The Whole Nine Yards: What The NFL Can Teach Marketers About Brand Engagement
What can marketers learn from the Steelers, Cowboys and Packers? Columnist Jordan Kretchmer discusses what these NFL teams are doing to win big with community engagement.
The pure unbridled energy that comes from watching your team score the winning touchdown now extends far past your home team’s stadium walls, thanks to social media.
Whether you’re sitting on the sidelines, camped out in your favorite bar or screaming at the TV in the comfort of your own home — the digital world is at your fingertips, sparking conversation and incentivizing you to trash-talk your rivals.
While NFL teams have organically built their fan base over generations, some teams go the whole nine yards to transcend their own communities. Joe Namath made the Jets a household name; The Steel Curtain invokes the Steelers’ defensive mastery of the ’70s for any football fan; and The Catch resonates far beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.
Creating a sense of community and encouraging interaction with the team and other fans are key factors for NFL teams looking to keep their brands more relevant than the rest of the league. Only one can take home the Super Bowl title, but a few are winning the social war — and marketers have a lot to learn from them when it comes to brand engagement.
Perhaps it’s easy to be an engaged Steelers fan. The Steelers’ performance speaks for itself: The team is the proud owner of six Super Bowl victories — more than any other franchise.
What keeps the team’s brand name afloat, even during underwhelming seasons? Community engagement.
Steelers fans can sign up on the team’s website to become part of Steelers Nation Unite, a fan group that allows Terrible Towel twirlers to “connect directly with [their] favorite team and players through interactive fan forum calls, live chats and video messages.”
Even after games, Steelers fans can log on and chat with one another about their fandom and game experiences. Members also can click on their seats in a 3-D photo of the stadium and add their Facebook profile information for other fans to see.
The Steelers website is a prime example of a brand building loyalty through modernized community engagement. Steelers Nation Unite weaves social touch points throughout its experience.
Steelers fans remain engaged regardless of the team’s performance on the field because their team’s website promotes a welcoming community atmosphere.
Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin are three of the most well-known football players from the past 30 years. The trio led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories in five years and solidified its standing as the NFL dynasty of the 1990s.
In the seasons since, the franchise has failed to live up to the success of its Hall-of-Famer stars. Despite the lack of recent on-field victories, “Dallas Cowboys” is one of the most recognizable sports names in the country.
The Dallas Cowboys organization keeps up its brand appearance in part because its website is the primary destination where fans come to discuss the Cowboys’ “product” — the team and management.
The Cowboys Message Board is an online forum where people can connect with other fans and discuss all Cowboys matters, as well as other football teams and topics like movies and video games.
Fans also can check ticket prices, access travel information for games and watch official team videos. By creating a destination where fans can discuss the team and other topics that appeal to football fans, the Cowboys have effectively taken ownership of the conversation.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers name is synonymous with the NFL. The name Vince Lombardi, the franchise’s legendary coach, is etched on the Super Bowl trophy. Heralded quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers and the franchise’s unique offering of stock to fans to raise money help to keep the team’s name top-of-mind.
While those names help, the organization’s digital efforts play a critical role in preserving the team’s place atop the list of most recognized NFL franchises.
The Green Bay Packers’ official fan site, Packers Everywhere, is the ultimate NFL destination. Packers Everywhere reads like a social media profile, with page after page of updates and fan-generated content.
Fans submit everything from Packers-themed holiday photos to Thanksgiving recipes and do-it-yourself projects. Packers Everywhere links strategically to the Packers’ official site and the team’s pro shop.
The site is a no-brainer for the organization. What else influences whether a fan will buy a new jersey or order tickets to the next game like pages of fan-created content about their favorite team?
The site speaks to fans’ appreciation for the authentic experience of connecting with others through everyday human activities (like cooking and personal anecdotes).
Winning Isn’t Everything
Through the mountains and valleys of championships and subpar records, the brand names of these teams have remained prominent. The reason for the consistent spit-shine on their logos? Engaged, loyal fans.
Thirty-two NFL fan communities exist, but there are not 32 household brand names across the country. These teams remain on top because they know that their fans are just as important as their players.
The fans are more than just seat fillers; their voices power the games through their passionate energy.
The Steelers, Cowboys and Packers rise above the noise because they provide their fans with a modern experience on their owned websites.
Modern experiences engage customers (in this case, fans) by incubating and fostering their relationships with other customers and their respective teams.