The NFL season is upon us. Like many, I could not be happier.
From a PR standpoint, the league succeeds in spite of its players. The NFL’s labour force often makes headlines due to trouble with the law.
It’s not just mid grade player/coke dealers like Sam Hurd, or stripper lovers like Pacman Jones. From Ray Lewis’ misleading statements to police, to Mike Vick’s relationship with man’s best friend, to Plaxico Burress’ gun in nightclub antics, marquee players have created real PR issues for the NFL.
Despite these and other incidents, the league’s hold on North American sports fans grows ever stronger. It’s enough to make a PR person wonder what they hell is going on. Certainly the NHL, NBA and MLB have their share of idiotic, spoiled morons in their labour ranks. However, those sports appear to suffer more than the NFL when their workers or owners commit PR gaffes. Baseball’s strike shortened season in the 1990s did serious reputational harm to the game in a number of markets, a mistake the NHL has already committed and looks ready to again.
The difference relates to oft-ignored “Product P” in the NFL’s marketing mix; the one most professional marketers – out of self interest and/or ego – tend to downplay.
The NFL’s product is so resilient, so in tune with the zeitgeist, that it overwhelms the PR crises created by its labour force and owners.
Why is the NFL ‘product’ so good from a marketing perspective?
- The league is setup for parity meaning that anyone can win ‘on any given Sunday’. Because an 8-8 team can make the playoffs the stakes are high, and so the product matters considerably to even casual fans.
- The league is RUTHLESS with labour. Football has no guaranteed contracts, making the NFL the most competitive labour marketplace on Earth. The talent either performs or is quickly back on the farm harvesting corn.
- The product is naturally scarce. Baseball, hockey, and basketball all have long seasons with many games. This devalues the products of these sports. In the NFL, the regular season only lasts for 16 games over 17 weeks.
- Games occur (mostly) on one day a week. This makes watching the NFL a ritual. For many – including my friends and I – Sunday is a day to chill, eat, and watch the games. What marketer on Earth wouldn’t want their product to be a ritual?
Yes, the NFL does the ‘Promotion P’ of the marketing mix well. But, at the end of the day, it takes very good care of its biggest brand advocates and serves them a next level product. That’s why it kicks ass.
The lesson: the Product P, done right, is damn resilient and can counteract PR gaffes, especially if you have big fans and indulge them the right way.