Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The NFL's Affinity Advantage

Think of the brands that you have a relationship with as a customer. For how many of those relationships would you tolerate inconsistent product quality, safety hazards, rising prices, and negative publicity about a company's employees? Most of us would likely discontinue doing business with that company and find another source to meet the need that the offending company provides. Yet, the National Football League seems immune to the pitfalls that would drive many customers away.

The NFL has been associated with a long list of negative press related to player conduct off the field, player safety on the field, owners' quest for revenue, and top leadership that seems out of touch. Yet, brand NFL appears to be as popular as ever. Evidence of the NFL's popularity can be found in its TV ratings- nearly all of the top rated TV programs this fall were NFL game broadcasts. And, the NFL has consistently ranked as the most popular sport among Americans in an annual Harris Poll. How does the NFL overcome the missteps that would doom many brands? In a word, it is "affinity."

What is an Affinity Advantage?

Affinity has been defined as "an attraction to or liking for something." Sports enjoy what is described in Chapter 1 of Sports Marketing as an affinity advantage. Many customers (fans) of sports brands have a liking that is much deeper and more intense than other brand relationships they have. Let's face it, you don't see people showing their affinity for Whirlpool  (appliances) or Timex (watches) by wearing caps or t-shirts adorned with those brands' logos. Most consumers do not have such a deep connection with the brands they consume everyday that they want to express to others their feelings about their favorite toothpaste or auto insurance. 

Implications of Affinity

Sports brands are the envy of marketers in most other industries because of their affinity advantage. If only they could have customers as passionate as fans that pay premium prices to watch games in frigid cold or heavy rain. You could say that sports brands enjoy a head start  over their non-sports counterparts. But, the affinity advantage alone does not translate into business gains. It is up to sports brands to leverage their advantage by seeking revenue opportunities that enable fans to act on their affinity. At the same time, these opportunities can advance the brand not only by generating revenue but by deepening customer relationships.

And, leveraging the affinity advantage is not limited to sports properties. Other businesses can tap sports to develop new product offerings. An example of leveraging fan affinity as business opportunity is the recently announced comic book featuring Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Portland-based STORM Comics is publishing "Fame: Russell Wilson"in print and digital formats. The work chronicles Wilson's rise to one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. 

It would make for interesting discussion to consider new products that could be created to take advantage of the affinity sports fans have with their favorite teams and athletes. What other opportunities exist to appeal to fan affinity?