I imagine your productivity has waned now that football is fully entrenched in our lives. I acknowledged to co-workers earlier this month that beginning on September 8, the first night of the NFL season, my typical week would now have to account for 10-15 hours of NFL consumption (includes fantasy football, TV viewing, blogs, breaking news).
The crazy thing is, I’m not alone…not even close. The NFL has a stranglehold on fans’ attention across the nation…a vice-like grip that this enterprise won’t soon relinquish. The NFL is “the most attended domestic sports league in the world by average attendance per game, with 66,960 fans per game last year,” according to Wikipedia. To put this in perspective, the average fans per NFL game in 2010 is nearly double the population of Green Bay, the home of last year’s Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
Fan interest extends beyond the field and stadium to fantasy football, which is an interactive, virtual competition in which people manage their teams comprised of individual players in the NFL. The explosive popularity of fantasy football cannot be understated: an estimated 19 million people play fantasy football nationally. TV Networks reap the benefits of the NFL as well. CBS, NBC and Fox are shelling out a combined $20.4 billion for the rights to broadcast games through the 2013 season.
Rest-assured, the NFL, if not recession-proof, is pretty damn close. Though the possibility of a lock-out (due to labor disputes) remained a strong possibility as recently as early July, the players and owners agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in late July. This agreement will fill the league’s coffers with billions of dollars and ensure no work stoppages through the 2020 season, the life of the contract. Oh and I forgot to mention, the NFL is a 9.3 billion dollar enterprise (league has not confirmed this number), a number that nearly exceeds the estimated revenues of the other three major sports…combined.
What does this all have to do with small businesses? Here are just five of the reasons why the NFL is the most popular and lucrative sport on the planet and how this relates (and is applicable) to small businesses.
The Branding of Sundays
The NFL owns Sunday. Sundays have been branded in the last decade as “Football Sundays” or “NFL Sundays.” The NFL has succeeded where other major sports have failed: they have created a schedule and season-length that is palatable and engaging for fans. Fans know every week that all games will be played on Sunday at three different times (1pm EST, 4:15pm EST and 8:30pm EST), save for the Monday night game. Instead of subjecting fans to brutal 162 game regular seasons (I’m looking at you MLB) and apathetic, careless regular season games (eh-hem, NBA), the NFL has designed its schedule around Sundays, one of two days during the week where most Americans have the day off from work.
Key Learning: Small businesses must provide their customers with engaging, relevant online content that is scheduled consistently and timed appropriately to maximize your business’s ROI. How often are you engaging with your Facebook community? Are you handling customer inquiries in a timely and relevant manner? Are you crafting posts that offer a fresh, unfiltered perspective on your industry’s latest trends? Are you posting on high traffic days and high traffic time-of-day?
Businesses looking to build their online presence must walk the fine line between creating content on a regular basis and avoiding posting too often, a tactic that can potentially dilute your brand and the message you are distributing. More importantly, businesses must find their niche and own this area…much like how the NFL owns Sundays.
The Experience Extends Beyond the Product or Service
Buffalo Wings. Nachos. Foam Fingers. Anheuser Busch. Tailgating. Al Michaels. All of the aforementioned items and people are tightly bound to the NFL. The NFL’s product and sphere of influence extends well beyond the field of play. Fans relate to football and relate to each other through the NFL experience. Friends barbeque and tailgate before big games, wear jerseys and goofy accoutrements and check their mobile devices’ respective Fantasy Football applications religiously. All of these experiences would not exist without football.
Key Learning: Isn’t this what marketing is all about? To create an unforgettable experience for your customers…an experience that extends beyond just the product or service. Why are Apple’s retail stores consistently booked with 2 hour waits to see a product specialist? Because they offer a great experience and solve customers’ problems. This service is a key component of Apple’s brand. Why can’t you do the same with your product or service? Perhaps more than any other American sport, the NFL understands this concept better than anyone.
The NFL Understands Their Customers
Why in the world did the city of Dallas approve and sign off on the construction of the Cowboys new stadium, that was completed in 2009 for $1.3 billion? Well for one, Jerry Jones (pictured to the right), the Cowboys GM, has the deep pockets necessary to help fund such a massive project. But what Jones and the city of Dallas both understand is that the demand for a new stadium is there. They understand that the Stadium experience is so essential to fans’ experience that they were willing to invest in such a massive project. This is just one example of how the NFL understands its fans and wants to provide them with the most optimal experience (both at the game and in their living rooms).
Key Learning: Does your small business understand your core customer and his/her experience with your brand? Like the NFL, do you go out of the way to make your customers’ experiences the best they can possibly be? Have you invested in top-notch software and programs that will allow you to churn out the best possible product?
The NFL is Constantly Tweaking and Refining its Product
Each year the NFL’s Competition Committee meets and discusses potential changes that could positively impact the overall product on the field. This past off-season the Committee implemented a kick-off change that necessitates the kicker place the ball at the 35-yard line prior to kickoff vs. the 30-yard line (where the ball has traditionally been placed). This will inevitably lead to a larger percentage of kicks that will result in touchbacks. Theoretically this will reduce violent, open-field collisions that should lead to a reduction in injuries. The NFL sees this as a win-win…both for the players and fans, since players will stay healthier and fans won’t lose any star players to a violent collision on a kick-off.
Many pundits screamed foul at this rule change. Time will tell if this was an appropriate change or not. The Committee and Commissioner Roger Goodell have repeatedly stated that this rule-change will be reviewed at the end of the season, to ensure that this rule makes sense moving forward.
Key Learning: Small Businesses should be constantly tweaking their offerings, whether that be in the form of a product or service. Most customers want an innovative, cutting-edge product and in order to meet this expectation, a small business is forced to adapt and change on the fly.
The Product is Great
The NFL sells a great product. Football has never been more popular and continues to grow each year due to its booming popularity with the younger population. Parity is a central tenet of football’s success. No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls in nearly a decade (since the ’03-‘04 New England Patriots). Exhibit A of the league’s parity can be seen in the last three Super Bowl champions:
- 2008: Pittsburgh Steelers
- 2009: New Orleans Saints
- 2010: Green Bay Packers
All three of these cities are small to mid-sized cities with limited resources and in the case of New Orleans, a depressed local economy. Despite these apparent limitations, the NFL has built a league that fosters parity and change. Going from worst to 1st place in the NFL is not only possible but very common (re: ’09 Saints).
Key Learning: Does your small business offer an unforgettable service/product and experience? Does your company’s name resonate with your customers? If not, look to the NFL as a prime example of a brand that understands how to build a product that is a direct manifestation of its fans’ passions and interests.