It’s no secret: Americans love football. The Sunday tradition of gathering with friends and watching our favorite teams beat up on each other is an experience that resonates with millions. We have already discussed the status of the National Football League as an elite brand ‘juggernaut’, but looking at the number of digits on its bottom line, the success of the NFL lies in more than just the passion of its fans. With the teams now set for the Super Bowl – the league’s signature event and arguably greatest spectacle in all of sports – here’s a look at how the NFL has turned a humble sport and its loyal fans into a well-oiled, multi-billion dollar machine.
Engage the Customers
Over the years, the game of football itself has changed significantly. The size, strength, and speed of the athletes has increased, mandating that the style of play needed to win had to change. To compensate, the league has imposed salary caps and free-agency restrictions in order to maintain as much parity among competing teams as possible. The popular adage ‘any given Sunday’ speaks to the excitement of how every team has a chance to win, grabbing hold of the attention of the audience, and never letting go. In fact, as the season wears on, the stakes are raised. In the playoffs, the level of engagement only intensifies, and the marketing efforts of the league and the individual teams ramps up accordingly.
Understand the Value Proposition
At the close of the 2011 season, the average NFL Franchise was worth more than $1 billion, a number that has climbed substantially this year under the terms of the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, negotiated last summer. TV deals with CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN are at the crux of these earnings, each bringing in an average of more than $3 billion dollars annually to the NFL. The league has successfully parlayed its rabid viewership into a bargaining chip that all but guarantees the new contracts will be even larger when they are renewed after the 2013 season.
Protect Your Assets
If the fans are the customers, and the game is the product, the players are the employees. The NFL has always pushed to give its customers the highest standard of quality, and that means keeping the players healthy and happy. Players have always been well-compensated for their work, and they are deserving of it: while the common man grumbles about pro athlete salaries, the truth is they generate more profit for their bosses than employees at just about any other business. The latest challenge facing the league has been an epidemic of injuries, particularly concussions that can limit a player’s lifespan in the big show. In response, the league is working to change rules and improve equipment that will keep its invaluable star players on the field. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it matters that much, but maintaining a talent base that operates at the highest level week in and week out is pivotal to the appeal of the league.
Stay Current and Innovate Constantly
Despite all its successes, the NFL has often had to identify ways to improve, especially as the emergence of a better ‘at-home’ viewing experience has threatened ticket sales over the decades. The league has always been quick to adopt new technologies and even pioneer some of its own, often shaping the way the other professional sports manage and market their game in the process. As the next generation arrives, expect the NFL to be the forefront.