Football season is finally upon us. Happiness is restored. The preseason games are in full swing, and before you know it, our city will be cheering on the Colts while they gallop to the Super Bowl.
With some of the league’s best fans, it’s a game that consumes our city in the best way possible. And so it’s about time we take a page from the NFL’s playbook on how to build, and break, brand loyalty.
Building brand loyalty
The NFL has the most brand loyal customers in major league sports. But where does all of this loyalty come from? Why do we find ourselves consumed in the culture that’s all too addictive? It’s simple, really.
It all boils down to emotion.
It starts off as watching your hometown play a couple games, and before you know it, you find yourself standing in the jersey you dare not wash with your fingers crossed, all of the sudden having an earnest relationship with a deity and making deals with the devil so that your team can survive just one more week in the playoffs.
The NFL provides a unique escape that is desired by so many. Believe it or not, we enjoy obsessing over something bigger than ourselves. It makes us feel human as we instinctively rise to our feet during fourth and goal. It evokes strong, impulsive emotions that we otherwise wouldn’t get to exercise. Not to mention the ever-present nostalgia factor from playing peewee football or watching the games with your old man. When going through life that can be blasé at best, it feels good to actually feel something. I like to call it “the feeling factor.” And it’s something that is unbelievably addictive.
And then there’s identification.
The NFL recognizes the loyalty of its fans, and so they strive to provide an optimal experience every time their loyal consumers come into contact with their team brand. They make people feel like part of the team through special access to autograph signings, coaches, and team executives. Ever wonder why there are days open to the public during training camp? The NFL has done an excellent job making fans feel like they are a part of something—the team they love really belongs to them and is a part of who they are.
But most importantly, there’s extension.
The NFL extends beyond Sunday to integrate itself into different aspects of fans’ lives. There are merchandise stores and team related restaurants like Indianapolis Colts Grille, where you don’t have to wait until game day to enjoy a burger and beer with your favorite team. And with websites, apps, and TV shows devoted to nothing but the NFL, people have access to everything they want to know all at their fingertips. Football easily becomes integrated into everyday life.
And while the NFL isn’t the only professional league to have a fantasy program, it is still genius. With companies like ESPN and Yahoo getting in on the action, there’s even more involvement with the league. They realize that while fans will first and foremost have a loyalty to their team, they also have loyalties to certain players across the league, causing fans to be consistently involved as they tinker with their lineup while watching games they ordinarily wouldn’t be interested in.
Breaking Brand Loyalty
Even though there are a lot of plans in place to uphold fan loyalty, it’s no secret that the numbers are slowly declining. And while there are players who are busy beating their wives, it doesn’t entirely weaken the interest in the game. So what is it? Why aren’t fans packing the stadiums?
The NFL is now putting profits over people. They are becoming increasingly less considerate of their fans and players, and more concerned about the money in their pocket. As the commissioner continues to push for 18 game seasons, he is less mindful of the increased risk of player injury. And when fans’ favorite players are on the bench, game day becomes less exciting, and their fantasy teams take serious hits.
The NFL is also misunderstanding their audience. With domestic abuse front and center in the 2014-2015 season, the NFL is trying harder than ever to reach out to the female audience—maybe a little too hard. With programs such as Tampa Bays’ RED campaign, women are feeling misunderstood, and even offended, by the league.
Perhaps a new commissioner could bring positive changes. Maybe teams need more players like Pat McAfee who connect to people on a more personal level. Whatever the solution is, the NFL needs to find it. Because if people don’t feel valued, they won’t have a problem leaving for a better league.