NFL Next, a series of videos through which the league outlines its vision of the future in terms of the fan experience, the players and officials, looks like a shrewd move. Not because of the futuristic graphics or the highly qualified experts featured in the content, but rather because of its potential to reinforce the NFL’s positioning as industry leaders in the field of innovation.
Taken in the context of the leagues early adoption of emerging digital technologies and platforms (such as its Yahoo! global live streaming partnership, over-the-top video network NFL Now, adoption of wearable tech to drive “next gen stats” and innovative social media partnerships), NFL Next is further evidence that the league recognises the importance of innovation to fans, sponsors and broadcast partners.
Brand positioning matters in sport
Positioning strategies are not the exclusive preserve of consumer-packaged goods brands. The NFL’s strategy, whether deliberate or emergent, illustrates how positioning can be an effective tool in today’s sports business. While the affinity of fans rests primarily with the teams, an effective NFL brand positioning ensures a certain “prestige by association” for all the competing teams (look no further than the UEFA Champions League in football for an equally successful brand positioning strategy) and, as a result, plays a key role in creating value for team owners, a core objective of the league (at the risk of sounding a bit hard-nosed here, its important to emphasise that value can’t be created for team owners or any other group without consistently delivering an attractive product that the fans will come back to time and again).
To be effective and positively influence a potential customers perception (in this case a fan, sponsor or broadcaster), a brands positioning must be unique, credible, and relevant.
A closer look at the NFL’s positioning strategy
Few could argue against the credibility of the NFL’s chosen positioning strategy. There are many more initiatives, in addition to those I listed above, that demonstrate the leagues commitment to innovation through the early adoption of digital technologies.
Equally, there can be few doubts over the relevance of positioning the benefits of the NFL brand in this way. Sports fans typically want to get closer to the action in the form of enhanced live experiences and richer content. Commercial and broadcast partners, most of whom will have the hot topic of digital transformation at the top of their to do list, will place a premium on striking a deal with a rights holder that has a clear vision of how digital technology will shape the future of its sport.
It could however be argued that innovation leadership does not sufficiently differentiate the NFL from its competitors such as the MLB (led by MLB Advanced Media), NBA or UFC.
The opportunity for the NFL and the sportsbiz at large
Nevertheless, it is the depth of the NFL’s innovation opportunity as nicely outlined in NFL Next, which has the potential to set the league apart from its competitors. The challenge for the NFL is to leverage this opportunity, to rise above the competition and grow value by positively influencing the perception of (existing and prospective) fans and commercial/ broadcast partners.
In an increasingly cluttered landscape, where fans, broadcasters and sponsors have more options than ever, the art of positioning is fast becoming a valuable skill in sports marketing.
(To watch the NFL Next series go to: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-next )
About the author of this post:
David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter @davidgfowler or connect on LinkedIn at ch.linkedin.com/in/davidgfowler