeply in personal responsibility, self-empowerment and the freedom to choose, and he is not afraid of saying so.

And finally there is this piece, which reminds us not so much that Darrin Davidson puts his town above his old buddy Andris, but that the guy has a sensitive side, most vividly shown when we saw Jerry Maguire together in 1997 and he broke down crying.

I cannot recall if it happened to be at the “You complete me” moment, or the “You had me at hello” moment, although Darrin to this day talks about the pursuit of “Kwan,” the term used by Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character to describe the intersection of “love, respect, community and money.”

So there you have it:  I won’t be voting Davidson, because I do not live in Orangeville.  If you happen to live there, then you have the opportunity to vote for – and bless you, even have a beer with – a guy with a brand as clear as they come.

Andris Pone is President of Coin, a leading branding firm with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Through naming, tagline and brand foundation services, Coin pursues its vision:  a world in which every person can share their unique gifts in pursuit of their livelihood.  Coin clients include Sun Life Financial, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, BMO Nesbitt Burns, RBC Wealth Management, Oaken Financial, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Canadian Tire, The National Ballet of Canada and many others.

Andris is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1 business bestseller, Brand: It Ain’t the Logo.  He frequently provides expert comment on branding for media outlets including CBC Radio One and the National Post, has appeared on BNN and has written opinion pieces for Marketing magazine.  He can be reached at andris@coinbranding.com.

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The Hip Anomaly: Does Canada Even Have A Culture for Netflix to Kill?

[Cache #173]

Is Canada’s brand a joke?

That was the question I asked last year, in the midst of Canadians like Rob Ford, Justin Bieber and Chip Wilson behaving badly and attracting much mockery from a bevy of late night heavyweights including Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Now that another Fall is upon us, the question has become:  Does Canada even have a brand – a culture, in other words – to protect?

The question has been made seasonal by Netflix, the American disruptor having thumbed its nose at the CRTC’s attempts to impose regulations upon it –  among them the Canadian content rules long endured by traditional broadcasters.  Canadians are watching Netflix in burgeoning droves, yet the company has provided only the tiniest token of Canadian content – being 10 new episodes of Trailer Park Boys – in implicit exchange for doing $300-million a year, and skyrocketing, in this country.

A further sign of change in the air was the start this week of the NHL hockey schedule, launched in Canada with a match between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, before which the Tragically Hip played a televised concert.  This was brand alignment with perfect pitch, for the Hip are unrivalled for their Canadian-ness:  they are the only band that one can fully completely claim is as Canadian as hockey itself.

The fact that they are from Canada is an accident of birth that makes them automatically Canadian, but birth does not automatically make them – or anyone else on the very long list of accomplished and internationally-recognized Canadian entertainers – a Canadian act.

The Hip earned its status long ago as the quintessentially Canadian act by taking the further step of actually singing about this country and the things that matter to its people.  An abbreviated shortlist of songs includes ”Fifty Mission Cap” (about the disappearance and discovery of Leaf great Bill Barilko), “At The Hundredth Meridian” (“where the Great Plains begin”) and “Wheat Kings” (about the wrongfully-imprisoned David Milgaard).

And so the Hip are an anomaly in the constellation of Canadian mega-stars – being the many actors, musicians, comedians, producers and entertainment industry movers and shakers who have achieved vast celebrity in the United States  – whose Canadian identity was only relevant to their careers because it gave them the key elements not enjoyed by the citizens of any other country outside the US itself:

-unsurpassed geographic proximity to the United States
-unsurpassed legal permission to visit and work in that country
-mastery of the American style of English
-the world’s highest awareness of, and adoption of, American culture

We as a people have often asked the self-congratulatory question:  ”Why are Canadians so funny?”  Or “Why are there so many Canadians in Hollywood?”  But the true answer, if one buys the list above, is another question:  ”If you are the most Americanized people in the world, how could you not punch far above your weight in terms of producing the comedians, actors, musicians and behind-the-scenes talent that feed the American system?”

So:  how much bona fide Canadian culture is there for Netflix to kill, or for the CRTC to protect?  We have such a thirst for American content that even the list of supposedly Canadian shows is dominated by renamed versions of American hits:  like The Amazing Race Canada, Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and Canada’s Got Talent.

And then the most important question of all:  do we even care?

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Toronto The Cheap

[Cache #172]

This summer I was in an elevator in Saskatchewan. Not of the grain kind, those icons largely gone, but of the Best Western kind in the small city of Estevan. Making chit chat between floors, I mentioned to the person next to me that I was visiting from Toronto.

“Oh,” he said. “So you’re from ‘The Centre of the World.’”

Mindful of my place as a visitor and wanting not to perpetuate the impression held outside the 905 area code that Torontonians are rude, I thought it only polite to point out his misconception: “Actually, you mean ‘The Centre of the Universe.’”

Whether The Centre of the Universe, Hogtown, The Big Smoke or decreasingly, Toronto the Good, Toronto has been a city of many names. Mercifully, we are now in our last few weeks as Ford Nation, so named for a mayor and his brother whose creative achievements in the disciplines of profanity, propriety and sobriety make the Trailer Park Boys seem like noble statesmen.

October 27th will launch the era of ToryTown, embodied by the blue-blooded, highly respected, responsible and upstanding John Tory. But there is no reason to believe it will mark the end, or even the beginning of the end, of Toronto’s most pressing problem – that of not being able to move from Point A to Point B by any powered mode of transportation, in anything less than a half-day.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 10.06.30 AM

Because underlying this pressing problem is the fact that Torontonians are incredibly cheap. Not when it comes to driving the very finest European automobiles or sipping lattes or doing both while crawling to yoga class on roads that look like vast luxury car dealerships, but when it comes to paying for anything whatsoever that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those roads or the public transportation system with which our highways and byways are locked in a grim symbiosis.

