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Second Snap Snapshot - The NFL as Branding Platform

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

September 13, 2013

With last night’s rain-drenched win by the New England Patriots at home, over the New York Jets, we are officially into Week Two of the 2013 NFL season. And what should be abundantly clear to sports industry insiders and casual football fans alike is, even as attendance has slightly declined at NFL stadiums due to the allure of your own couch and big screen TV, the NFL remains the top sports property to which companies want to attach their brands.


For starters, with 185 million fans, the NFL is by far the most popular sport in America. And as a robust enterprise that generates over $9 billion annually in revenues, it’s also the most lucrative sport in the U.S.

The gold standard of sport business in practice is also the gold standard of identity and branding in sport. The NFL is the most successful American sports league because it knows how to brand.

What sets the NFL apart from other sports leagues? The biggest factor is its attractiveness as a year-round umbrella media property, as the NFL has quite deliberately created a round-the-calendar series of must-see events that transcend the traditional September-January season. According to a IMRE Sports Survey social media survey in 2012, from February 7 (the day after the Super Bowl) to July 23 (when training camps opened), the NFL was mentioned in news, blogs, Twitter, and online forums 6,938,754 discrete times.

That’s a lot of busy fingers on keyboards talking about the NFL, and a heck of a lot of eyeballs. Here are some creative ways that marketers are taking advantage of the jumbo platform that is the NFL in 2013.

During this week’s first “Monday Night Football” pregame show on ESPN, as AdWeek reported, Dunkin’ Donuts launched the first TV ad made entirely from a single Vine—Twitter’s popular six-second social video format. The fast-food chain actually peeled one second off its Vine clip to fit into the five-second billboard ad unit which appears full-screen between segments during ESPN programs. Dunkin’ Donut’s animated billboard on Monday night featured a latte drink that flipped a coin to signify the start of a football game. It’s one of four Vine-produced versions that ESPN “Monday Night Countdown” viewers will see throughout the entire 16-game season.

Also relying heavily on social media, VISA kicked off its NFL integrated marketing campaign, themed “MyFootballFantasy,” for the 2013 NFL season. Leveraging its assets as a longtime NFL sponsor, VISA asks its account holders to share their NFL fantasy using the #MyFootballFantasy hashtag on Twitter and Instagram for a chance to have that dream fulfilled. Throughout the season, VISA will be monitoring the conversation around #MyFootballFantasy and choosing a select number of fantasies to be fulfilled.

To kick off the campaign, VISA debuted “Coach,” featuring San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. In the spot, Harbaugh gives a pee-wee football team some tough love as they are fulfilling their dream of experiencing NFL coaching up close. Harbaugh, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be featured in more VISA throughout the year.

Bud Light is reprising a popular ad campaign from the 2012 NFL season, with a fun new twist. Bud Light’s new “Superstitions Machine,” a real-life gadget that’s digitally controlled by fans, will purportedly bring their superstitions to life in order to bestow luck on their favorite teams.

Fans can control the Bud Light Superstitions Machine through a homepage takeover on every Monday this season, and watch the machine work through a first-of-its-kind live stream that will air in the ESPN takeover.

The NFL has long sought more meaningful ways to engage female fans, and one of its primary channels for doing so has been game day fashion (the league’s punitive-to-fashionistas new bag policy in its stadiums not withstanding). Accordingly, the September issue of Marie Claire magazine includes a 16-page insert called "The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Football," with six full ad pages devoted to the NFL’s women’s apparel line and another full page ad within the main issue. The guide, according to AdAge, is a "continuation of the NFL’s four-year-old effort to increase its appeal to women and sell them licensed NFL apparel." The league is "working with six other women’s magazines, including Vogue and Cosmopolitan, but the Marie Claire effort is the centerpiece of the NFL’s print campaign this year."

Marie Claire editors produced the content, which includes tips on hosting a Super Bowl party and a guide to “quarterback bromances.” As part of the campaign, the magazine will "distribute 15,000 additional copies of the insert in the NFL’s ’style lounge’ retail areas at stadiums.”

The NFL, finally, continues to look for creative ways to engage its most committed fans. As the cost to attend sports events rises, and the home-viewing experience improves, the NFL’s 32 teams and other sports leagues are coming up with innovative incentive programs to keep their season-ticket holders. The NFL this year unveiled “The Membership Club” for the roughly one million football fans who have season tickets. The Club allows all season-ticket holders to access the NFL Network’s popular RedZone channel for free, whether at the stadium or at home, regardless of who their cell phone provider is. Additionally, season-ticket holders who buy EA Sports’ Madden game can download special, supplemental content.

If all this added marketing salad dressing isn’t stimulating enough for you, take heart. You can always revert to watching an actual football game, played on an actual field.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard: Chapter 1. The Mega-Master Super Series XLXL eBook chapter

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