NFL And The Digital Gridiron

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 3, 2013

In training facilities and practice fields across the nation, players prepare for NFL Football. A much different group is getting hyped for the new season, too,but not on the gridiron; they are on laptops, tablets and phones. The excitement is at a boiling point, and, if you are in the business to sell something to NFL fans, you should also be engaged in that second-screen battle. 

The second-screen audience for football is among the largest, according to a recent Adweek article, with over half of the audience watching games with an electronic device. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the NFL is a god amongst men when it comes to major sports – bringing in almost $10 billion in 2012 – and making it far and away the most valuable media franchise in the country. What this means for both the NFL and their sponsors is that they have a vast (live) audience, and they are working extra hard to reach these consumers in new and meaningful ways. 

For the NFL, the strategy is to focus on the digital space without assistance from social media giants, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., or video platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc. Recently, the NFL held a press event in New York City to formally announce its new digital offerings, which includes redesigning the NFL Mobile application to be carried across all mobile services (previously the app was only available to Verizon customers). The new NFL Mobile app also means new revenue, with brand new feature, pre-roll ads for their on-demand video content, and “Rising Stars” ad-units (all of which will be sold directly) according to Manish Jha, the NFL's general manager of mobile-media initiatives.   

A similar strategy certainly paid off for the MLB, perhaps the league that was most ahead of the curve on the digital frontier. The MLB.TV model is the case study for live streaming, out-of-market games and sharing content. In addition, the NBA was one of the first leagues to truly embrace the power of Twitter, even partnering with it to embed replays on the service during the 2013 playoffs. 

The NFL certainly has seen success with the DirecTV Sunday Ticket, but is already looking to make its games more available, as consumers’ consumption habits move beyond TV. Rumors are already circulating that Google is eyeing the NFL Sunday Ticket Package once the DirecTV contract is up, a move that could bring the NFL to even more devices than it already reaches.

Expect an even bigger social media push this year for NFL sponsors. After last year’s Super Bowl created a social media wave, posting three times higher social activity than the previous year, expect every brand to have a team sitting by keyboards on game day, ready to join the NFL conversation. Some brands are already off to a better start than others. 

Gatorade, active across Twitter and Facebook, also has been one of the few brands to embrace Instagram (98,000+ followers), sharing photos of NFL Gatorade athletes and its brand activations around the NFL. Campbell’s Chunky Soup’s team-specific strategy highlights a new athlete each year, and becomes embedded in the fan base of the player’s team. This year it’s Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers, and already its content has been all Packers focused. Lastly, there is Papa John’s active on Twitter with free pizza giveaways for game day, promoting specials and its Super Bowl Coin Toss Experience giving millions the chance to win a free pizza.

These brands understand the need to communicate with consumers in the social space, and the studies back them up. A recent Internet Advertising Bureau study revealed that 90% of consumers would recommend a brand to others after interacting with them on social media. However, our new Social Assiststudy found that brands only account for 2% of the social media conversation around a specific sporting event. A shockingly low number when 55.6% of sports enthusiasts (est. 85+ million) have visited Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn in the past 30 days, according to the Scarborough Research 2013 multi-market report.

The social media landscape is certainly still in its infancy, yet it is interesting to note how long it has taken for leagues and brands to become more accepting of the power that social media holds. Will fans respond negatively to the number of brands stepping up to the social media game on Sundays? The only thing to do now is to wait – until kickoff – and then join the conversation.

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