This deep-seated cheapness explains why in Toronto, you can be a drunk, crack-addicted, woman-hating, physically abusive homophobic racist (note: list abbreviated due to space limitations), and still be mayor – as long as you are also cheap.

As long as you promise to build subways without raising taxes, a policy of great appeal to people who drive Porsches, Audis, Mercedes, Beemers and Range Rovers and whose monthly parking bill will get you rent in Winnipeg, yet who are convinced that roads must remain free of any user fee.

To the point that in this bastion of Canadian capitalism, neither John Tory nor Olivia Chow is talking about road tolls of even $1 a day to drive in the downtown, or along the 400-series highways that encircle and carve into the city.

They are not talking about it because they are afraid to talk about it, because they wouldn’t get elected if they did talk about it, because people in Toronto are cheap.

One dollar per highway trip in to and out of Toronto. A measly loonie. One hundred of the things so small, even the federal government doesn’t count them anymore.

And $10 or $20 per day to drive in the Financial District. The key point to remember is that people in Toronto are cheap, and that they will react to the cost by driving less at the most congested times and overall.

Multiply this pittance by the hundreds of thousands of car trips made every day to Toronto, and you have a multi-hundred-million-dollar windfall each year to fund round-the-clock roadwork that will make our roads and public transit more efficient and save some of the $6-billion in economic output lost every year due to gridlock we were already losing in 2006.

And most importantly, you have relief of the very real stress that congestion and delay puts on people as they struggle to do something we can all agree is priceless: spending time with families and loved ones.

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NFL Announces Name Change to NFeLon

[Cache #171]

NEW YORK – League Commissioner Roger Goodell, defending America’s dominant professional sport against accusations it is not yet 100% comprised of wife beaters and child abusers, today strongly signalled this intention by renaming the league from NFL to NFeLon.

“Our league isn’t just about violence on the field anymore.  It’s about criminality off of it,” said Goodell, addressing the media at NFeLon headquarters in New York.

“Led by role models like Ray Rice, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson, our players are in record numbers punching their fiancées unconscioushead-butting their wives and hiding in the bathroom when the cops come and then punching her in the face the next day and threatening to kill their son; and whipping their defenseless toddlers on the scrotum with tree branches.


“Branding is all about authenticity, and our name change to NFeLon reflects the essence of who we are now, and of our vision for the future.  On that note, it gives me great pride to today announce that vision: to be a 100% convict league by 2020.”

“Yes, there will be elements of the media, fan base, ownership and our sponsors who find this vision objectionable.  But I will remind them that fully 32 of our players have been arrested in calendar year 2014 alone, bringing our total to 500 in the past 10 years.  And that we have an entire quarter to build on our 2014 total.  And I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that as football purists we will push hard until the very last second on the clock.”

“Sure, naysayers in the media have pointed out that this rate of arrest is actually lower than that of the public as a whole.  But let me remind you that every single one of our players has received a university education, most often free, many at some of the most prominent schools in the world, and are now the most entitled members of our society – making an average of $1.9-million per year and having their every conceivable whim taken care of by an adoring army of league lackeys, hangers-on, wannabes and knuckle-draggers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, 500 arrests despite these obstacles is a remarkable testament to the character of our players and more than makes the case for renaming our league to NFeLon.”

Giving Fans What They Deserve
Analysts believe that key to the success of Goodell’s NFeLon vision will be a set of enhancements for fans that will truly integrate them into the NFeLon experience.

“Through a wide variety of programs, our league has always been focused on getting fans integrated with the game,” said the Commissioner.  ”But these programs have been limited by the fact that our fans do not have the necessary athleticism, or moral compass, to actually suit up in an NFeLon game.

“And so, while we cannot help fans feel exactly like an NFeLon player, we can indeed help them feel like one of their defenseless family members.  And so we introduce our new fan experience program, DeFansless, in which players will mete out the same violence to their supporters as they do to their girlfriends, wives and babies,” Goodell continued.

“Say that despite seeing the elevator video of Ray Rice punching his fiancée full in the face, knocking her out cold and then dragging her limp body by the collar into a hotel lobby, you still show up at a game wearing a Ray Rice jersey.  We want to reward you for that level of commitment.

“So Ray Rice himself will choose one lucky fan per game to attack with the full, fearsome force of a physique that can bench press an astonishing 400 pounds. I mean, that guy is in shape.

“Or, even though you’re aware of the bloody welts Adrian Peterson administered to the tiny body of his four-year-old son, let’s say you attend an NFeLon game wearing a Peterson jersey.  Well, you might just be the lucky fan chosen by Adrian to be whipped with a tree branch until you bleed.

“Or, you can call an audible, if you will, and elect on the spot to receive the same kind of ‘whoopin’ Peterson gave his son while the helpless little boy was strapped in his carseat.

“Or if you’re a Dwyer fan, just show it by wearing his jersey to the next Arizona Cardinals game.  He will headbutt you and then email you pictures of a knife and threaten to kill himself and your children.  He will kill you first, of course, but let’s be clear:  only if you really deserve it.”

Name Created in Rather Quiet Alumni Sessions
Having not been seen in public for the several days preceding today’s announcements, Goodell this morning insisted he was not hiding like one of his multi-millionaire player-felons, but rather working on the league’s new name.

“It took somewhat longer than expected, because we enlisted the help of NFL alumni, the trailblazers who built our brand’s foundation by committing the lesser crimes of decades past.  As we at the NFeLon have acknowledged, the hits to the head sustained by our players on the field give them Alzheimer’s and other dementias at a rate as much as 3,500% greater than that of the general public.

“And let’s face it:  how can our alumni be expected to come up with a creative new name for a six-billion-dollar organization when they can’t even remember their own?” 

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