They say that football season never ends. They aren’t wrong. From the six-month preamble after the draft in February to the first players emerging onto the field in September, the palpable excitement never diminishes. This is largely thanks to the NFL.
We may be going out on a limb by saying this, but football would cease to be what it is today without the NFL. Other than the fact that the NFL is, well, the NFL, the organization has elevated the sport through agile content marketing tactics.
Sports have captivated audiences for centuries. Each game is a heated narrative of competition, as an intense battle for the coveted victory ensues. These “stories” are not only entertaining, but preach gospel truths that reverberate in our daily lives: hard work, character, perseverance, and teamwork. The sport is timeless; it sells no matter the economic, political, or social climate.
What does this have to do with the NFL’s content marketing strategy? Everything. Football’s intrinsic nature as not just a sport, but a culture, gives a powerful voice and persona to the NFL that it uses to engage online audiences. The NFL has become a content marketing powerhouse with a multi-faceted strategy drafted to unite brands, advertisers, and fans under one roof.
However, no system is without its flaws. We’ve broken down the NFL’s content marketing strengths and cited opportunities for growth that will keep audiences off the bench and in the game.
WHAT THE NFL DOES DAMN WELL:
Fans as brand ambassadors
The NFL’s fan base is – and always will be – its most powerful content marketing tool. Content marketing isn’t just words on a page; it also appears on materials that openly communicate a brand’s message. Fans sporting NFL jerseys, ball caps, sweats, t-shirts, or even branded electronics are essentially walking billboards for the organization.
People who aren’t even football fans know the trademark NFL logo, which is exactly the point.
Reaches its audience via cross-media platforms
The NFL makes a conscious effort to keep a stream of content flowing for its audience. A content stream is preferred over a flood: a stream is steady, whereas a flood drowns the message. To do this, it employs both modern and traditional media platforms to ensure the game is always accessible for every fan.
In addition to its own TV network plus national TV and radio coverage, the NFL website is a hub for all things football. Game highlights, videos, scores, player/coach interviews, and athlete news are all just a click away. A ticker of game scores scrolls along the top to inform fans of their team’s standing, other conference game scores, and games that have yet to be played. The website also features a blog, which is split between football pundit Dave Dameshek’s own blog and NFL films produced by the organization itself. There is now a podcast section with a wide selection that caters to any type of fan.
Each of the NFL’s 32 teams uses Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to bring those unique experiences that much closer to the fans and guarantee content is readily available on any device. The NFL has embraced today’s “there’s an app for that” culture through deals with Twitter and SnapChat, which offer more ways to constantly converse with fans through contests, giveaways, professional endorsements, and fan feedback. The NFL has nailed the concept of reaching fans where they are as a way to embed trust and increase fervent loyalty.
Engages its “fanatic” audience
Fantasy Football wasn’t always promoted by the NFL, but another thing the NFL does well is listen. Understanding Fantasy Football’s popularity, and realizing the incredible opportunity it presents to interact with its audience, the NFL has since established a FF website, TV show, and podcast. Similar programs like “Playoff Challenge,” “Weekly Pick ‘Em,” and “NFL Fantasy Survivor” add content that is specifically generated to support its relationship with the most dedicated fans.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT:
The NFL is far from perfect. It is constantly under scrutiny for its failure to suitably address concussions, CTE, suicides, head injuries, and domestic violence. It has also been criticized for not taking a stance on players, such as the political statement led by Colin Kaepernick deciding not to stand for the national anthem. With a massive cultural authority like the NFL, it’s almost a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
One of the cornerstones of content marketing is remaining transparent with your audience. When these instances arise, the NFL should address them – it’s the elephant in the room. This begins at the top by addressing these issues honestly, holding at-fault parties responsible, and showing efforts to improve in writing goes a long way. It helps shift the tone of content back to the goals of the organization instead of more crisis management.
Content as Recruiting
The NFL also suffers from a downward trend in football: participation. The love of the game is instilled at a young age in youth football. It draws kids in early to adopt the culture, creating lifelong fans and eventually high-value customers as season or regular ticket holders. Talent nurtured in youth sports leads to the NCAA, “the” recruiting funnel for the NFL. Because of the issues surrounding head trauma, CTE’s and concussions, parents are becoming more cautious and less willing to let their kids play. As a result, the NFL loses potential customers.
NBA 2K recently put out an ad featuring its new ‘Open World’ feature. The star-studded video features a young basketball player making his way to the neighborhood court for a pickup game. Along the way, he nonchalantly greets NBA stars such as Paul George, Isaiah Thomas, and finally Kyrie Irving, with a custom handshake. When Kyrie Irving asks how he’s doing, the kid says “it’s just another day in the neighborhood,” calling attention to the humble birthplace of basketball.
Content marketing cannot make parents sign their kids up for football. But, the NFL could promote this same sentiment. The NFL could scale this concept to youth football through video content spotlighting hometown teams, players, and coaches that explain their unique circumstances, struggles, and triumphs. Then, it could follow young players along their journeys to play at the collegiate, and eventually, professional level. The NFL could run a related social media campaign in which professional football players make short amateur videos describing how their football journeys, and the physical trials faced in the sport, impacted their lives.
It may seem basic, but when regularly rolled out, this kind of content reinstills the timeless connection people have to football. It shows that it is, truly, more than just a game: it’s an outlet that inspires self-worth, higher education, discipline, and camaraderie. It’s a culture worth preserving. Wouldn’t you want to join?