In 2008, I and a team of my colleagues conducted an analysis of the NFL brand and created the following NFL “Brand Footprint,” Positioning statement, and “Capsule” based on our own perceptions and brand management expertise. Interestingly, upon re-evaluating our brand analysis from back then, I think it still fits the 2012 brand image of the National Football League. What do you think?

Football Fans“That football fan standing shirtless in the Minnesota wind, with his frostbitten chest painted purple and gold? That’s brand power at work.”
~ Jerry McLaughlin

What do you think of when you see a football? Action? Your favorite player? Your favorite team? Eventually, the NFL? It’s hard to separate the NFL from football in general. For most people, the NFL is football. And the football itself sparks the NFL brand. But as you think about how the National Football League permeates so many aspects of our everyday lives and delve into the branding of the NFL, you realize that the NFL is much more than football. Through our brandscaping, we came to realize the following:

The NFL is not in the football business—it’s product is not football. The NFL is a media company that captures the mystique—the football aura—that pulses into the soul of the football fan. And those who aren’t fans of the game are still touched in some way by the NFL brand.

Our Core Values of NFL Brand

  • Exciting Experience
    Everything that the NFL does or is involved in is all about creating an exciting experience for the customer. In addition to the games—the highlight for many fans—the NFL generates an exciting experience for fans of all ages in all of the ways it reaches out to them: From its highly interactive and entertainment-focused web site, to NFL mobile to provide real-time information about the game, to the NFL field pass which provides live audio wherever you happen to be, to allowing you to download game highlights to your iPod from iTunes. For the younger fans, the excitement comes in the form the popular Madden NFL video games (around for 20+ years now) and the NFLRush web site aimed at a younger audience. The NFL also makes great use of technological innovation and co-branding to ensure an exciting experience. Excitement varies by individual, and the NFL brand hits so many ways to make it attractive to just about anyone.
  • Bridging Generations
    The NFL creates memories that span generations. NFL films archives allows older generations to relive moments of games from the past; NFL youth football and co-branding with EA Sports for the Madden NFL video games allow the young at heart to get in on the action. For any individual, the brand is with them from the earliest age they can remember and through old age (as long as they still have a memory).
  • Community Partnership
    NFL and its players are involved in a large number of charitable programs and events (see Community partnership also comes in the form of co-branding with brands or products that are part of the everyday lives of the community. The NFL partners with brands that have similar values and with other companies that give to the community.

Our Personality Model of NFL Brand

  • American Male
  • Energetic
  • Warrior

Many fans show off their own perceptions of the NFL brand by wearing the jersey of their favorite player or by getting dressed for game day. The fans themselves—the customers of the brand—become the personality of the brand. However, the brand personality is not as much that of the crazed fan, as it is the high performing, highly respected, and widely recognized current and former players who represent the NFL. Regardless of everything else associated with the NFL brand, the brand personality – the face of the NFL – is all about the player that each of us relates to or respects.

Our NFL Brand Essence

The experience of feeling like part of a team, being a part of the game, and getting in on the action and excitement.

The NFL must deal with the reality that each individual player creates his own NFL brand footprint (and uniquely positions himself), and these individual player brands are sometimes in conflict with the NFL brand.

For several years preceding our initial analysis, and even today, the NFL has made an effort to counter the outcry over the criminal behavior of some players — not by apologizing for the misdeeds of a few, but by shining a spotlight on what is presented as the good behavior of the many through television ads and various promotions.

Do you think these efforts have worked over time to preserve the NFL brand image?

Our NFL Positioning Statement

To anyone who enjoys action and excitement, the National Football League is the premiere sports league that transcends race, ethnicity, gender, and age. It stands above all other sports in the world because the NFL features the most competitive interactive experiences for devoted fans to engage in the action through media, gaming, fantasy leagues and community involvement. This results in more advertising dollars spent in the NFL than in any other sport in the world.

The NFL is more than a football league and more than a sports league, but it is not just a generic entertainment provider. What defines the NFL as the leader is the amount of advertising dollars spent. The reason that advertisers reward the NFL with their spending is the value of the NFL brand. By having a long standing track record of clearly supporting the community, bridging generations, and providing exciting experiences, they have established a brand with which other companies wish to align themselves.

Another reward for this consistent well-defined brand is the NFL’s ability to pick and chose those advertisers they wish to work with and to dictate the terms. This strength allows them to further strengthen the NFL brand by picking those partners who will best reinforce the brand.

Our NFL “Capsule”

Did You See That?

We tried to think of the one simple phrase or tagline that resonates with the NFL, but found it difficult. Our discussions revealed that one of the reasons that the NFL capsule is not top-of-mind for us may be that all the co-branding by Nike, Reebok, and others has taken the mental real estate. Several years ago, for example, Nike ran ads with the NFL with Nike’s capsule “Leave Nothing”. Those companies that co-brand with the NFL traditionally do an excellent job with their marketing, and typically their capsules are the ones that are remembered. However, as long as the NFL carefully chooses those companies for co-branding, the brand capsule of the partner may reinforce the brand of the NFL.

The capsule we all agreed on (and which was actually used a several years ago) was “Did you see that?” This simple phrase communicates the idea that if you are not watching it, you are missing it. It also speaks to the entertainment, community, and personal bonding aspects of the NFL and football.

What are your thoughts on the NFL’s current positioning, your thoughts on the NFL’s choices for advertising partners and co-branding partners, and/or your suggestion for the ultimate brand capsule for the NFL today?

Acknowledgment: I’d like to thank my fellow Certified Integrated Marketing and Brand Management Coaches and MBAs, Mark Fahnestock, Bernard Gilligan, and Michael Seckler for their brand management insights on the dissection of the NFL brand. Together, we were the ultimate team!

Read More: 5 Looming Problems For The NFL Brand