What brands can learn from the NFL coming to the UK

Misha Sher, head of sport in EMEA for MediaCom, says the NFL is committed to extending its crowd-pleasing formula across the Atlantic

LONDON — It was promised that the Rugby World Cup would be the biggest yet, and it hasn’t disappointed.

From the shock result of Japan beating South Africa, to Guinness coming in second in the brands ranking, despite having no official affiliation, this tournament is being closely contested on and off the pitch.  

That competition is about to be extended as the NFL comes to town and does what rugby’s distant cousin does best: capture the audience. 

With three regular season games to be hosted in London over the next three weekends, rest assured that America’s flagship sport will not be overshadowed. 

This a sport that does everything ‘BIG’ and given how far the NFL has come, it’ll be wise to keep a close eye on what happens over the coming weeks. 

The NFL is committed to the UK
In its eighth year in the UK, the NFL has truly carved out a niche for itself and all the signs point to the fact the America’s favorite pastime is here to stay.

One only needs to look at what the NFL has achieved since hosting its first game at Wembley Stadium in 2007. It’s the fastest-growing sport in the UK, with a young, diverse and affluent fan base that now exceeds 3 million.

This begs the question: Can the gridiron game truly embed itself in a place where football of a different kind is so dominant? The answer is yes it can, and it will.

A recent 10-year ground share deal between NFL and Tottenham demonstrates the league’s long-term commitment to the market and its ambition to eventually establish a local franchise.

Given the rate at which the fan base and coverage have grown in recent years, we can comfortably conclude that it’s a case of when, rather than if, the NFL will finally launch its London franchise.

What’s been interesting to follow is the way the NFL had gone about positioning its product to establish a clear point of differentiation in a market where a different brand of football rules the land.

Football married to entertainment
For all its success and popularity, which is unlikely to be eclipsed in the foreseeable future, English football has a lot to learn from its counterparts in the US when it comes to bridging sports and entertainment.

The NFL is as much of an entertainment product as it is a sport, and the league is more than happy to leverage its strength in bringing the worlds of sport and entertainment together to create a unique fan experience. 

Whether it’s a long tailgate party filled with sponsor-driven activations, or a half-time show featuring a music artist, it’s hard to imagine another sport which rivals the NFL game experience.

The extended opportunity to connect with fans around matches as well as the ability to bring fans closer to the action through content and experiences, allows brands the flexibility that is increasingly important in driving meaningful engagement.

Everyone’s a winner
Unlike the Premier League, which has only had five different winners of its competition in the last 24 years, the NFL has had seven different teams lift the Super Bowl in the past seven years. There hasn’t been one instance of a repeat.

And for the past 10 years, at least one team has gone from worst to first in its division every single year. What this creates is an ongoing interest and engagement, a perfect recipe for any brands looking for a very captive audience.

Research has also shown that NFL fans are more digitally savvy and more likely to use technology than those following other sports.

This provides brands with a great opportunity to leverage the latest technology to create and serve relevant content that satisfies the fans’ appetite to follow the sport.

Getting under the game’s skin
One of NFL’s biggest advantages is its willingness to bring fans closer to the game, often providing behind the scenes content that other sports are reluctant to share.

NFL is has very strong brand attributes that make it unique from any other sports property on the market — it’s as much about entertainment and being communal, competitive and accessible.  Brands should be looking at ways to incorporate these attributes in how they activate.

Looking at the way brands have activated around the RWC, there are some valuable lessons that can be learnt.

The most important takeaway is the increasing role of content in achieving cut through and creating a genuine connection with fans.

Brands that are winning the race for share of voice are those who have cracked the formula of emotive storytelling. Guinness and O2 are perfect examples of what can be achieved when a brand understands unique attributes of the sport and its fans, focusing on how their content connects with people on an emotional level and enhance their experience of the event.

Misha Sher is head of sport in EMEA for MediaCom.

This article first appeared on marketingmagazine.co.uk.

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