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National Football League’s Digital Media Strategy Case Study

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Updated: Jul 31st, 2021

The leadership of former commissioner Pete Rozelle is primarily responsible for turning the NFL into America’s most popular sport. His leadership replaced several dysfunctional practices with innovative ideas that enhanced the sport’s notoriety. One of the changes was the creation of “Football Sunday,” a period during which NFL games are played. This strategic move catapulted the popularity of the sport and endeared it to the American public. In addition, it created a cultural phenomenon that gives families a pastime activity to do on Sunday: watch football while they bond. Historically, the relocation of Rams to St. Louis and the Riders to Oakland, as well as the creation of the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, increased the sport’s popularity. These shifts ensured that the Southern markets and the Midwest had teams. Other moves included the transformation of the Cleveland Browns to the Ravens and the Houston Oilers into the Tennessee Titans.

Competitive balance in the NFL is maintained by the equitable distribution of revenue and the private ownership of teams. Of the 32 teams, only 1 is publicly owned. Only one (the Green Bay Packers) is publicly owned. The teams elect a commissioner who manages the league and protects their interests. The promotion of competitive balance is one of the unique characteristics of the NFL when compared to other games. Salary floors and caps are implemented, and revenue is fairly shared among the 32 teams based on contractual agreements. For instance, competitiveness is encouraged through the equitable sharing of television deals to ensure that teams in smaller markets are not financially disadvantaged. In contrast, in the NBA, competitive balance is not encouraged because of the disparity in the distribution of TV deals. Teams playing in smaller markets make less money than teams playing in larger markets. In addition, NBA players yield more power and leverage when compared to the NFL players because of the smaller number of players in a game.

Peter O’Reilly’s marketing/brand strategy has been monumental in the transformation and elevation of the NFL. As the Executive Vice President, his main focus is integrating core values such as innovation, teamwork, excellence, and honor into the NFL brand. This strategy has created a community of football-loving fans who are connected to the sport by the aforementioned ideals. The NFL has a budget of approximately $200 million that is used to fund programs and initiatives that are aimed at increasing its brand value and popularity. Its broadcast partners (FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN) fund the league and run its advertising campaigns on their networks. This exposure increases the sport’s popularity among Americans. The NFL should increase its investment in digital marketing in order to make it more popular and facilitate entry into new markets around the world. The major objective should be to make it a global sport.

The NFL’s Blackout Policy was an administrative rule in effect between 1973 and 2014 that controlled the broadcasting of games. It stipulated that a home game could not be broadcast on television in the local market if the team had failed to sell 85% of the tickets 3 days prior to the event. In that regard, a team had to sell out tickets in accordance with the policy’s stipulations in order to televise a game locally. It was illegal for a team to buy its tickets back in case the quota had not been achieved. This policy was a bad idea because of its negative impact on the sport’s acceptance among fans and the implication that the NFL was more concerned about making profits rather than entertaining the fans. For instance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 8 and 5 home games were not televised in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It had severe consequences for the team as its local fans were unable to watch the game on television, which could have decreased its popularity. The NFL should focus on policies that encourage fans to attend games and put their interests first before revenue.

Brian Rolapp has played a key role in transforming the NFL from a sports property into a media company that uses the evolving media landscape to increase its popularity and foster its interest. Sports property is an entity that encompasses organizations like leagues, events, and teams. As a sports property, the NFL provided two main services: a means to watch games and the sale of tickets to fans. A media company is an entity that uses various platforms to provide its services to a wider audience. In that regard, the NFL’s transformation allows the league to offer more entertaining services to fans. For instance, NFL fantasy football, NFL Films, and NFL networks are examples of ventures that have occurred since its evolution into a media company. Moreover, the NFL increases earnings by retaining digital rights to its games when signing broadcast contracts with media networks. The league operates a website (NFL.com) that gives it the power to control the type of content that is published online about its players, games, and business practices.

