Critical Lessons: NFL focuses on a better customer experience – Next Gen marketing on display


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I love the game of football. I’ve referenced parallels and correlations between football and business here and here and here, to name a few.

Two of my primary areas of expertise are the “Digitization of Everything” and “Customer Experience”, so it’s little wonder that yesterday’s announcement that Extreme Networks was going to be providing wi-fi and analytics to all NFL stadiums caught my attention – a perfect synergy between three of my passions.

The NFL’s Dilemma

The NFL faces an interesting dilemma. Popularity is at an all time high, but attendance has been steadily falling for the past several years. How could this be?

The summary answer is that the “experience” of watching from home has begun to rival and in some cases even surpass that of attending a live game.

When I can pay next to nothing incrementally, be in the comfort of my own home, grab a cold beer whenever I want, watch several games simultaneously on my 1,000 inch TV in HD, , why would I pay $150 to go deal with the travel, parking, lines, $15 beers, and $8 hot dogs? During commercial breaks and in between games, I can even knock a couple of tasks off the honey-do list to keep the wife happy.

However, as NFL CIO, Michelle McKenna-Doy, mentioned during yesterday’s announcement, there is nothing that can quite duplicate the experience of being at an NFL game. If you’re a die hard Steeler fan, the camaraderie of cheering along side 65,000 of your best friends at Heinz Field for the day is unmatched. The NFL is betting on creating a new and enhanced experience by connecting attendees to all sorts of in-game entertainment and capability that you can only get while inside the stadium. The New England Patriots GameDay Live app includes access to “game replays, live field cameras, statistics, league scores, restroom wait times, weather, traffic and more.”

Other teams are considering or in the process of rolling out similar applications.

Wrapping an experience around the product

The emergence and growth of Starbucks is a legendary tale. The product (coffee) had been commoditized. But Starbucks created a differentiated and unique experience, and cultivated communities within (traditional) communities. The NFL and other professional sports are being forced to do the same thing. The product (the game) has been commoditized. It’s easily available for next to free from anywhere. But the “experience” is where the teams are trying to differentiate themselves… are NEEDING to differentiate themselves.

I see this when I go to watch a baseball game at Angel Stadium. The Disney influence is apparent. Fireworks, kids games, activities, are all part of the stadium experience. The San Diego Padres have a HUGE giant sandbox in their outfield so that kids can play while their parents watch the game.

The possibilities that an integrated digital platform presents are endless. Imagine having access to:

  • Private On field conversations in real time
  • Close up camera angles of the O-Line, D-Line, individual players, coaches
  • Predictions of the next play call based on previous tendencies & analytics
  • Real time polling within the stadium
  • All sorts of interesting gaming derivatives – think fantasy football at a micro scale
  • Prioritized seating, perks, and contests based on “fan value”, not just static ticket prices
  • Augmented reality features of on/off field data in real time
  • And, and, and…

Attention is finite. The NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Baseball are not only competing against other sports teams. They’re competing against all other forms of entertainment. Not only that, they’re actually competing against all other things that may vie for a few hour block of time.

And they’re not alone. While the dynamics and context are a bit different, this is also your organization’s reality as well. It’s my reality. The government can print more money. But they can’t manufacture more time. Time saving technology doesn’t save time. It just allows us to do more, enabling vendors to race for an increasingly valuable slice of your strictly finite attention.

Extreme Networks CMO evolves marketing for maximum impact in a connected world

A significant subplot to the announcement yesterday was the way that it was done. CMOs and all marketers can learn something from how Vala Afshar of Extreme Networks orchestrated things. The default action from the traditional marketing playbook for this type of an announcement would have been to write up and distribute an excellent press release. Those seeking extra credit may have actually held a press conference, and reached out to media and influencers in the space to try and get some additional covereage. Well, Extreme Networks did that, but they took it a step further and actually created and produced a digital media event.

They invited the CIO of the NFL and an all star cast of NFL executives, while holding the event at NFL headquarters in New York.


They invited well respected analyst and Chairman of Constellation Research R “Ray” Wang, and Crawford Del Prete, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Research, IDC to provide insights about the changes happening in the world around us.

They embedded the announcement within the context of a thought leadership webinar and had visitors register to attend online.

In short, they made it worth people’s attention. It garnered significant signups. It then created a cascade of attention. Nearly 1900 tweets and nearly 7 million impressions through the twitter hashtag #EXTRNFL. It actually was the 2nd most popular hashtag on Twitter in the United States during the event. There are plenty of other metrics that I am not privy to, but it likely did the following:

  • Established Extreme Networks as the top of mind provider of In-Stadium wifi and analytics
  • Created shared value with the NFL and their team’s executives
  • Generated a slew of leads via web registrations and social shares
  • Generated a decent amount of mainstream and new media follow up coverage
  • Created a digital asset to be re-used and leveraged in future content marketing initiatives

So, then, here are your takeaways and challenges:

1. How are you re-inventing and enhancing your customer’s experience?
2. How are you leveraging emerging capabilities to evolve and re-invent your marketing?
3. How are you creatively leveraging emerging technology to do each of the above?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Brian Vellmure
For more than a decade, Brian Vellmure has impacted hundreds of companies on their journey towards increased profitability through strategic customer focused initiatives. For more insightful thoughts and resources, please subscribe to Brian's blog by clicking here


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