The NFL is doing what any wise fashion brand does these days: It’s fashioning itself as a lifestyle brand under the banner NFL Fan Style, complete with its own #content, an attractive Instagram, product-pushing blogger partnerships, and paid influencers. The NFL, in case you hadn’t heard, is a massive corporation, with $14 billion in overall revenue in 2017. It’s a sports league with massive ticket sales; it’s also an entertainment company, with distribution deals with NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, and DirecTV and the most-watched TV program of the year (NFL games accounted for 37 of top 50 TV broadcasts in 2017). The total revenue will change in NFL Games 2018. It may exit $20 billion this year.
We like to think of ourselves as enhancing fans’ connection to their team through product,
says Agaja Reddy, director of consumer products for the NFL. She estimates around 95 percent of fans can’t go to physical games, so merch is a way to bridge that gap.
It’s also a way to make money. NFL Fan Style was created by the consumer products team about four years ago as a new way to market the NFL’s endless array of merch. The content lives mainly on Instagram and Facebook; the posts on these platforms, mainly photos and some video, are a mix of fan pics and product shots, with some event promotions and food videos mixed in. Many of the photos are regrams from fans’ accounts.
To extend its reach as a legit brand, NFL Fan Style also takes a page from successful fashion brands and has assembled a group of lifestyle bloggers, dubbed the Lifestyle Council. Every month in the season, the dozen or so bloggers are given free NFL-branded product as well as talking points that they incorporate into their own blogs and social posts, subject to approval by the NFL.
The Lifestyle Council bloggers aren’t big-name fashion folks (no Man Repeller or The Blonde Salad here), but rather The Blonde Side, Mimosas & Manhattan, Frosted Events, The Whole Smiths, Chic Talk, and other bloggers you may not have heard of. But they love football and have engaged fans. “We have seen that micro-influencers, because they have such a loyal following, a lot of times do have stronger engagements than some of the larger ones,” says Reddy.
Which is also why the bloggers aren’t paid. Instead, they’re gifted free product for their posts, as well as tickets to NFL games. “We also do friendly competitions amongst them, to see how many of them are driving sales to NFL Shop,” says Reddy. Winners may get tickets to Pro Bowl, for example, or a gameday party package with food and drinks paid for by the NFL. In exchange, the bloggers showcase product in their lives, talk about how much they love it, and contribute photos that populate the NFL Fan Style’s lifestyle feed.
For an apparel brand, which the NFL basically is, it’s a savvy approach.
“It’s a brand’s responsibility for socializing what the brand means in the life of the people they target,” says Tom Ajello, global chief creative officer at strategic consulting firm Vivaldi. “The NFL needs you to see how the brand fits your whole life. They need you to see, say, the man cave in your future home that has way too many Giants things in it.”
Or for the 46 percent of NFL fans who are female, how you incorporate a Giants beanie into your outfit or Giants platters into your tailgate party. And influencers, from bloggers to celebrities, play a big part in that.
“Customers are looking to influencers when considering buying a product,” says Ali Grant, founder of boutique PR agency Be Social. “A brand can’t solely sell itself anymore — there is a growing need for the messaging to come from someone we value and follow, especially as it relates to product discovery.”
Which is why, on top of small-time bloggers, the NFL also markets its brand through paid influencers. If you follow JoJo Fletcher from The Bachelorette, you might have noticed an Instagram post in which she posed wearing a Texans tee with glam thigh-high boots, tagged @nflfanstyle and #ad, or her tweet shouting out her favorite NFL logo beanie with an #ad tag.
Fletcher is among the celebrities who promote NFL Fan Style on their feeds and at events. Like major fashion brands, NFL does in-person “activations” to showcase product, such as a shopping event with Levi’s (a NFL licensee) in Los Angeles last October, where guests could customize NFL Levi’s jean jackets and Joe Manganiello made an appearance.
But the most consistent connection with fans is through the social accounts, where the feed is populated with the sort of lifestyle content you’d see on regular publications. Most notable are the quick food videos, which follow BuzzFeed’s Tasty formula to a tee (shot overhead, with ingredient-by-ingredient instruction, sped up to about 10 seconds).
“We also have a food element too, because we’ve got #homegating — which is bringing the spirit of the game home — to highlight our breadth of drinkware and servingware and entertainment accessories,” says Reddy.