This past week witnessed the opening weekend of the NFL season and it reminded me of the simple brilliance that is Fantasy Football. Without a doubt, Fantasy Football is the most perfect example of integrated marketing in existence today. It marries the best of online marketing and social media with real world events and that most basic of human traits; pure, unbridled competitiveness.
If you really get down to the brass tacks, fantasy football is indicative of the future of online marketing as well. First and foremost, fantasy football is an integrated marketing platform. It takes an offline event, one that is still considered appointment viewing in television and is less likely to be DVR’d and time shifted, and marries it with online tools that allow you to keep track of the games no matter where you are and what time it is. It generates enormous page views for the sites and services that people use to stay in contact with the game and it is also one of the fastest growing online video plays, with people logging in to watch their favorite games and highlights online.
Fantasy football is also a social networking opportunity, with more and more people engaging in competitive leagues each year for money and bragging rights alike. There are numerous platforms for creating and managing a league and there are loads of services you can use, either free or paid, to give you the edge against your fellow managers. Within each of these platforms are tools for talking smack, managing and executing trades and general communications with the rest of your league. Active fantasy team managers don’t just wait till Sunday to log in to their teams. They are interacting daily; checking injury reports and waiver wires, reading local news on their star players and researching other team’s players to see where they could make trades to improve the quality of their teams. In some cases you see fantasy team managers logging in and spending as much as 30 minutes or more per session just doing research (much of which is likely done at work).
What’s most recently developing is the idea that Fantasy Football is also an open, distributed platform, much like Twitter and Facebook Connect. Fantasy Football apps are all the rage this time of the year in the iTunes App Store and there are many examples of paid services that will give you that extra leg up and that extra insight. If you manage your fantasy team on Yahoo or CBS Sportsline you can most likely download either a licensed or a third party app that will allow you access to your league and your team because these sites have an open API that allows you to pull the data into other locations. It would appear there are just as many people accessing their teams through mobile devices as there are the web and the standard PC interface. This is purely qualitatively stated research, but walk into a sports bar on Sunday and take note of how many people are looking down at their phones as compared to looking up at the TV screens. I think you’ll be pretty surprised!
And of course, Fantasy Football is the ultimate social lubricant. Just the other day I was in the elevator talking with my wife about our fantasy teams (and yes, she has a better team than I do) and the guy next to us jumped into the conversation. Fantasy sports, especially Fantasy Football, is a unifying factor in the U.S. for just about all casual sports fans because it forces you to watch and root for multiple teams beyond just your hometown. You root for individual achievement, not just the San Francisco Forty-Niners or The New York Football Giants and you share your insights with complete and utter strangers just because they care. What other sport creates that sense of camaraderie? European football creates mobs between its fans and American Baseball can do the same if you live in Boston and New York! No; Fantasy Football is a unique beast and the effect is that the NFL has skyrocketed in popularity as a result.
If I were a sports marketer I would examine the NFL and the ways they’ve embraced this pastime because it can provide valuable insight into how to engage with my consumer. Even CPG marketers can see that marrying together social and standard online media with an offline event can help tap into the innate passions of a product and help drive consumer engagement.
I tip my hat to whoever started this whole crazy train (apparently his name was Bill Winkenbach and he worked for the Raiders); though I’d be willing to bet money the poor guy didn’t make a dollar off the idea because he forgot to file a patent.
Cheers to Bill and good luck this season!