NFL Leverages Passions, Players to Broaden Audience

NFL Leverages Passions, Players to Broaden Audience

As one of the biggest media and entertainment in the United States, if not the world, the National Football League is looking to leverage its fans, players and platforms to engage fans and promote its ability to bring people together in these rather divisive times. 

“We think of ourselves as a natural unifier,” said NFL Chief Marketing Officer Tim Ellis. “We recognize the platform we have and are, and we recognize our responsibility to be an uplifting and unifying voice.”

Ellis and other executives from the NFL and its agency partner, 72andSunny, will be at Cannes presenting their approach to humanizing the league and appealing to and growing its fan base through a Behind the Brand presentation Brand Innovators Marketing Leadership Summit @ Cannes on Wednesday afternoon.

As part of that presentation, the organization will showcase how it has strategically broadened its audience by leveraging its players’ passions and causes and speaking directly to non-traditional audiences, such as the LGBTQ+ community. “Given how much the world has changed, we have had to adopt new strategies and take a more thoughtful approach to social initiatives,” Ellis said. “Our message is about inclusivity and being a more accessible brand.”

Part of that approach will be to take a “helmets off” approach to highlight players’ off-the-field lives to explore their interests and passions, said Marissa Solis, senior vice president, global brand and consumer marketing for the NFL. That can include everything from social causes and grassroots activism to entertainment and gaming, and it can involve community outreach or pairing players with influencers in their areas of interest.

“Whatever they are passionate about, we want to collaborate with them,” Ellis said. “We’re treating our players like partners, not employees.”

Ellis and the NFL marketing team believe this approach will be relevant for many other marketers in attendance at Cannes, not just in the sports and entertainment world, but across the board. “We have learned about how to work with players in a way that [can be] helpful to the rest of the world,” said Ian Trombetta, senior vice president, social and influence marketing for the NFL. “There are a lot of principles at play across our approach. It’s a true partnership, and we are co-creators together without players.”

As a prominent brand that has – particularly in recent years – been used to further outsiders’ agendas, the NFL can also offer insights for brands and marketers seeking advice about managing controversial social issues. “We have had a lot of honest discussions over the past two years,” Ellis said. “We determined we had to speak more consistently in that message and about our values.” 

Such consistency requires knowing exactly what the organization stands for and not getting distracted by what others might be saying about you,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of individuals that aren’t always happy about our stance on things,” he said. “The only thing we can do is focus on our story and focus on our values in the NFL.”

And finally, it means walking the talk to demonstrate that the commitment to those stances is real. “The message is first, but the values are more important,” Solis said. 

Damaune Journey, chief growth officer at 72andSunny, noted that the NFL holds its partners to those same standards of commitment to the brand’s mission. “This is not just some performative exercise,” he said.

Of course, Cannes is both for teaching and learning. At the festival, NFL executives will be exploring how it can expand its presence in the Metaverse, its growing presence in gaming (not just Madden, but in Fortnite and Roblox), NFTs, and how it can enhance the fan experience both in homes and in the venues. 

“We want to continue to push the edges,” Trombetta said. “We think that this is the infancy stage. We want to explore those verticals and have as many programs in them as possible. It’s important to signal to our young fan base that we are an innovator.”