Sudden Death: The Ravens & Niners Through a Marketing Lens

Amidst a dizzying array of four million dollar 30-second spots and a pregame show that looks more like a miniseries, there will actually be a football game played on Super Sunday.

There are all kinds of side stories revolving around this year’s game. Ray Lewis’s final football game and an “epic” battle between the two Harbaugh brothers (who actually seem to like each other), and no doubt others will surface as CBS tries to engage its audience throughout the hours leading up the 6:30 eastern kickoff. While NFL television ratings have been lower this year, it’s expected that more than 179.1 million people will watch this year’s game—the most ever in history.

While there will be countless articles written that will dissect every conceivable aspect of both the Ravens’ & 49ers’ offense, defense, coaches, cities, and cheerleaders, etcetera, I’d like to take a closer look at the way each team has leveraged digital media leading up to the big game. A sound digital strategy might not be the X-factor that determines the winner on the turf field in New Orleans—but it most definitely can score extra points when it comes to business impact.


Both teams understand that one of the most powerful tools in their respective digital arsenals is social media. Both the Ravens and 49ers are using Twitter as a travelogue for their journey from their home city to New Orleans. While the 49ers team Twitter page was ahead in terms of followers (roughly 327,000 to the Ravens’ 268,000) in the lead-up to Super Bowl Sunday, it’s interesting to note that Ravens players are much more aggressive on Twitter than their opponents.

Ray Lewis has over 500,000 followers; Ray Rice: 408,000; and Joe Flacco: nearly 70,000. On the San Francisco side, Coach Jim Harbaugh leads the pack with nearly 370,000 followers. There’s probably also a fair share of “Kaepernicking” going on as the QB has recruited over 150,000 followers thus far and growing. Despite this last minute blitz by the 49ers, the popularity of Ravens players more than makes up their team’s Twitter deficit.


Facebook continues to be Super Bowl central for both teams as each posts pictures from fan events and rallies to try and pump up their respective fan base. Ray Lewis dominates the Ravens Facebook page as do an assortment of purple painted fans. Makes me wonder what will happen to this brand when Lewis does retire after Sunday’s game.

Baltimore has about 1.3 million likes, but creatively there’s really nothing all that special going on; it’s basically a shrine to Ray Lewis.

The San Francisco “Quest for Six” page has generated more than 1.6 million likes…and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s pretty lame right now: photos of Frank Gore and Jim Harbaugh meeting the press, players boarding the airplane. Nothing to get all excited about. My sense is that both teams are fumbling this opportunity big time.

You Tube

It’s clear that the Niners have bet all their chips on online video and its TV 49 channel. San Francisco is a huge winner in video, with over 2.5 million views of its YouTube offerings. The Niners have more than 500 videos packed into its You Tube presence. Viewers can home in on “playlists” ranging from “Niner Cam” to the “The Joe Show.”

Production values on the TV 49 “shows,” however, leave a bit to be desired. One would have hoped that with all of that Hollywood talent nearby the Niners could have done a better job in production. Without Ray Lewis and John Harbaugh the Ravens’ You Tube presence would be nothing more than a selection of game highlights and rap videos. There is no “Purple” channel on You Tube and based on what’s up there right now that’s probably a good thing. Any channel would probably feature 24/7 Ray Lewis endless reruns. For the video starved fan the Niners score big on YouTube.


There’s no competition here—the Baltimore Ravens website rocks. A visit starts with a great video highlighting the team’s year of triumph with a great soundtrack. It truly makes you believe that the Ravens believe they can win this thing. The site is well-constructed and provides the fan with numerous ways to stay connected with the team: mobile apps, breaking news alerts and a mobile-optimized site for your smartphone. There are also over 80,000 fans following the team on Instagram with a huge assortment of great team photos. The site is exciting and engaging on many levels. Even if you are not a Ravens fan, it’s worth a visit. It’s an example of great work by the web team.

The San Francisco site is fully functional and replays the “Quest for Six” theme throughout the site. What’s lacking is the same level of excitement and enthusiasm. It really appears that the team feels like “we’ve been here before” and there’s no need to pump up the fan base.

To me, this is the difference between large and small market teams. Baltimore needs to do more to pump up its team and fans versus the “Quest for Six” 49ers. As a result, the 49ers site is nothing special even though it has accomplished all of the basic blocking and tackling.


Once again the Ravens have gone on the offensive when it comes to mobile strategy. Fans can sign up for the official Ravens mobile app to keep them up to speed with every aspect of the team in real time. The Ravens website has even been optimized for mobile viewing. There’s also a great breaking news alert mobile offering to keep fans current with the latest news and updates.

Having spent nearly 45 minutes on the 49ers site clicking on every possible link, I have yet to find any mobile offering of any kind. Sure, the NFL is promoting its mobile offering in a paid ad onsite, but my research has thus far not turned up any evidence of a mobile strategy. Lots of pages focused on the new stadium and ticket sales but there was nada about connecting with fans on their mobile devices. It’s a huge gap in the digital game plan for SF.


It’s not easy to find the opportunity for fans to sign up for email newsletters and/or alerts from either team. The only evidence of any attempt to build an email list seems to be in the “Fans Only” section of both sites. The Ravens have “Ravensreps” while the 49ers have “Faithfulnistas.”

San Francisco loses points here because it looks like it’s trying to charge fans $49 to join a “club” where they can receive team updates via email newsletter along with other special perks. Baltimore makes the entire process of signing up to receive emails overly complicated. There are some basic flaws on both sides of the ball here. In an attempt to entertain and overly embrace social media, both clubs have walked away from building solid email strategy and creating a fan database that would allow them to sell a heck of a lot product, including tickets and services, to their fan base.

This critique may be a bit harsh in retrospect. After all, these are football teams playing the Big Game this weekend. No disrespect to the coaches and players in all of this. But players and coaches are getting paid big dollars to excel on the gridiron and engage fans in a meaningful way so that sponsors will get more than their money’s worth for those four million dollar 30-second spots.

The business of NFL football is much more than the game on Sunday. A winning season provides owners and management with the ability to increase their revenues and profits through the sale of ever-increasing ticket prices and merchandise. As such, the Ravens and the 49ers are marketing machines not unlike other marketers. Owners should hold their back office and digital marketing teams to the same high standards that other marketers in our industry are held. While there are some bright spots in each team’s strategy, there are also huge gaps that prevent both organizations from building stronger relationships with their fans and customers.

Al DiGuido is CEO of Optimus Publishing. He has more than 30 years of marketing, publishing, advertising, and operations experience.

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