When the Bandwagon Fans Fall Off

Living in the US, the NFL is easily one of the most recognizable brands we come into contact with on a daily basis. More specifically, living in North Carolina, we are fully immersed in the mania and hype of “Panther Nation.”


(Courtesy of @IGpanthernation via Twitter)

The Carolina Panthers, like other franchises, maintain a prominent and consistent brand image among their target demographics. There are numerous ways that an organization of this magnitude must communicate with its audience in order to stand out among the many notable NFL “power franchises.” The typology, or types of messages that an organization delivers, must be tailored to the situation, the environment, and the audience that they are trying to reach.

The 2015 NFL season is one that Panthers fans will not soon forget. The team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, and his fellow teammates rose in popularity as they went on a 15 game winning streak. The team was frequently seen unapologetically posing for mid-game photo-ops, while “dabbing” on their competition.


(Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)

Cam Newton was awarded the coveted title of league MVP and the team even made an appearance in the Super Bowl. I think it’s safe to say that a season like that makes the marketing team’s job quite easy. First of all, the media delivers a great deal of positive, unplanned press for a consistently victorious team. There was even hype created about “the perfect season” before it even happened!

(Joseph Person, The Charlotte Observer)

They were heavily represented by the media in a positive manner. The message was either about another Panthers victory, or something equally as amazing like Cam throwing his insane number of touchdown balls to kids in the stands.


Secondly, football fans are obviously more likely to root for a team that delivers wins. Panthers fans began to come out of the woodwork to see what “Super Cam” or “Luuuuuke” would do at each game. Advertising and social media material was at no shortage due to their strongly positive image in the media, as well as their ever growing, ever enthusiastic fan base.

The marketing and branding techniques of the organization seemed to shift in a new direction after the crushing Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. The social media updates, advertising, and media coverage transitioned to a much more humble, appreciative tone. The constant stream of “Keep Pounding” updates quickly transformed into a message of “We will work harder” and “next year is our year.”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the 2016 season has certainly not been their year. So far the team’s record is 1 win and 5 losses. Even worse, their MVP sustained a concussion along with several other key players being placed on injured reserve. This has placed the organization at the bottom of the NFC South Conference. Their current struggle has caused a shift in the typology of the organization’s communication methods. Instead of relying on positive media attention and bandwagon fans, the focus has been more on philanthropy, hard work, and the “ride or die” fan base. Without the epic victories and record breaking plays to broadcast, the Panthers are forced to look for content that comes from within its organizational culture and soul. Recent communication from the Panthers places a larger impact on team motivation and hope for the future:


While other messages highlight the organization’s charitable efforts and donations.


A small sigh of temporary relief likely comes from the generally supportive response the Panthers have received from their true fans:


Although the NFL audience may be harsh and unforgiving at times most fans stay loyal to their favorite team, no matter how stormy the weather. The determination and optimism found within the typology of the Panther’s messages will likely resonate with true fans and keep them coming back for more!


(Jeff Siner, The Charlotte Observer)


Are you a Panthers fan? If so, are these communication strategies keeping you hopeful for your team, or are you fed up and just ready to see some wins? Let us know what you think!


-“PR and IMC: The Benefits of Integration” Public Relations Quarterly, Fall, 1994, 38-44