The oversaturation of National Football League content, especially around tentpole moments such as season kickoff, may actually be turning off younger fans. Gen Z is being bombarded with football-related ads, news, and social media campaigns. Especially at the dawn of a new football season, the noise from brands leveraging the NFL as part of their marketing mix tends to become wallpaper – something that fades into the background of an otherwise crowded sports and entertainment landscape. That’s why you see the NFL pushing its partners to help deploy its “helmets off strategy” to make players more relatable to fans as the league continues to “future proof” its brand.
Watch the Pioneers in the Landscape
While the NFL marketing machine shows no signs of slowing in 2023 and beyond, other properties are taking a bite into the league’s share of voice among the coveted Gen Z audience.
According to a recent study of people in their twenties conducted by Taylor, 33% of respondents said they would be more likely to engage with non-traditional sports than the NFL and its traditional counterparts. Emerging properties such as SlamBall, the Drone Racing League, and the Premier League Lacrosse are leading with digital and social media in ways that are not solely tied to what’s happening on the field of play. Video games, e-sports, and content creators are also vying for Gen Z's attention. With the allure of instant gratification and interactive experiences, these alternatives offer a sense of belonging and purpose that goes beyond the field.
The NFL’s traditional competitors such as Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League are prioritizing building up their stars over promoting teams, highlights, and game results and doing so in a way that is “always on” throughout the year. The growing popularity of platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube – from 30-second game recaps to behind-the-scenes personal stories – is already filling that void. Look no further than how Major League Soccer has capitalized on Lionel Messi signing with Inter Miami FC. Clearly, share of voice for the club and the league, especially among Gen Z, is growing as a result.
Prioritize Stars Over Stats
Gen Z has the unique experience of being the first generation to grow up during a completely digital age. The access they’ve had to the personal stories and digital personas of superstars (e.g. Taylor Swift) – and professional athletes – is unmatched. Many Gen Z’ers feel they truly know the real people behind the personas they watch on TV. Shows like HBO’s Hard Knocks and Netflix’s Quarterback have helped foster this feeling of connection among NFL-curious and diehard fans. These shows open windows into the lives – and off-field personalities – of these players.
Guinness’ partnership with active player Joe Burrow is one example of how a brand’s alignment with a celebrity who resonates with younger, digitally savvy audiences can be effective. In an effort to recruit Gen Z drinkers, longstanding Taylor client Guinness launched a partnership with a player who not only garnered headlines on the field of play, but was also a mover in premium social and lifestyle circles. Their target audience is already interested in hearing from and seeing where Joe Burrow shows up in culture. By partnering with him, Guinness is more likely to be considered among those who follow Burrow with their native media consumption.
In addition, Guinness continues to lean into Gen Z’s preference for alcohol alternatives (mocktails and non-alcoholic beverages). Forging a partnership based on their latest offering, Guinness 0, the brand is capitalizing on Burrow’s audience attention while featuring a beer that's potentially more appealing to their target's consumption trends. With a full NFL season ahead – and an offseason known for showcasing lifestyle integrations – Guinness is poised to evolve their ongoing partnership and be relevant in pop culture conversations.
Adapt or Fade into Obscurity
Beyond partnering with the right stars brands must reach consumers through paid, owned, earned, and shared media. Look for them to weave together various channels – from digital media and sponsored content to influencer collaborations and experiential events. The NFL season is a rollercoaster of emotions, with unexpected victories, defeats, new records, and developing storylines. As such, brands must also be prepared to pivot their marketing strategies in response to them.
Smirnoff’s new “We Do Game Days” platform celebrates the entertaining experience of NFL fandom, showcasing football as a we thing providing a front row seat to this unique cultural zeitgeist. Their content aims to engage a wide array of audiences as it’s less about the players, games, and outcomes, and more about the people who come together to watch.
Taylor’s recent youth study showed that 69% of respondents turn to short-form content to help them feel more involved in sports culture. In addition, younger generations and new fans are looking for relatable and differentiating aspects that gamify sports and can transform a mild interest into a passion.
With this intelligence Taylor developed a breakthrough launch moment for Smirnoff’s NFL Kickoff Week that went beyond stats, predictions, and fantasy drafts. Heads or Cocktails utilized a familiar moment to ask: what if the coin toss determined more than who wins possession of the ball, but who wins cocktails for an entire season? More than a sweepstakes, the program created a reason for audiences to become invested in game days by building an interactive experience IRL with larger-than-life coins in Times Square, tailgates at MetLife stadium, broadcast integrations, and custom physical coins featured by media and talent partners Anthony Anderson, Vernon Davis, and Kay Adams.
Smirnoff’s adaptive approach shows how when brands engage fans beyond stats and outcomes, the possibilities are as exciting as the season ahead. Real-time social listening to identify trending topics and agile content creation will remain part of the formula to take Smirnoff all the way to the Super Bowl.
How to Win the Next Generation of Football Lovers
Capturing the hearts and minds of today's NFL fans begins with understanding their values, passions, and preferences. Brands that create campaigns grounded in authenticity, personalized experiences, and dynamic narratives are poised to develop lasting connections with fans everywhere, especially Gen Z. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how Taylor can help your brand activate around the NFL.