How the NFL competes – and wins – for the eye of youthful followers

In the age of Pinterest, Pornhub and Disney +, the National Football League not only competes against other sports leagues, but against everything that vies for time.

"We have to fight for attention," said Tim Ellis, NFL chief marketing officer. "We have to fight against all media companies, all entertainment companies, to get this mindshare and this share of the wallet."

At the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit, held virtually, Ellis discussed the NFL's strategy of attracting the next generation of fans. He was accompanied by team members Sana Merchant, Director of Club Social Marketing. A.J. Curry, Senior Social Content Manager; and Rich Elmore, senior director of player, club, and college social marketing.

To appeal to a more youthful audience, the league focused on TikTok. The team announced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who danced in place of the custom handshake in a clip that welcomes new players to the league during this year's NFL draft, which was held virtually.

"To make it more accessible to our younger fans, we brought this to a platform that they live on," said Curry. "This is the type of content they consume all the time. So we were able to bring it closer to them and make it a special moment for everyone together."

In terms of monthly growth, the league's TikTok account currently outperforms its presence on all other social media platforms combined.

Another tactic used by the NFL is to turn their players into influencers by teaching them best practices on social media and hosting an annual summit to share tips and hear from industry leaders like Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat.

"We've seen in research that a fan, especially a younger fan, has a closer relationship and has a favorite player, is much more of a fan in the short term and in the long term, so we need to drive that," said Elmore.

Overall, Ellis described the NFL's strategy as "highly emotional, youthful storytelling to revive and modernize the brand."

Check out the full conversation below:

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