I was only 12 years old on Sunday, January 20th, 2008. My 13-3 Green Bay Packers, led by the grizzled veteran Brett Favre, faced the New York Football Giants in the NFC Championship. The game was electric. Donald Driver caught a 90-yard touchdown pass. Mason Crosby kicked a late fourth-quarter field goal to send the game into overtime. Green bay won the coin toss to receive the ball first! And then…the Giants’ defense destroyed all of my Super Bowl dreams. As Defensive End Michael Strahan pressured the quarterback, Favre threw an interception (his last pass as a Packer), setting up a 47-yard game winning Lawrence Tynes field goal. As Joe Buck’s play-by-play echoed in the background, I cried. The Giants had ripped my heart out and nothing was going to be okay ever again.
Flash forward to 2016. As I saw Buck and Strahan walk onto the stage for the FOX NFL Town Hall at NYC Advertising Week, I had flashbacks to that traumatic childhood experience. With tears welling in my eyes, it was easy to make a connection to the central message being made during the presentation – due to the passion of its fans, the NFL has an unparalleled brand environment with unmatched reach and scale.
Joining Strahan and Buck on stage, NFL CMO Dawn Hudson stressed the importance of fans to the league. The NFL’s rabid fanbase, at an increasing rate, wants what she calls “texture.” With the NFL on Fox, audiences are able to enjoy just that with an Emmy-nominated crew of analysts, behind the scene looks, slow motion cameras cameras and expert commentators. According to Fox Networks Group President Randy Freer, Americans watch 368 Million hours in a regular season week, a large amount of that time being on Fox networks. That’s more than an entire month of video on Facebook. And as Joe Marchese, President of Fox Advance Advertising Products, points out, unlike Facebook videos, ads during NFL games are watched in full with sound. Americans, in general, view advertising as part of the game.
Kevin Collins of MAGNA Global thinks of the NFL on Fox as a safe environment. Ratings are consistent, and he believes that five years from now, fans will still be watching games on the big screen. During the 2016 season, Twitter has exclusive internet streaming rights for certain Thursday night games. While the experience from a technical perspective has been great, only 230,000 fans at any given moment were watching the game with an average tune in length of 12 minutes. Hudson and Marchese, however, view this audience as supplementary – it added people to a market, mainly fans using mobile on the go, that wouldn’t be watching the game otherwise.
This digital push, while adding viewers, benefits advertisers due to player-fan interactions made possible using social media. “There’s more to being a football player than just playing the game,” says Strahan of social media. “This is my journey. This is what it’s really like to be a professional player.” Due to this grand storytelling ability available due to advanced television and social media, brands can determine what players match up with their specific message with more ease than ever before. “Before you had to be a quarterback…but now you can be a gapped-toothed defensive end,” says Strahan, grinning.
While I may hold disdain for Michael for the damage he did to my beloved Packers, I have to admire his personality and rise to fame. Through the stories of players in combination with consistent and strong television coverage, The National Football League grabs the attention of a massive audience with passionate, engaged fans. America’s Game of the Week has its title for a reason. It’s an experience so loved, so enthralling, that it still makes sense for advertisers to make a play of their own.