There’s a strange dynamic currently unfolding, as pro football looks to inch away from the “N” in the NFL.
Instead of letting the various teams compete for the affections of fans wherever and however they can find them, the NFL is assigning specific foreign markets to specific teams.
It started in December. It continued today, with the Rams adding New Zealand and the Eagles securing access to Australia, New Zealand, and Ghana. The Eagles become the first team to have marketing rights in Africa.
“The International [Home Marketing Areas] initiative, which launched in January of this year, grants NFL clubs access to international territories for marketing, fan engagement and commercialization as part of an important, long-term, strategic effort to enable clubs to build their global brands while driving NFL fan growth internationally,” the league’s press release explains.
It’s all strange. Why should it be restricted or engineered or strategic? Why not let teams market wherever they choose to market?
The league is trying to simulate the natural influence of geography on fan creation. In other countries, there’s no geographic link, no authentic, organic connection. The league is trying to direct the efforts of specific teams to specific places.
It’s antithetical to the concept of business competition and free enterprise. Let them battle it out, wherever they want to battle it out, for the hearts and minds of foreign fans. Instead, folks who browse the web in Ghana will be flooded with ads for the Eagles, with the hope that those fans will become Eagles fans — no matter how good or bad the Eagles may be in any given year.
It will be interesting to see if it works. To a certain extent, it will — because advertising does indeed work. (Case in point, last week someone dusted off the old George Costanza McDLT commercial, and I spent three days craving a hamburger that McDonald’s stopped making more than 30 years ago.)
But there will still be fans who want to root for good teams, or for specific players. It will be very interesting to see if certain teams become more popular in certain areas than the teams that hold the marketing rights.
Regardless, there should be no unique marketing rights. They should let the teams compete wherever and however they want. But that could get too expensive. By approaching it in orderly fashion, it’s all cheaper and more effective.
It also feels phony and artificial. Still, the league will take that over a free-for-all that could spark Coke vs. Pepsi-style battles in big cities around the globe.