Brand Strategy: Following the NFL Playbook

The NFL is an $8 billion sports entertainment industry with over 185 million American customers … even with changing technology and constant controversies, how does the NFL brand stay so successful?

nfl - american flag

1st Down: Know Your Core Audience – As American As Apple Pie
The NFL sweats red, white & blue …they have strategically aligned themselves with partnerships like United Way, where for over 35 years owners, players and staff have been working to “strengthen America’s communities”.  After 9/11, the NFL made the conscious decision to cancel all games, losing millions, but that small act of humility stayed true to the brand they wanted to portray. Since then, troop support has become ubiquitous with NFL games from military flyovers to actual pregame shows recorded from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. In addition, the largest sponsors of the NFL are some of America’s most iconic brands: Pepsi, Papa Johns, Visa, General Motors and Anheuser-Busch (soda, pizza, money, cars and beer … nothing more American).  More so, the NFL practically owns Thanksgiving (arguably the most american holiday…) with its annual doubleheader, keeping guys out of the kitchen for over 90 years.

2nd Down: Brand Ambassadors – Keeping it in the Family
The NFL knows that the best way to promote a brand externally is to use their internal network; past and present players. Getting players engaged with fans; hiring retired players to commentate and identifying the right talent to promote the brand’s new extension are examples of the brand promoting from within. We’re Emmitt Smith and Warren Sapp the best NFL commentators? Probably not … but what they lacked in broadcasting ability they made up for with exclusive insight into the player experience and a pre-built fan base. And what better brand ambassadors to launch new services for the NFL like DirectTV’s Mobile NFL than two squeaky-clean, Superbowl-champion quarterbacks that just happen to be brothers??


3rd Down: Push The Envelope – Finding Untapped Markets
The NFL knows who their core market is, and they do a great job targeting them, but they are also smart enough to realize they need to try new tactics in order to broaden their audience reach. Since 2010, the brand has been ramping up its efforts to market to women through the sale of merchandise; even opening up a pop-up shop in NYC earlier this year and announcing a sponsorship with Marie Claire Magazine. The old “shrink it & pink it” motto is out, making room for more sophisticated items being pushed by female celebrities and owner’s wives. The NFL has also pushed the boundaries geographically, by extending their reach into the London market. Since 2007, they’ve held an annual game at Wembley Stadium, launching NFL International as sort of a brand ambassador program (this year scheduling 2 games). Will there be an NFL franchise in Europe in the next 10 years? Maybe not … but the point is they’re not content to sit back and rely on their traditional fan base.


4th Down: Extend The Brand – Spreading the Wealth
No longer are fans cheering exclusively for their team, with the growth of fantasy football, fans are spreading their support to individual players all over the league (albeit quietly if they are members of the opposing team come Sunday). The NFL has embraced this brand extension by launching NFL Fantasy Football, with channels/sites that exclusively stream fantasy stats; scouting reports from current NFL players, pre-season mock-drafts; apps that allow you monitor player progress and the Red Zone Channel, which shows nothing but scoring plays from all over the league. Fantasy football wouldn’t exist to the level it does now without the NFL’s buy-in. The acceptance of the fantasy extension allows fans, customers of the brand, to keep interest all season long, even when their home team finishes 1-15.


Photo Credits: Associated PressAdAge, H&R BlockAdWeek

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