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SBD Global/August 28, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL Banking On 'Passion' Of U.K. Fans To Make London Expansion A Success

Some of the NFL's domestic sponsors - Pepsi, Budweiser and Visa - also sponsor the NFL International series.
When the NFL played its first regular-season game in London in ’07, it was hard to imagine that only a few years later the discussion to turn to the possibility of an NFL franchise actually moving there. But now, six years later, the NFL will host two regular-season games in the U.K. for the first time. The Jacksonville Jaguars have announced that they will play a home game in London for four seasons through ’16. Talk about when, not if, a team will move there has gained momentum. NFL Int’l Commercial Dir Marc Reeves has been one of the people driving the NFL’s marketing push overseas. He said the league’s ability to rapidly build a fan base could one day make it possible for an NFL team to call London home. “We’re going to continue to build a fan base to the point that one day it could sustain a franchise,” Reeves said. “Whether or not the ownership decides to do that is out of our hands, but they’ve said, ‘We’ve seen the passion of these fans. This is a market that wants more football, so let’s keep pushing and see how deep their fan base is.'” It is deep enough that the NFL sold out both ’13 games in two days, nine months in advance. Tickets sold for between £35 ($54) for end zone seats to £100 ($155) for lower sideline seats, according to Ticketmaster UK. This year's games include the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 29, and Jacksonville against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27. Reeves said there is a misconception that most fans attending the games are U.S. or former U.S. natives, but that is not the case. Surveys reveal that only 3% of fans at recent London games have U.S. ties, while 22% are from London and 60% from elsewhere in the U.K. Reeves said this is one illustration of the U.K.'s interest in the sport. Another example is the growth on TV. When Sky Sports began televising the NFL, it was the 18th most-watched sport on the channel in the U.K. Entering ’13, the NFL is now the sixth most-watched sport on Sky. Reeves said, “I think we have a great product, and people want to consume it. I think there’s room for everybody.”

SPONSOR MOVEMENT: The growth of the NFL’s International Series has also been evident through sponsorships. The league gives its sponsors in the U.S. the first opportunity to invest in foreign markets. Many have, including Budweiser, Visa and Pepsi. “It’s not a requirement,” Reeves said. “If a brand decides this isn’t the right time to invest in a foreign market, we go out and find a local product.” That happened last year when the NFL added London-based Aon -- known for their shirt sponsorship with ManU -- as a new sponsor. And while General Motors is the official automotive partner of the NFL in the U.S., the league added Chrysler as its sponsor for the U.K. “We see that as growth,” Reeves said. “We’re getting brands that don’t have an overall relationship with the NFL, but they’re saying, ‘Hey, you guys are growing to a point where you’re a great stand-alone property, we want to align with you.’” The NFL has also gotten help from its sponsors, such as Budweiser. Reeves said that Budweiser has done promotions in U.K. stores with the NFL logo and brand visible. “Everyone who goes shopping sees that NFL logo,” Reeves said. “That gets us to a consumer we otherwise wouldn’t.”

MOVING FORWARD: The key to London being able to sustain an NFL franchise is a large fan base, Reeves said. To do so, the NFL is marketing its players, teams and the sport toward youth. “We have a clear focus on youth,” Reeves said. “If we get you before you’re 19, there’s a far greater likelihood you’ll be a fan for life. Fans of the NFL are a driver for new fans. Empowering fans via social media and getting them to bring others in has been a big focus. The rise in the NFL’s popularity in the U.K. has, in some ways, mirrored the surge in popularity of the Premier League in the U.S. One reason, Reeves said, is technology, and fans’ ability to quickly locate massive amounts of information online. “In today’s day and age, as a sports fan, you can consume as much as you want,” Reeves said. “People are finding the products they like and they’re able to consume it. That is crossing borders in ways we haven’t seen before.”
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