Opinion: For this NFL season, marketers need a new promotional playbook
What is normally the biggest season in marketing is set to start September 10 against a backdrop of empty stadiums, parking lots and sports bars. Missing are consumer experiences at National Football League training camps, game-day parties at stadiums, gatherings at sports bars and special events in stadium towns. Gone, too, are fully stocked concessions for food, beverage and merchandise sales or elaborately catered private suites for b-to-b customer development.
Instead, there will be smaller events in backyards and driveways as well as online watch parties. Fans will find ways to make more of every game—personally and collectively—via text, chat and video conference platforms. And they’ll pay closer attention to football news, from shows and stats to game predictions and injury reports. Marketers will need to get creative to capitalize on the new shape of engagement for 115 million fans and their friends and families.
This is particularly true for the brands that count on consumption, engagement and promotion in stadiums and on premise. The biggest NFL advertisers (Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble) balance TV and radio buys with retail promotions and player/coach appearances, as well as stadium promotions with contests, giveaways and merchandise sales. Advertisers with smaller NFL footprints depend even more on retail and in-stadium promotions. For many that want to get in on the NFL game, it’s the only play they can afford.
Thanks to renegotiations with the league and teams, many sponsors will have money to reinvest. Here’s what those brands should consider:
Accelerate replacement buying
Fans have football budgets to reinvest, too—from refunded tickets and money set aside for stadium and bar trips. They’re an immediate audience for a range of replacement products. Many will opt for bigger TVs and sound systems, new grills, and extra team merchandise from jerseys and posters to flags for the front door or lawn.
Fuel the fantasy movement
Look for fans, especially younger ones, to join multiple fantasy leagues and tune in more religiously to online, radio and TV analysis shows. This creates an everyday opportunity to engage fans in simple ways, from banner ads to social media photo arrays to offers for home delivery of related products—chips, dips and beverages. It’s relatively cheap, quick and easy to do.
Bring the bar home
Food and beverage brands can help struggling strategic partners—which are central to the success of several categories—by promoting combinations with big sizes for home delivery. For example, order our beer from your local sports bar on DoorDash and get the chicken wings on us. Spirits brands can create seasonal cocktail recipes tied to a team’s location, and offer delivery of the ingredients.
Focus on families
Because “Sunday Night Football” represents something live in the absence of new primetime drama episodes, it’s especially likely to be a main event for families. Get parents in the game. Brands typically market to moms for Super Bowl spreads; this year, it makes sense to promote game day recipe ideas online and in-store every week.
Simulate in-stadium fan participation
From fantasy league integration to Zoom calls and virtual watch parties with former players and coaches, brands can bring fans closer to the players. Brands can ramp up mobile promotions with giveaways and game-time specials. Brands that can’t afford NFL TV costs can get involved during the week with virtual player experiences online and sponsor weekly chalk talks on radio.
Field a full team
Partnerships are essential this year. Work with complementary brands (e.g., adult beverages with salty snacks and grilling) that can add access, content, consumer rewards and samples. Enlist channel partners that are central to category success; they can’t pack their bars, but they can provide the goods for delivery and pickup. Think big sizes, special combinations, and bundled solutions for fans. Tap into emerging platforms like watch parties on social media.
Rather than one big pass play, scoring this season will take lots of first downs. Those will come from making little opportunities count with a spread out yet still intense fan base. Brands that embrace and enable that intensity will come out ahead.