Q&A With the NFL's Lisa Baird: How to Market the Biggest Reality Show

With TV Deals (and a New Commissioner) in Place League Turns Focus to Digital

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Lisa Baird joined the National Football League from IBM Corp. last year at a time of transition: the extension of TV deals with CBS, Fox and DirecTV; a new pact with NBC; and the shifting of Monday Night Football to ESPN -- not to mention a new commissioner who took over on Sept. 1.
Lisa Baird
Lisa Baird

Ms. Baird, now senior VP-marketing, took over the top marketing spot after the departure of ex- General Motors Corp. executive Phil Guarascio. As the NFL's big kickoff weekend begins, Ms. Baird took time to talk about matters including the league's future in a digital world.

Advertising Age: Which two teams will be playing in Miami in February for Super Bowl XLI?

Lisa Baird: No clue. The NFL is the ultimate reality show: It's unscripted and unpredictable, played out in front of the biggest TV audience each Sunday and Monday night. Mark Burnett couldn't come up with "reality" like the next 21 weeks of our season.

Ad Age: Are there any marketing challenges for the league?

Ms. Baird: We're never satisfied with being the leader in sports and entertainment. Competition is fierce and more complex than ever. Changing demographics and emerging technologies continue to mystify those companies that are five to 10 years down the road. We're also in a unique brand position with the NFL and the 32 clubs having such massive audiences. We continually need to protect our brand from companies that look to redefine the NFL image to their own advantage.

Ad Age: Have you spoken at length to new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yet about a vision for the NFL's marketing future?

Ms. Baird: I've talked with Roger just about every day since I started here a year ago and we're fortunate that he has such a strong sense of how marketing can enhance fans' enjoyment of our sport. We've talked a lot about better understanding how our most important constituency -- our fans -- interacts with the NFL, consume media and spend their time and money, particularly given changes in American demographics.

Ad Age: Some people have said that digital media will be a big challenge.

Ms. Baird: We hold the keys to some of the world's most valuable content -- NFL games. We need to keep finding compelling ways to deliver our content, while protecting our network packages which have been the underpinning of our league and what makes us unique. Brian Rolapp, VP-media strategy, is spearheading our digital media efforts, but we're all working on ways to capitalize on emerging technologies to create new fans. New targeted websites like NFLatino.com and NFLRush.com [a site for children] are two good examples.

Ad Age: In what ways did previous experience at IBM prepare you for the NFL?

Ms. Baird: I went from a dream job at a global leader to an even better job at a place that is so deeply embedded in American culture, where consumers are really passionate fans. Thinking big, leaning forward but balancing tradition and innovation are all characteristics that have been transferable.
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