Preseason: How Does the NFL Remain so Popular?

In the following weeks, this blog will provide the “best practices” in social media utilized and created by the NFL to communicate with its various stakeholder groups: players, coaches, management, the nation, foreigners, lobbyists, the media, and most importantly the fans. With participation at its highest amongst users coupled with an ever-growing interactive population, the NFL has the opportunity to transform message delivery amongst its constituencies and align themselves with their needs and interests.

How powerful is the NFL? Considering they have franchised their own day of the week… looks like God has some competition on Sunday afternoons. The National Football Network has remained the most popular American sport for 30 consecutive years as of April 2015. With such a national and increasingly global reach, the organization has the ability to reach consumers through multiple mediums instantly and consistently. Social media plays a significant role in individual’s lives, nearly 1.2 billion people representing 82% of the online population over the world are connected. 64% of them doing so once a day.

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This week, the blog will focus on how the NFL has been able to garner the television industry even in its steady decline. Universally known “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football” bring males, females, teenagers, little kids, parents, grandparents; anyone with a cable connection to the screen to watch their team play. The NFL has also been able to partner with television companies such as CBS and Fox and have created a new channel for fans to reach the best games on Sundays through the use of NFL Red Zone. NFL Red Zone is a special game day-only channel owned and operated by NFL Network that broadcasts on Sundays during the regular season. It allows viewers “whip around” simulcast coverage of all Sunday afternoon games airing in-progress on CBS and Fox.

A section of the first blog post will be on the television series on HBO called Hard Knocks. Each season, (most recently with the Houston Texans) it follows an NFL team through its training camp and covers the team’s preparation for the upcoming football season. The fans are able to relate to players off the field and this provides the NFL with a more emotionally invested fan base.

The second blog post will cover the pivotal force that Twitter plays in today’s global web through the network’s use of embedded promo videos, the “Vote Live” aspect which encourages participation, and more comical videos such as “Bad Lip Reading”. According to NFL analysts, the prevalence of Twitter and Instagram competitions sparked the “NFL Total Access Video Wall” which is simply put a massive canvas on television in which the company uses to illustrate the biggest stories of the day through “curated social content”. Players are using their own Twitter accounts to market their own brands, which in turn helps the organization and its popularity.

Finally, the blog will mention the importance of Instagram and Snapchat and their utilization of hashtags to garner live photos for the NFL network and specific teams, and also competitions played out on this application.

Readers should expect a different perspective of the National Football League and how it uses social media vehicles and/or pre-existing media to increase participation, sales, and viewership amongst its varying constituencies.

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Touchdown: NFL Scores Big With Social Media

Companies want to reach their consumers, the target audience –  fast and effectively. The National Football League does just that, but on a constant and ever-exchanging network. The NFL uses social media to market and advertise its best ideas, products, games, and players by staying consistently connected to their constituencies’ needs, wants, and complaints. How is the NFL doing this?

  1. Use Fans as Ambassadors

By enabling their followers on all social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to post and talk about their brand, they are using their audience as their marketers. This is essential because the NFL is able to extend their reach far beyond where they could have reached before. Using these applications is not only limited to fans, but players can also get in on the action. The teams are able to promote their season, offseason, and information with their fans. Some examples can be found here.

  1. Extended Reach Free of Charge

Most importantly, the NFL is capable of extending their reach, and they are exceptionally good at it. By using their fans as ambassadors, urging them to post user-generated content, this gets their networks involved as well. An individual’s reach value is essential to the NFL.

  1. Promote Awareness and Discussion

This is too often overlooked regarding the NFL, because most people just think of the company as a sports broadcasting network. That is true. But because of its pure size, the NFL can be used as a platform for social, political, and economic issues. Recently, domestic violence has been a big issue in the lives of professional football players. According to research, there is a direct correlation between on-field violence and off-field domestic abuse in the NFL. This is important for the company to address in the headlines and all over social media to maintain its reputation.

  1. Encouraging User-Participation

Fans do not want to be left out. Now more than ever, a company’s target audience is educated, interested, and motivated. If you aren’t using Snapchat by now and are a multi-billion dollar company, you aren’t doing it right. With the features mentioned in previous blogs such as Snapchat Live feature, Twitter Polls, and Instagram competitions, fans are hungry for a piece of the pie. The NFL encourages participation amongst its constituencies that returns big in the long run.

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When looking to the future, the NFL has much more to gain. It has been extremely successful over the years, but like all things, there are areas that could use improvement. Currently, there are over 318 million Americans in the United States, and only two NFL teams have social media accounts with over one million followers. That is not a good ratio. Half of the US population consider themselves fans of the NFL, so the organization needs to do a little more to get this less-interested audiences to participate and follow along. All in all, the NFL is doing a great job at getting their constituencies involved.

As a leader in social media practices in the communication world, the company has brilliant minds working to innovate, inspire, and lead the next generation of fans and find out what they want. The NFL is the “big cheese” and everyone is in anticipation of the next big thing.

cheese

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4th Down: NFL Uses Snapchat to Enhance Experience, Online Gaming

The NFL has done extensive research on its constituencies. The organization knows where to find their fans, what they are talking about, and how they are talking. That is exactly why the NFL has partnered with Snapchat, the messaging app that easily allows an individual to share moments through video, picture messages, and text.

