Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why the NFL gets it's marketing right and everyone else doesn't

Lance Williams, host of the "Just Talking Sh--" Podcast, pointed out on his most recent program that nobody is going to really care about the Major League Baseball playoffs now that the Yankees and Red Sox are out of it.

I take great offense to that because I'm an Astros fan, even though I'm not that really into baseball, and I *do* care that they are now 4 wins away from a World Series, something they've never been to. (Damn you '86 Mets, Maddux-Glavine-era Braves, '97 Padres, and '04 Cardinals that it hasn't happened yet!)

But Lance does have a point. There are probably 5 teams that have real name recognition in baseball. The Yankees, Red Sox, Chicago Cubs (thanks, WGN, for shoving them down our throats), the Atlanta Braves (thanks, Ted Turner, for shoving them down our throats), and the L.A. Dodgers (Thanks, aging ex-Brooklynite baseball novelists, for shoving them down our throats). If they're not involved, the ratings drop.

And it's not just baseball where ratings drop when it's major name teams are gone. The NBA sweats whenever the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks are all eliminated, the NHL is concerned whenever Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and the New York Rangers are all eliminated.

However, the NFL can have Green Bay and Jacksonville in the Super Bowl, and there's no hit in the ratings.


The NFL and those who market it and cover it, realize that every team, no matter how small their market or how much name recognition they have, matters.

All their TV money comes strictly from network and national cable TV, and it's distributed equally to every team. No Fox Sports Nets, Comcast Sports, NESNs, or YES Networks to unbalance the playing field.

Oh, and every team gets an equal share of licensing revenue, and they split the road team's share of the gate equally.

And the salary cap, as much as fans complain about the breakup of teams, ensures that their team can, with good personnel management and salary management, be competitive every year.

ESPN sends it's football reporters to every game site, not just New York, Boston or LA games.

NFL Films doesn't just make a Super Bowl video for the champ, they make 31 other "yearbook" films for every team, and then run them all on ESPN to get every fan in every market jacked up for football season.

The games are once a week, so every game counts. But in between, not an hour in the day goes by without some kind of NFL highlight, analysis, nostalgia, or news show. And all teams get covered, not just the New York teams.

Also, any city can write their name into pro football lore. Green Bay, the league's smallest market, is "Title Town", Buffalo can lose 4 straight Super Bowls and still be remembered as the "lovable losers" of football. Even Oakland, a town dwarfed by San Fransisco and San Jose, can have it's own piece of football lore in the renegade Raiders franchise.

Not coincidentally, the NFL is #1 in just about every survey, poll, and rating you can imagine.

All the other sports only emphasize the best recognized teams. When baseball is covered, whether it be network TV, or ESPN' s Baseball Tonight, the emphasis is on the teams with the best name recognition. They don't take any time talking about the other teams.

And then they wonder why no one who's not a fan of the game can name a player on the Houston Astros or St. Louis Cardinals.

And in the NBA, it doesn't matter that San Antonio has won 2 of the last 3 NBA titles, has one of the best-run organizations in the NBA, and has the league's best player in Tim Duncan. No, the NBA and every media outlet involved with it would rather focus on how Kobe Bryant is running the Lakers into the ground or how Isaiah Thomas is screwing up the Knicks or how Danny Ainge can't run the Celtics. There are 27 other NBA teams, but you'd never know it the way the NBA and NBA-related media promote it.

And then they wonder why the ratings for a Pistons-Spurs final are so bad.

And Hockey? They talk about expanding the game, yet despite the fact that some of it's best young talent plays for franchises in the Sun Belt and Canada, the emphasis of it's US coverage is still the Rangers, Red Wings, Blackhawks, and Bruins.

And they wonder why, aside from all the ridiculous clutching, grabbing, and trapping, that ratings are down.

The NFL understands that every team is important. That's why teams can come out of nowhere and make it to a Super Bowl without Paul Tagliabue worrying what the ratings will be.

If the other leagues have to have a big market or name team make the finals to boost ratings, then maybe it's time they rethink how they market.
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