What the NFL Taught Me About Integrated Communications

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow Fantasy Football went from a casual hobby that I started toying with four or five years ago to an all-consuming religion/time-suck today. I like watching sports. I like winning. So maybe it was inevitable. But as I look at just how big a part of my life […]

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow Fantasy Football went from a casual hobby that I started toying with four or five years ago to an all-consuming religion/time-suck today. I like watching sports. I like winning. So maybe it was inevitable. But as I look at just how big a part of my life […]

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow Fantasy Football went from a casual hobby that I started toying with four or five years ago to an all-consuming religion/time-suck today. I like watching sports. I like winning. So maybe it was inevitable. But as I look at just how big a part of my life it has become, it becomes more and more evident that I am the Stockholm Syndrome victim of a very, very well-orchestrated marketing scheme. Monday night, I watched the game on my Xbox via the WatchESPN app, I checked my scores religiously via the ESPN and Yahoo Fantasy Football iPhone Apps. I followed analysts on Twitter, and I constantly refreshed the ESPN homepage. I was an ad agency’s dream prospect – fully engaged across multiple platforms.

Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football is more than just mankind’s favorite annual emotional abuse. It may also be the perfect example of content marketing and social media synergy. Podcasts, TV shows, websites, journalists, books and media empires have emerged from what began as a sport for nerds and evolved into a sport for more nerds. So as I pause to take a breath, reflect, and I ask myself – what – if any, [integrated] communications lessons can we learn from Fantasy Football?

Diversify Your Playbook
Yahoo, ESPN and CBS have each built brilliant platforms that direct users back to their ad-filled websites. Through tweets, podcasts, commercials and blog posts, they pull in their target audience and direct them to their main site.  For companies like ESPN, a subsidiary of Disney, they can also use blogs and podcasts ostensibly about football as an opportunity to market other products – such as The Muppets or Marvel movies.

Remember the Fundamentals
Fantasy Football really isn’t that different from a Buzzfeed list. It’s about creating benign conflict and engagement. In the months prior to football season, I must have looked at 500 different fantasy football rankings, each with thousands of comments disputing the rankers’ choices and methodology. Something as simple as creating a top 10 list feeds user engagement, drawing in more eyeballs and building your readership.

Defense Wins Championships
Many of the best fantasy sites put their content behind pay walls. If you are looking to build a subscriber base, offer strong, free basic content, but tease your readers with exclusive content throughout. If you become a trusted source of information, your users will reward you by taking the action you’re hoping for them to (the action that all this marketing and communications genius is aimed at) and get your users to pay for your premium content. Trust me, it works.  I shell out $60 a year to be an ESPN Insider.

ESPN and its competitors have built a $1 billion/year business on Fantasy Football, and it’s only growing bigger. While it’s hard to replicate the interest and success of a football audience, by observing what works for fantasy content providers, we can hopefully build better content programs for our clients. And boy do I sure hope so, because that’s my excuse for fantasy “research” at work.

Do you indulge in Fantasy Football? If so,  are there any lessons you can share with the rest of us?

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