The NFL partnered with the company in order to encourage its fans to share their content through its feature “Live Stories”. This means that at large events such as games and conferences, any Snapchat user can upload their content to that particular “Live Story” feed. Snapchat then sifts through and finds the best videos and pictures to upload to the “world feed” which can be viewed by anyone with an account.

The NFL Live Stories will tell the story of what it’s like to be at an NFL game from many points of view throughout the day – from the grounds crew preparing the field for play, to fans tailgating in the parking lot, to players warming up, to the celebrations of victory on the field and in the stands, to the players heading into the parking lot and closing up the stadium.

BLAKE STUCHIN, Director of Digital Media Business Development NFL

This is how powerful the NFL’s reach is becoming. The company understands that the day’s are over of just calling a listed number and asking for support or donations. If you want to get people talking about your brand, let them do the talking for you.

The NFL is embracing digital distribution by offering these “Live Story” opportunities to its fans, and allowing them to share in the experience. The NFL is using this partnership as a form of advertising as well. Brands can pay the NFL to present official “stories” for the platform therefore making money but at the same getting earned advertising from the syndicate.

In 2015, Snapchat had 100 million active daily users with an average of 9,000 snaps per second. This reach is essential to the NFL. More importantly, is the fact that the corporation is able to bring the “experience” full-circle. Fans can watch the game on the television, live stream it from their phones or computers, watch highlights on the network, and now view behind-the-scenes user-generated content from Snapchat.

An emerging digital world that needs to be mentioned is online gaming. Popular sites such as Fanduel and Movado are online sport betting portals where fans who are following games are able to bet with real money on lineups, points, and outcomes to name a few.

moneyThink MONEY. These corporate executives at NFL want to make money and help their shareholders, by allowing partnerships with NFL teams (15 as of 2015) this encourages even more fans to participate. The opportunity for these individuals to make money off watching the sports they love has helped the organization immensely. Now although the NFL has no control over sites such as these, they are just another way that the corporation is able to benefit from something of no expense aside from low-maintenance signage and brand mentions.

The “best practice” that the NFL uses to engage its fans is to use their own fans as marketers and brand ambassadors. This is pivotal in their continual efforts to extend their reach far beyond their goals.

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3rd Down: NFL Uses Instagram to Better Understand Its Constituencies

The NFL knows how to use their fans. The organization isn’t manipulative, but encourages their fans to contribute user-generated content to their brand. The quintessential advertising design plan circulates around the idea of “paid media”. The NFL would pay an ad agency to create a print piece to put in magazines, newspapers, on billboards, etc. However, what the NFL does instead, is by having their fans and followers post their own content, the organization is able to extend their reach far beyond what is expected. The NFL uses their fans’ own personal networks to disseminate more information.

One of the platforms the organization uses very well to accomplish this is Instagram. Instagram, being a multimedia-sharing site with over 305 million total active monthly users, is a site where user-generated content can be used by individuals and companies to accomplish marketing goals.

The NFL has many ways of spreading news, getting fans involved, and marketing products. One way in which they do this is by using the universal “#hashtag”. Using the hashtag “#NFL” will take a follower to another page specifically designated to similar posts that also have the same hashtag. By doing this, fans are able to see related stories, make connections, and get updated on competitions.

The Washington Redskins decided to create a marketing competition for the best picture from a fan in the stadium on gameday. The team called it the “#FanoftheGame” and the account chose a photo that contained the hashtag and the winner was awarded a prize. This increases reach by allowing access to more followers and it also was able to promote the Redskins without any effort.

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Odell Beckham Jr. making an amazing catch, posted to his Instagram account.

Not only can the NFL as a whole and individual teams utilize this function. Most professional players use Instagram just as much to promote their own brands. The player is instantly connected with the community, their participation and support, and collaboration on major projects. The player can use his profile to raise awareness for supported causes, talk about himself, give information to his fans, and state his opinion on social issues. However, this can sometimes cause controversy. Athletes rely a great deal on their public image. By using these online profiles to self-represent themselves, they are able to form a connection and identity with their fans. This directly helps and sustains supporter-base for athletes in the NFL.

The NFL has an Instagram account as well where they upload breaking news, interesting stories and pictures, player interviews, and promotional videos.

Instagram allows for the organization to reach its constituencies by only creating an account. Again, this is a job that can be handled by a single person, which means the capital gain is enormous through the use of this channel.

Another key advantage to using Instagram as a social media platform is the idea that the NFL is now more capable of better understanding their constituencies. Every time a follower and/or “fan” engages with a campaign, the marketing team can then collect contact information and certain demographics to better structure their message to their audience. By using fan behavior to optimize the NFL’s ads, emails, and postings, the organization has a key understanding of where their fans are, what they are talking about, and when they are doing it.

