The National Football League playoffs are here. It is the time of year when the league captures both the imagination and dollars associated with a rabid United States fan base. Sponsors, marketers and advertisers who partner with the league anticipate a healthy stream of revenues that can flow from an alliance with a powerful sports entity.
Yet, while the playoffs consistently represent a major platform to showcase the NFL brand, it might be the league’s bold step earlier this season which opens the gateway for a wave of new and unique business opportunities. The October contest between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London marked the first time the league showcased a regular season game outside of North America. It also signifies the NFL’s commitment to a marketing strategy which could result in it becoming an even stronger revenue-generating outfit.
Major North American-based sports leagues are no stranger to regular season overseas games. Major League Baseball has played contests in Japan and will open the 2008 campaign in Tokyo with a series between the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox. One month before the NFL’s venture, the National Hockey League opened its current season in London when the Los Angeles Kings battled the Anaheim Ducks.
But, the NFL’s move is perhaps the most significant. The league’s marketing power and ability to generate revenues is impressive. One wonders what type of business opportunities will emerge should the NFL gain a strong overseas fan base which yearns for American football like its fans in the United States.
Why London? According Peter O’Reilly, the league’s director of marketing, it was a natural fit. “We looked at our priority markets which are Mexico, Canada, the U.K. and Germany,” he says. “There was a lot of competition and bids. We already played a game in Mexico City in 2005. We saw London as a place where the NFL has grown in popularity and has a strong fan presence.”
O’Reilly views the game as a success. “I think from all base metrics, the 81,000 plus people and overall public relations it was extremely positive,” he says. “We saw the NFL, its partners and teams really pull together to create something that could not be missed in the U.K. market and also made a lot of noise domestically. I think this really set the tone for future games outside of North America, which is the plan moving forward.”
Overseas regular season contests are a key part of the league’s ambitious venture. “Our mission is to build the largest and most deeply engaged fan base in the sports and entertainment market,” says O’Reilly. “We have our core fan base. But we also have these emerging fans. What you start to see is how important these games are for delivering an international footprint for the NFL.”
The league’s online properties, including NFL.com/Gamepass, which broadcasts
games overseas via Yahoo will also play a major role. “We are always looking at additional opportunities and there will probably be online extensions of such games,” remarks O’Reilly. “We have really ramped up with NFL.com over the last sixth months. Now we are in the mode of creating new experiences for our international fans online.”