Lessons Learned from the Big Game’s Ratings Decline

Deflategate. Ray Rice. Taking a knee. Roger Goodell. Concussions. These words form a partial list of likely reasons behind the NFL’s viewership decline over the past ten years. The glory of the gridiron is fading a bit, as fans have certainly indicated they are becoming more interested in watching scripted shows versus tuning into the NFL’s premier game each year.

What was once the most watched sporting event in America is quickly becoming just another game which viewers can give or take. It’s interesting to look at potential reasons behind the Big Game’s ratings decline and the lessons learned from this relatively recent phenomenon.

Lesson #1: Stand by Your Brand

People who love football love watching the players perform on the field and are less interested in any controversy or drama that surrounds the game. With any major brand, the spotlight is unavoidable, but it’s important to remember your brand’s core values when you’re standing underneath it. There has been mixed communication from the NFL and between managers and their players throughout recent seasons. All which have taken the importance off of the game and focused it more on the personal.

Nike has been a known athletic brand for decades but underneath is their core value of inclusivity. When they featured Colin Kaepernick in its anniversary ad last year, many people considered it a controversial move. Ultimately, it drove $6 billion in incremental sales as a result and let their fanbase know where they stand.

Lesson #2: Address Problems Quickly and Earnestly

Football has a history as a game that has earned billions of dollars by pitting large men against each other in bone-crushing, brain injury-inducing contests of strength and stamina. This isn’t a secret. Will Smith has already starred in a movie about the lack of concern surrounding football players and the dangers of concussions. The NFL has invested money into neuroscience research and has updated regulations to address the damage caused by football.

The lesson here is simple: if there is a problem, handle it directly, promptly, and accept blame when it is warranted. Brands don’t have to wait for dramatic backlash or disaster to occur before taking action to fix mistakes, big or small.

Lesson #3: Don’t Put All of Your Eggs Into One Basket

Marketers who think they’re ready to shell out tons of money for a few high-profile ads should take a moment and relate it to the Big Game’s advertising phenomenon. It costs about $5 million for a 30-second spot during the NFL’s Big Game – and about 100 million people will probably see the ad, but is it where your audience is? Are they part of the demographic who won’t be watching the game? Instead, $5 million could be allocated to more profitable marketing opportunities across numerous mediums to entice customers of all ages and demographics.

Lesson #4: People Are Ditching Traditional Entertainment Options

In addition to the decrease in NFL ratings and viewership, many people are cutting cable in their homes altogether. If your brand wants to capitalize on this event, think about where else your given audience may be. It may make more sense to focus on a social media campaign during game time or connected TV advertising.

Yes, come February 3rd, there will be millions of viewers tuned into the game. The players and coaches still matter, but ultimately, it is the audience who guides the decision-making process for advertisers. Brands must understand how to connect with its audience, while considering the changing trend of where that audience is found.

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