Americans love football. After the start of the season this past weekend, there’s no escaping the crazed
fans all over social media.
It’s no coincidence that football is one of the most watched and talked about sports in America. The
National Football League has strategically managed to make football America’s favorite sport through
constant fan engagement – something all businesses should take note of.
Below are the top 6 lessons a business can take from the NFL “fan engagement” playbook:
1. Make your product accessible
No matter where you are in the world, if you have internet access, you can watch your favorite football
team play their opponents week after week throughout the season. You can watch current games or
games as far back as the first televised game between the Eagles and the Dodgers in 1939.
In addition to being available via the internet, the NFL sells its merchandise in most major stores, builds bigger stadiums to accommodate fans and has launched its own network. You can have all the NFL you want, whenever you want it.
Starbucks has a similar business model. It seems like Starbucks is everywhere, because it is. That’s
exactly how they want to be perceived. You can get Starbucks in the retail location but also in places like Target or you can buy their prepackaged drinks from most supermarkets. Their product is available
almost everywhere for anyone that wants it.
2. Invite your fans to be part of the team.
The Seattle Seahawks have done an especially impressive job with this. If you are a Seahawks fan, you
have earned the right to call yourself the 12th man. The 12s are what the Seahawks call their fans. In
1984 the number 12 was actually retired from the team and a number 12 flag is raised before every
game. Fans feel like they are contributing to the team and because of this the Seahawks’ stadium is one
of the loudest in the world and has actually made the earth shake.
Your customers want to feel like they are part of a team when they choose to do business with you. Give
them a voice by asking them for reviews or offering a consumer survey for their opinion. Embracing
user-generated content, like pictures of people using your product, can be a great way to get them
involved. People like to feel like they are a part of something.
A great example of this comes from eyeglass manufacturer, Warby Parker. Every month they share their
favorite photos of customers wearing its glasses on its official Instagram account.
3. Embrace social media
Every team in the NFL has its own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account to keep the fans engaged.
Those accounts provide the fans with up-to-date news while highlighting specific fans and giving them
chances to win prizes. Some teams have used Snapchat to reveal schedules, create stories for upcoming
games or announce new available products.
Social media can make a huge difference when building a brand image. What a business needs to keep
in mind when using social media is to provide something that your “fans” are going to want to see.
4. Stay fresh and relevant
The NFL often updates the game to keep it interesting and appealing. For example, in 1912, touchdowns
went from four points to six points. In 1965, the NFL and the AFL merged to grow its fan base and add
more competition to the game. Two years following the merge, the Super Bowl was played for the first
time. Other changes have included the introduction of Wild Card teams, modifications to overtime
rules and the frenzy free agency creates every March when the new season begins.
Apple is a great example of a company that always updates their products to stay fresh and relevant to
the consumer. Every year, a new operating system is released with updates and new features. They also
release a new phone. The phone may not be very different from the last version but if you are a person
that needs the latest and greatest products, you’ll buy the newest iPhone available.
5. Constantly improve fan experience
It doesn’t matter if you’re watching the game from home or in the stadium; the NFL is always looking for
new ways to improve your viewer experience. If you are at the game, the stadiums have put in large
screens so that you can see every play. Some stadiums have added extra features like free WiFi and apps
that tell you how long the lines for the bathroom are.
For the fans watching from home, the NFL offers NFL Red Zone. Red Zone shows all scoring plays in
every game currently in play. This specifically appeals to those in fantasy football leagues.
All businesses need to keep their customers’ needs front and center and improve upon your services
based on those needs. Whole Foods provides a good example of this. They offer recipes, instructional
videos and specific local store information for their customers on their website.
6. Partnerships are key
The NFL has made many lucrative partnerships throughout the years to expand the brand. EA sports has
been contracted to make Madden NFL, to bring the football excitement to video game players. They also
have deals with DirecTV, Twitter, Google and Verizon to make it easier for people to follow their favorite teams on the go.
The League also has a number of socially based partnerships to give back to the community. It has
teamed up with EPA, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Joyful Heart
The right partnerships can be a great way to open up new markets and create a positive brand image.
Another great example of this was Uber partnering with Spotify to allow riders to choose their own
music during their Uber ride.
No matter the projections before the season, fans will always flock to watch their teams. Why? Because
you never know what is going to happen. The NFL has the ability to surprise and delight their fans game
after game. Your business has the ability to do the same for your fans. Keep your fans on the edge and
deliver something unexpected.