What Football Can Teach Us About Marketing

It’s football season, and fans everywhere are scheduling where they will be on Sunday. Whether it is in front of the television, at a local sports bar or tailgating at the actual game, fans are flocking to the NFL (National Football League). On average, nearly 20 million people view NFL games every week. That’s per game. According to Nielsen, viewership is up for each network who televises NFL games and are averaging their most viewers ever, increasing close to 10% each year.

Wait. Isn’t baseball supposed to be “America’s pastime?”

The NFL has built a business model to be envied. Years ago, they knew they were coming in second to MLB (Major League Baseball) and have since built a juggernaut that now hosts games internationally and is a licensing machine. How did they do it?


Some traditional, some innovative, some grassroots. And we can learn from it all.

Just like Ford promotes its brand to help make its independently owned dealerships successful, or McDonald’s brands to make its privately owned locations flourish, the NFL decided to brand the NFL “shield” to help make its franchises thrive.

There are too many areas to list here but, here are a few to consider for your own business:

NO “OFF SEASON” – Most businesses have slower periods of the year than others. The NFL is no different. The season used to be 12 games and a couple of weeks of playoffs. Gradually, they increased the season to include 16 regular season games over 17 weeks, four exhibition games, expanded playoffs and so on. This increased revenue stream. More importantly, they looked at the six months of the year with no games and started marketing off-season events like; the Pro Bowl (all star teams compete against each other for fun), the Draft (moving it from one day, to two, and now three days – including prime time), free agency (where players can be signed by other teams), mini-camps (where players and coaches start their spring training), training camp (where fans visit to see how the final teams start to take form). In fact, they even changed the terminology! They aren’t exhibition games anymore… its “pre-season!” It’s not the off-season. Oh, no. The NFL and all their subsidiaries refer to it as the “Business Season.”

How can this philosophy help increase your business? Look at where business is slow and find ways to keep your customer base involved. Maybe you aren’t selling services or products to them during this time but, are you keeping your service or product in front of them and building loyalty? Create inter-active fan clubs, build vibrant message boards, grow Facebook fans, Tweet cool industry facts… Keep your customer entertained/informed/engaged as much as possible.

FANTASY FOOTBALL – One of the largest, if not the largest, marketing tools of the NFL is free fantasy football. It is estimated over 20 million people compete by managing made-up teams of professional football players versus other fan’s made-up teams. So, if your favorite team in reality is no longer in the playoff hunt and you want to write off football, your fantasy team keeps your interest throughout the season. Brilliant!

How can we learn from, or even better, emulate this tremendous success? Find ways to expand your service or business and offer free add-ons. Do you operate a gym, karate or dance studio? Offer a free “date night” once a month for parents to drop off kids. Do you sell computers or phones? Offer bi-monthly “how to” mixers where clients can come in and share ideas and ask questions. Do you publish books or magazines? Host a free cyber-chat where readers can ask authors or experts questions.

We can all learn how to market ourselves better by paying closer attention to what we enjoy every day. Why do we enjoy them? What is it about it we like? How did it grab my attention? To steal a football phrase, “Its a copycat league.” Hopefully, you have an innovator on your team – someone who thinks outside the box and generates creative ideas for you. Your own Guerrilla Marketer. However, there is nothing wrong with analyzing what works for others, see how it can be adapted to your team, and use it as part of your winning strategy.

Your Guerrila Marketer,
Rick Verbanas

3 thoughts on “What Football Can Teach Us About Marketing

  1. I like your comparison to the NFL and how they engage their audience all year long, not just during football season.

    While engagement is vitally important – without it no sale can occur – I would also add that it all begins with a deep understanding of your target audience. The more in-depth knowledge you have about your audience the better chance you have of creating programs that resonate with them.

    But research can be costly, especially for small businesses. Do you have any ideas on how to capture information about your audience that does not cost a small fortune?

    I look forward to seeing your POV on audience research in future articles.



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