CES 2020: NFL Working With Players, ‘Making Them Better Marketers’ on Social

With half of the league’s younger consumers not using linear TV, NFL’s CMO says marketing strategy is ‘completely different than it was just a year ago’
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LAS VEGAS — With its younger consumers eschewing linear television like never before, the National Football League is counting on its players to reach this audience by becoming better marketers on social media.

“The way [younger fans] consume games is significantly different. Half of them don’t use linear at all,” Tim Ellis, chief marketing officer for the NFL, said at a CES panel event Wednesday.

Ellis said it is working directly with its players, helping them better understand how to use the various social and video platforms.

“For the most part, young people care about movies, gaming and fashion. And that’s what our players care about, for the most part,” Ellis said.

The marketing executive was quick to note that, in terms of having its players communicate directly with fans in this new way, context means everything. Players have to understand the specific aspects of the platform they’re using.

The fast-emerging social video platform TikTok is a prime example.

NFL CMO Tim Ellis, left, spoke at CES alongside Blake Chandlee, VP of Global Business Solutions for TikTok

NFL CMO Tim Ellis, left, spoke at CES alongside Blake Chandlee, VP of Global Business Solutions for TikTok

Sitting alongside Ellis, Blake Chandlee, VP of Global Business Solutions for TikTok, described the platform as a destination for “joyful” and “quirky” personality types, one with a user base that skews 77% 13-34 in age. For an NFL player, coming across as too straight-laced might not work on the platform.

“Being perfect is not OK on TikTok,” Chandlee said.

Ellis said some of the NFL’s “more mature” players have come to understand that TikTok is a “happier, more joyful platform.” He cited the league’s biggest star, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, as an example of someone who has been “extremely successful” at reaching out to younger fans on TikTok.

“But he still had to figure out how to do it,” Ellis explained.

He added that the NFL’s marketing strategy has been evolving quickly, noting that it’s “completely different than it was just a year ago.”

But the imperative is existential for the NFL. If the league can’t engage a fan by the time he or she is 18, “we’ve lost them,” Ellis said.

For her part, however, Claudine Cazian, director of partnerships for Instagram, said the league seems to be succeeding at upping its players’ overall marketing game.

“The NFL has doing a great job of making content meet commerce,” she said.