The NFL season is upon us. Like many fans, I could not be happier.
From a PR standpoint, the league succeeds in spite of its players. The NFL’s labor force often makes headlines due to trouble with the law.
Beyond the antics of midlevel players such as Sam Hurd, who is accused of drug-dealing, and ex-Tennessee Titan Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, who had a run-in (to put it lightly) with some Las Vegas strippers, some of pro football’s biggest stars have been subject to serious legal investigation or even prison. From Michael Vick’s relationship with man’s best friend to Plaxico Burress’ guns 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. In 2011, an average of 17.5 million viewers watched NFL games, the second highest viewership since 1989, according to Nielsen.
It’s enough to make a PR person wonder what the hell is going on.
Certainly the NHL, NBA, and MLB have their share of troublesome players in their labor 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 sport in a number of markets, a mistake the NHL has already committed and looks ready to again.
The difference the NFL’s product, which is so resilient—so in tune with the Zeitgeist
—that it overwhelms the PR crises created by its labor 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 a team with an 8-8 record can make the playoffs, the stakes are high, so the product matters considerably to even casual fans.
The league is ruthless with labor.
Football has no guaranteed contracts, making the NFL the most competitive labor marketplace on Earth. The talent either performs or is quickly back on the farm harvesting corn.
The product itself 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 so many—including my friends and I—Sunday is a day to relax, eat, and watch the games. What marketer on Earth would not want their product to be a ritual?
Ultimately, the NFL takes good care of its rabid public and serves them a next level product. That’s why it’s so exceptional, and why it counteracts the league’s PR gaffes.