Last month, I raised a yellow flag for those properties and sports marketers who looked to be over-reliant on the utilization of a single superstar to drive fan engagement and affinity. I closed my post with a subtle reference to how football effectively navigates around that issue. This month, I want to expand upon my perspective regarding how, in this era of increased leisure choices and a scarcity of time, football has found a magic formula that has helped elevate it to the preeminent position in sports. As research-driven marketing strategists, our work is often built around the identification and leveraging of “unique selling propositions” or USPs---those ownable and differentiated assets that enable a brand to stand positively apart from its competition. When we look at football as a product relative to other team and individual sports, here are four USPs that it delivers:
Unsurpassed Accessibility Brings Depth and Breadth: From the opening of training camps through early winter months, football is ubiquitous for those who want to consume it. Supported by extensive and broad television coverage and significant visibility across all forms of media, one can sample the product or dive in headfirst. For those so inclined, there’s the brilliant marketing of the offseason from mini camps to national signing day to the drafts. But for those less inclined to follow the game that intensely, football offers meaningful points of entry unique to other team sports. Synergistically, the game transitions from the Friday night lights of high school games to Saturday’s NCAA heroes to NFL Sundays. The fan fare and spectacle associated with football extends the on-field product to adjacent products and numerous “line extensions” … from tailgating to pep bands, cheerleaders and mascots. Perhaps even more so than in basketball, the collegiate game provides great accessibility to school traditions and revelry. With only six to eight home games, time stands still on Saturdays as an entire university community is thrown into the trappings of a weekly holiday. More so than its other team sport brethren, football boasts these ancillary entry points that appeal to close followers of the game and event enthusiasts alike.
The Game Within the Game: And speaking of multiple entry points, I alluded in last month’s posting to the marketing brilliance of various social and participatory extensions of the competition on the field. In ways more pervasive than in other sports, football offers a litany of high- and low-effort interactive ways to involve fans in games within the game. You needn’t memorize the depth charts to enjoy picking winners and “beating the experts.” Beyond Fantasy Football, which has become its own pervasive franchise, there are knock-out pools, point spread sheets that make their way around the office, and, with the culmination of both NCAA and NFL seasons, there are a multitude of luck-driven “bingo type games” that level the participatory playing field for even those who couldn’t tell a fly pattern from a tight end. There’s even the bonanza of fan polls to evaluate the Super Bowl commercials.
Time Sensitivity/Digestible Spectacles: Behind the above access points and brand extensions comes perhaps the most significant unique selling point for football, the compression of the schedule. Each game is meaningful because there are only 12 or 16 games for each team, limited to once or less per week. Compare this to 162 or 80+ /30+ game schedules spread over a much longer time horizon, and it’s easy to see how football fits beautifully into a society that has become increasingly time deprived and attention deficient. Each new week means that the results can be digested in intense but relatively brief portions. Even for the dedicated fantasy sports player, the effort required to be competitive in football is much less than following the incessant transactions and call-ups that comprise a baseball season. Therein lies a large part of football’s broader appeal and greater accessibility to a wider audience.
“Disposable” Superstars: This may sound counter intuitive to the marketing strategies that have helped bolster the NBA and, to a lesser extent, MLB, but football of the professional or college variety is less dependent upon the presence or personas of a handful of superstars. Part of this is driven by the shelf life of the average player being markedly shorter than in other sports. But, to paraphrase an earlier posting, Jerry Seinfeld’s observation that you are really just “rooting for a shirt” comes more into play in football, where the uniform itself often obfuscates the personality and visage of top players. Yet at that same time, the uniform and helmet are representative of the team or franchise that you are following. That franchise brings with it its own legacy, heritage, tradition and history. As a long-suffering Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers fan, I’ve often observed that while the faces behind the jerseys change, the powder blue uniforms endure much as a child, who will sometimes disappoint you, often make you proud but will always be there on Sunday.