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What Marketers Can Learn from NFL’s Success

Are you ready for some football?

The NFL season is officially upon us. Last year, the NFL was estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, the league’s 32 teams sport a market value of $45 billion, making the NFL worth almost as much as Starbucks. Viewership across four networks – Fox, CBS, ESPN, NBC – drew an average of 20 million viewers, with a substantial increase of three channels. The 2015 fantasy football season, according to the NY Post, had more than 75 million people play. More money was bet on Super Bowl 50 than any other Super Bowl in history.

All this, in the face of growing concerns over concussions and Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, labor disputes, lack of front office diversity, the Washington team name, Colin Kaepernick’s protest, and the amount of players accused domestic violence.

How does the NFL brand maintain? How does the NFL maintain such popularity?

In celebration of the 2016 NFL season, DMN is breaking down exactly what marketers can learn from the US sports giant.


The NFL viewing experience continues to change each year. In April, the NFL partnered with Twitter to stream ten Thursday Night Football games. The NFL started streaming with Yahoo for the 2015 season, as well as, live stream offers on NFL Mobile, Network Watch app, NFL Now and NFL Game Pass. Marketers should take note on the NFL’s ability to maintain a presence on a variety of platforms. The decision to market on several avenues has allowed the NFL to maintain consistent content distribution to its fan base. This consistent content distribution the NFL has created has imbued a sense a trust within the fan to find not only new but relevant material. If a marketer intends to maintain an audience, he/she should design a trusted platform for their audience to experience new and relevant content.


There are 32 teams in the NFL. Every team is very different in their look and feel, however, each supports the overarching brand of the NFL. From the field to the jersey to the broadcast, every game is branded with the NFL symbol. The products, in turn, are a sum of the greater concept. Marketers should promote products, but not without losing sight of the brand. The products should match the brand’s theme, support the brand’s concept, thereby producing a sturdy ideological foundation for the customer.


The NFL may not have embraced fantasy football at the onset. However, today, the NFL has established a fantasy football specific website, television show and podcast. Furthermore the NFL developed a series of other fantasy-esque games, such as “Playoff Challenge,” “Weekly Pick ‘Em,” and “NFL Fantasy Survivor.” There is great value in embracing and supporting the most ardent fan base of your product. Marketers must recognize the fanatics and support them by creating additional content, promotions and deals with their needs in mind. This will give the fanatical consumer or customer a feeling of a supported relationship.


When a fan wears any attire supporting “their” team, they are ostensibly supporting the NFL. Be it a hat or jersey, hoodie or sweatpants, the merchandise creates a walking billboard effect for the NFL. Even if people are unaware of the NFL content, they still understand the merchandise is a product of the league. Marketers should create merchandise for their product or service, no matter what it is. Merch definitely costs money, but if they can create merch that people will actually use or wear, then it can be an invaluable investment.


The NFL is arguably the most popular sport in the US. This was achieved over years and years through a variety of different methods. However, perhaps the most unrecognized reason for its success is the NFL’s ability to understand when and how to expand. Grow to quickly and a brand can wilt. Grow to slowly and a brand can stale. The NFL perfected expansion, by developing 32 teams and international games at just the right time. Marketers must remember to build a sturdy foundation prior to expansion.


In a world where entertainment lies in every crevice of every platform, brands must consider the commitment its asks of its customer. The NFL season is 16 games long. This schedule, as opposed to other major league sports, does not require much of a fan’s time. Marketers should consider the same in regards to their brands. A customer’s time is valuable, and even more so in 2016. Think, marketers, what are you asking of your consumer? How much of their time is needed to enjoy your product?


The “sun never sets on the Roman empire” and the “NFL season never ends.” There is a reason the sporting public never stops talking about football. It is because the NFL will not let them. From September to February, the NFL has a 16-game season. In late February, the NFL holds the combine, where draft candidates perform physical feats to impress onlooking team scouts. The NFL holds the draft in April, the announcement of its minicamp schedule in May, minicamps in June and July, and the preseason games in August. The constant stream of content allows the brand to stay fresh and relevant in the consumer’s mind. Notice, this tactic is not a flood of information, but a steady stream. Marketers must recognize the difference. A stream of product content will always maintain a brand’s relevance, however, a flood could suffocate the message.


There is no major sports organizations under more scrutiny than the NFL. Yet, it remains more popular than ever. How is this possible? Simple: the NFL never lost sight of the game. Despite a litany of growing concerns involving the league, its safety and its players, the NFL continues to maintain focus on the game itself. No matter what the controversy maybe, marketers should understand to never lose sight of what attracted the customer in the first place. The product, in the NFL’s case: the game, is the most vital piece of its brand. Whatever the most important piece of a brand is, the marketer must define it and treasure it.


The NFL brand is not perfect, far from it. The organization has failed to adequately address issues such as concussions, CTE, suicides, and head injuries, as evidenced in the recent handling of hits to Cam Newton on the season-opening game yesterday.  It also has chosen to not take a stance either way on players, led by Colin Kaepernick, deciding to not stand for the national anthem. It has also been slow to handle how to discipline players responsible for domestic abuse.

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