When Tim Ellis joined the NFL as chief marketing officer in late 2018 from Activision, the league appeared healthy—at least to the casual observer—including on TV, where it continued to draw a massive audience. But beneath the surface, there were troubling signs. Ratings were on a downward trend and the NFL was struggling with controversies including how to deal with players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence and social inequities. It all contributed to an erosion of the NFL’s young fan base.
“We were still very dominant in the industry form a pure fan-development, ratings perspective—just the scale of our audience was still very, very strong,” Ellis recalled. But “when I looked closely at all the data, I could see there was this slow but steady decline in that 12-to-24 audience. I approached that with a real sense of urgency. I started ringing the bell immediately.”
Today, the NFL is in a much better spot, thanks in part to a new marketing strategy that has included a more progressive and honest approach to social justice, highlighted by the league admitting it erred in how it responded to player protests like the kneeling initiative led by Colin Kaepernick. The new “Football Is for Everyone” campaign included the line “football is gay” and was released in the wake of Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib coming out as the first gay active player in the NFL.