How the NFL Competes for—and Wins Over—Younger Fans’ Attention


In the age of Pinterest, Pornhub and Disney+, the National Football League isn’t merely competing against other sports leagues—it’s up against anything and everything that’s vying for time.

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“We got to fight for attention,” Tim Ellis, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, said. “We got to fight all the media companies, all the entertainment companies, in order to get that mindshare and to get that share of wallet.”

At the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit, held virtually, Ellis discussed the NFL’s strategy to win over the next generation of fans. He was accompanied by team members Sana Merchant, director of club social marketing; A.J. Curry, senior manager of social content; and Rich Elmore, senior director of player, club and collegiate social marketing.

To bring in a more youthful audience, the league focused its efforts on TikTok. The team shared NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dancing in a clip in place of the custom handshake that welcomes new players into the league during this year’s NFL Draft, which was held virtually.

“To make it more accessible for our younger fans, we brought this to a platform where they live,” said Curry. “This is the type of content they’re consuming all the time, so we were able to bring it much closer to them and make it a special moment for everyone together.”

In terms of month-over-month growth, the league’s TikTok account is currently outpacing its presence on all other social media platforms combined.

Another tactic the NFL employed is transforming its players into influencers by teaching them best practices on social media and starting an annual summit to swap tips and hear from industry leaders, such as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.

“We’ve seen in research that if a fan, particularly a younger fan, has a closer relationship and has a favorite player, they’re much more likely to be a fan in the short-term and long-term, so we need to drive that,” said Elmore.

Overall, Ellis described the NFL’s strategy as using “highly emotional, youthful storytelling to invigorate and modernize” the brand.

Watch the full conversation below:

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