A sponsorship deal involves a partnership between two entities, in which a company increases its exposure and brand value by associating with a famous organization, group, or athlete. Sponsorship talks do not involve property and intellectual rights. The sponsored entity receives several benefits, including financial backing, free products, and discounted merchandise. Companies that sponsor NFL games create brand loyalty and attract new customers. In contrast, a content licensing deal involves the leasing of intellectual property rights such as copyrights and trademarks to an organization in return for financial compensation in order to increase brand value and awareness. In this case, the intellectual property rights are retained by the owner. A licensee can produce and sell goods or use a trademark and, in return, pay royalties to the licensor. The wireless sector is able to bridge both in comparison with the insurance category. For instance, Sprint entered into a $50 million a year deal with the NFL that led to the development of a NFL Mobile app that was only compatible with their mobile phones. The partnership ended when the league decided to work with other wireless service providers. Partnerships with insurance companies are problematic because the majority of the insurers refuse to pay for player concussions by claiming that the NFL withheld information about the sport’s dangers.

The best option for Rolapp to pursue with regard to the NFL mobile strategy is to expand the league’s presence into more wireless services. Over the years, the NFL has partnered with different service providers, including T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, with varying success levels. The decision to work with other wireless services will increase its brand value and widen its fan base. This facility gives fans an opportunity to access NFL fixtures on their mobile devices, which could aid in rolling out the league’s products and services to global markets (Atkinson). The inaccessibility of the games among fans in other continents denies them a chance to enjoy the sport whose popularity is increasing outside the United States. Forming partnerships with different service providers will ensure that the league reaches more people and gets the best deal. Other advantages of this strategy include cost savings and increased business opportunities as the cost of digital and TV advertising is almost the same. The main disadvantage is the new costs that will be incurred in negations involving international partners and entering new markets. In case the partnerships fail, huge losses could be incurred.

The NFL’s growth prospects are achievable only if the league makes strategic changes that will support the attainment of Commissioner Goodell’s goal to generate revenues of $25 billion by 2027. In the past five years, NFL ratings have been on a downward spiral due to a plethora of factors. However, the expansion of the fantasy football league has served as an effective mitigation strategy against the waning popularity. The integration of unique content like game recaps and highlights into the fantasy football experience gives the NFL an edge over its competitors that include ESPN and Yahoo. Increased investment in the mobile application is a strategic move that will foster the NFL’s status as a media company and a sports league. The organization should maintain its online presence on streaming platforms such as Amazon and Hulu in order to maintain its viewership and grow its fan base (Atkinson). The new strategy to change how it conducts business with broadcast and cable networks could grow its revenues and the fan base. The strategy involves digital streaming, and it targets more than 400 million users of mobile devices (Atkinson). Moreover, the streaming will be done on various digital platforms, including Tumblr and Twitch. Streaming games on phones and tablets will increase viewership because the NFL’s mobile rights are no longer exclusively tied to a single wireless network (Verizon).

Recent cases of player protests, declining ratings, concussions, and key injuries are challenges that the NFL needs to address hastily in order to avoid losing its popularity and brand value. Currently, the NFL has already made several strategic decisions to mitigate the aforementioned challenges. For instance, the NFL International Series and a partnership with Tencent (a Chinese corporation) will increase its popularity in international markets. The move seems to be working because the 2015 Super Bowl had more than 15 million viewers from the Asian nation.

The sport is gaining international recognition, and it is imperative for the NFL to roll out its services in other countries. Yao Ming played a significant role in popularizing basketball in China. Similarly, the NFL should consider signing Chinese players as a way of increasing the game’s acceptance in Asian countries. It is also important for the NFL to partner with huge technology organizations such as Google, YouTube, and Facebook because they are at the forefront of the digital revolution (Atkinson). People’s ways of consuming entertainment are changing significantly, and broadcast television is losing its edge as the most preferred means of entertainment consumption (Stites). Player safety is also a critical aspect of the NFL’s continued popularity. They should partner with research organizations to find better ways of reducing injuries, speeding up recovery, and improving the overall safety of players.

Works Cited

Atkinson, Claire. NBC News, 2018, Web.

Stites, Adam. SBNATION, 2018, Web.

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