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2nd Down: NFL Uses Twitter to Mix Promotion and Comedy

One of the NFL’s key constituencies is people like me: young, educated, eager for entertainment, and constantly on their mobile devices ready to share content. 5 out of every 6 millennials (ages 18-34) in the US connect with companies on social media networks. Recognizing this public as “influencers”, the network is able to increase fan awareness of certain events enabling individuals to act as brand ambassadors and drive content publicity indirectly by using Twitter as its vehicle.

twitterpollThe NFL Twitter account regularly updates its feed with live stats, rankings, interesting facts, promotional videos, competitions, and opinion polls. A way Twitter is able to enhance user-participation is with its Vote Live Twitter Poll feature. If you want your followers’ opinions on anything- who will win tonight’s game, which team is more likely to be in the Super Bowl, there’s no better place to get answers than directly from the people. For the NFL, it is a way to engage with Twitter’s massive audience and understand what your viewers and fans think.

For those participating, it is very easy for your voice to be heard and for fans to interact with others, meanwhile the organization can watch conversations unfold right before their eyes (screens). This is not only limited to the NFL Twitter account which currently boasts 16.2 million followers, but also allows each individual team to participate as well, narrowing down their audiences. The polls have proved to do well for brand engagement and follower interaction.

Another important concept the NFL employs to engage with its constituents through Twitter is the use of promotional videos before games, highlight clips post-game, and videos showing an interaction between the players and coaches with fans. The use of the retweet and like button is important with this feature because fans or followers who like to content will share it with their networks. Users who are attached to their online applications (a majority of this key constituency) are motivated to share because of emotional and social acceptance.

In perspective, an individual’s social network is endless because one network connects to another, and so on. With the use of Twitter, NFL is allowing its fans to do marketing for them. Creating and sharing content to their followers can even reach publics that they couldn’t do using their own strategies.

This promotional video aired by the NFL shows up on the NFL’s Twitter feed and once the post is made the global sharing begins.

Lastly, it’s important for the NFL network to not only keep fans interested in content but also keep them coming back time and time again for more. The network’s encouragement of comedy with Twitter videos serves to increase conversation and anticipation between their followers. Fans look forward to a segment at the end of each season where a YouTube channel called “Bad Lip Reading” releases the highlights of NFL athletes in interviews and game footage where the creator overlays audio of the players reciting fallacious but hilarious words. Here is this season’s videos:

Part 1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-kGosnzvjU

Part 2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtIPmVN6zdc

Although professionalism is gravely important when communicating with an organization’s stakeholders… they are real people too, not just statistics. Everyone enjoys a good laugh and the NFL has successfully used Twitter to create a balance between comedic relief, promotion, and civility.

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1st Down: NFL Reversing Television Decline

The NFL’s television viewership shows no signs of slowing down. With affiliates such as ESPN, CBS, Fox, NBC, and NFL Today all in the mix: the numbers are staggering. Why do people watch the game on TV when the thrill and excitement of a live game is much more action-packed?

Cost of tickets, cost and length of transportation, food prices, and weather are only a few factors fans must consider, making attending a live game less desired. Sitting down on the couch with their cheap chicken wings and beer in a warm house and watching football is becoming more sensible now. The network realized this trend and has given consistent focus and detail to the needs of its television audience.

Technology has raised the quality of the at-home viewing experience so high that the NFL and its clubs always search for ways to provide a better in-stadium experience.

NFL FOOTBALL OPERATIONS

The NFL is able to secure the viewership of its constituents by providing constant updates and live performances every game-day. The addition of “instant replay” to broadcasting has even changed the rules of the game. A red flag can be thrown twice in a game for the purpose of review to argue a call made by an official. The network also takes advantage of social media channels by showing examples from sites on its TV segment. The anchor will show tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts from the previous weekend from players, fans, and coaches to get the television audience engaged. NFL understands user-engagement.

RedZone allows fans to watch all the highlights of all the games on a particular day without having to flip the channel. By partnering with CBS and Fox the NFL network and marketing team were able to directly shift content to the viewer’s discretion. You are able to enlarge one game with the click of a button, look at preseason highlights, and receive lightning speed coverage of key plays happening in real time. The best part: no commercials. This service enhances fan experience and availability; allowing individuals who don’t have time during the week to watch the games a chance to relive the excitement.

Most importantly, I believe one of the greatest NFL television platforms is the popular HBO program, Hard Knocks. The series shows the personal and professional lives of the players, coaches, and staff of a different NFL team each year, including their family life and on-the-field hardships. It particularly focuses on rookies’ adjustments to playing in the league, usually with emphasis on the team’s most recent top draft pick. It also doesn’t hurt that the five most recent teams to appear on Hard Knocks have improved their win-loss record in the following season.

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Group of sorority sisters gathering in their house to watch the Super Bowl together. James Madison University, Gamma Tau Chapter of Delta Delta Delta

Mobile platforms are not rivaling the reach or economic power of broadcast television. Although social media vehicles are helping the NFL in various ways, the sustained prevalence of the television isn’t going anywhere. 

Making connections with the constituent and making their lives easier is truly the NFL’s greatest strength: their fans undying love for the game and teams is what makes the network capable of staying relevant with their publics. Their fans want everything fast and right now. And the organization does just that.

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