12 Months of Football or 12 Months of Marketing?

02/26/2017 10:41 am ET

How the NFL has positioned itself as a year-round brand

Super Bowl 51 has come and gone, marking the official end of the 2016-17 NFL season. As I began to twitch with separation anxiety and a feeling of emptiness as I survived my first football-less Sunday, I quickly melted with relief once I realized I actually didn’t have to wait until August to start getting excited for the 17-18 season. If there’s one thing the NFL and Roger Goodell have managed to do right (alright, let’s be serious, it was probably his assistant) it’s keep the NFL brand top of mind throughout every month of the year. When you break it down, you really get 12 months of football. And in actuality, you’re getting 12 months of successful marketing.

  • September – December: Regular Season
  • January: Post Season
  • March: NFL Combine contd./Free agency begins
  • May: Deadline for restricted free agents
  • June: OTA offseason workouts
  • July: Mandatory minicamps
  • August: Preseason/Fantasy draft season
  • Repeat!

This strategy, from a marketer’s perspective, screams passive marketing. Passive marketing reaches the customer through strategic positioning and customer service. For example, a monthly newsletter or a personal birthday card are both effective methods of passive marketing.

The NFL marketing strategy

In the NFL’s case, by “touching” their audience on a monthly basis they continue to stay relevant in their audience’s mind all year round. It keeps them connected and excited for the upcoming season, almost as if the NFL is hosting a new event each month for football lovers to look forward to. In turn, it also means more revenue for the league. And the league has taken full advantage of capitalizing on its pricing power and generating record income from TV, sponsorships, tickets and merchandising with each passing year.

What’s been most interesting is their strategy of carefully and marginally increasing their exposure – first by adding weekly Monday night games, then Thursday night games, and most recently early Sunday morning London games. And yet, while they’ve increased their exposure and slowly taken market share of attention across more days of the week, they actually have fewer games than we’d like. To be more specific, the NFL has 80 to 90 percent fewer games than the MLB, NHL and NBA. And while a majority of their games are still exclusively played on just 17 Sundays a year, they still reign king in terms of profitability and exposure. The NFL has generated more revenue per game than any other professional sport, all the while having less airtime.

And this can largely be attributed to the fact that even though they only seem to dominate 17 Sundays per year, their passive marketing strategies keep them top of mind for the remaining 25, and not by accident.

The simple strategy of routinely touching is something most businesses spend lots of time and money trying to accomplish, but rarely seem to execute quite as successfully as the NFL has done with the 1967 NFL-AFL merger. It even allows those working in the business to stay busy throughout the offseason. From a writer’s perspective, it helps us have timely and interesting content each and every month.

We should all take notes from the NFL’s playbook and follow suit. When you review the NFL’s passive marketing touches, do you think they have exhausted their audience? On the contrary, the NFL has successfully managed to sustain audience interest during what should be their slow season. One thing is for certain, NFL owners and their loyal fans can certainly agree that they don’t mind talking football all year round.

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