Thursday, August 22, 2013

NFL Sees the Realities of Fantasy

Are you ready for some football? Check that- are you ready for some fantasy football? If you are like 25 million other Americans, the answer is likely "yes." Fantasy football brings together friends, family, co-workers, and strangers alike to compete for bragging rights and in many leagues, cash. Participation in fantasy sports is influenced by psychological motivations (competition or escape from daily life), social motivations (spend time with others or take part in a community of fans), or external motivations (respond to advertising for fantasy games or enticed to play to win prizes). Regardless of the influence that draws people into fantasy football, the fact is that they play and more importantly, it has created shifts in how football is consumed.
Photo by Boz Bros/Flickr
(under Creative Commons License)
Impact of Fantasy Football on the NFL
The shifts in how fans consume NFL news and games are not lost on the NFL. Fantasy football resources on include information resources such as mock drafts and player research as well as hosting a destination where fantasy players can play in custom leagues, standard leagues, and prize leagues. And, the NFL RedZone cable channel is a fantasy football player's fantasy- providing league-wide coverage of scoring situations as they unfold. At the team level, fantasy football is recognized as part of the total consumption experience. The Jacksonville Jaguars have built a fantasy football lounge at EverBank Field. The idea is to create a comfortable physical space in which fantasy players attending Jaguars games can follow and manage their fantasy teams.

These offerings reflect the NFL's understanding that the fantasy football consumer has different needs than the traditional football game viewer. Among the differences:
  • Team Fans vs. Players Fans - Traditional football consumption revolves largely around team performance and success. Fantasy football players may hold team allegiances, but they have a dual interest in the success of players on their fantasy team... even if their fantasy players are on teams playing against their favorite teams.
  • Story line vs. Highlights - Watching a three-hour football game is like watching a story unfold before you. Unexpected performances, turnovers, penalties, injuries, and controversies create some of the dramatic story elements that make the NFL so compelling for many fans. In contrast, fantasy football players are interested in short-form consumption- highlights, statistics, and scores. This contrast in consumption preferences made launching the NFL RedZone a no brainer. It is a market segmentation issue- not all fans want the rapid fire coverage that bounces from game to game on Sunday afternoon. But, for those who do, their needs are met.
  • Team Identification vs. Sport Identification - Building a fan base traditionally has been keyed by football fans identifying with one or more of the NFL's 32 teams. Fantasy football expands the scope of interest in the NFL. Highly involved fantasy football players are likely to be highly involved NFL fans, too. They are knowledgeable about and consume information on a wider range of teams and players than fans connected solely via team identification.
Fantasy Football's Marketing Lessons
The fantasy football phenomenon offers two lessons that marketers in any industry can apply:
  1. Understand why people buy - The differences between traditional football consumption and fantasy football consumption illustrate a marketing fundamental that is often taken forgotten: Different customers consume for different reasons. The NFL cannot market solely to football fans- it has team fans, player fans, NFL fans, and fantasy football fans, to name four of several segments that exist. Marketing strategies should reflect the understanding that customers have different motives and needs.
  2. Make consumption convenient - The NFL is all-in on the fantasy football craze, pushing content to fantasy football players to help them be more competitive while at the same time be more engaged with the league. When customers want to engage with a brand, encourage it by putting engagement opportunities at their fingertips- whether their fingertips are on the remote control, mouse, keypad, or in Section 327. 
If you are one of the 25 million playing fantasy football- good luck this season!