“Ultimately, it’s about fan growth.” NFL UK Swanson on marketing gridiron in the UK

by Andrew McSteen

Speaking at the Soccerex Global Convention earlier today in Manchester, Sarah Swanson – Head of Marketing, NFL UK, discussed a number of items in front of a packed room of sports industry guests.

As the NFL continues its international expansion on a global scale with three games in London in 2016 and one in Mexico City, it creates opportunities and challenges, which, in the UK with an office on the prestigious Oxford Street in central London, Sarah and her small team work hard on.

A Head For The Game will bring you more from Sarah’s panel discussion at the 2016 Soccerex Global Convention later this week.

“My job is ultimately fan growth,” said Swanson earlier today in the Manchester Central Convention Centre. “We don’t have to grow fans in the United States; we have most of them already. Social media is a key way to get our sport, our brand, our product out in front of as many people as possible – in the US we don’t have that issue, so I’m always trying to find that balance between how social media is set up, how it is staffed, how it is managed and how it is valued in the US versus the way we are here in the UK.

“We trying to use the resources we have in the US and take advantage of them so I can then grow the value here in the UK and around the rest of the world.”

With one of the world’s biggest sporting brands comes one of the richest and Swanson is quick to acknowledge the support London receives from the NFL back in America, allowing her and her team to further push the localised content to the UK, and European, audience.

“My whole marketing team is only five people here in England,” she said. “Alongside me, I have one full-time social media coordinator, a digital content producer, an analytics guy and then someone who is general marketing but as you can imagine we’re supported tremendously from the US.

“We have a whole media group in Los Angeles who give us a lot of our content and in the last year they’ve hired two people whose job is solely international – not just the UK and that’s new. The league has made a decision that if we’re going to continue to grow fans and grow our value as a sport then we need to do that broadly, internationally, which has been great for us because we now have full-time producers and editors who are doing content specific to social.”

That specific content in the UK, but with an eye on Europe, differs from the NFL brand in the United States, and with it, it creates its own unique opportunities and challenges for Sally and her team.

“We have games, we have television programmes and we have things that we need people to engage with us on [directly here in the UK],” she said. “Some of our social channels are out in the US and we manage those differently but some of them are here in the UK so we manage them differently to the US and those are where we tend to do specific messaging to an audience here to get them to do things – i.e. come down to Regent Street on Saturday or buy tickets to our games.

“So many people come to our games [here in the UK] who don’t know anything about American Football; it’s their first experience, they don’t know what to expect; they don’t know how the game is played which is one of our biggest hurdles.

“One of the things that is very specific and what we use social for is to explain the game on game day. When we are playing here, on Sunday we will be on the BBC as well as having thousands of people in the stadium who will be seeing it for the first time so we have a hashtag – #NFLRookie – and we let people ask us questions. We have staff available solely to be able to explain what’s going on.

“That can be anything about the sport; where to watch it, what time the trains are running, what is a safety etc – all kind of different things and this is quite specific thing for when we’re here in the UK.

“We have big fan events and we use our UK channels to communicate them – we staff to that very specifically but our content here has to be really different [to the USA] because we know that it’s going to be a more casual fan. It’s going to be people who just don’t have the context for the sport.

“You can’t just go in and talk about the new quarterback for the New England Patriots, you have to explain that Tom Brady, who is the main quarterback, who has won lots of Super Bowls, has been suspended and you have to give all that context, but in the US you would never do that and so getting people who job it is to do that has been a big win for us and has made my job a lot easier as we don’t have to do it all ourselves anymore. “

A Head For The Game will bring you more from Sarah’s panel discussion at the 2016 Soccerex Global Convention later this week.

After the discussion, A Head For The Game spoke in-depth to Sarah about the UK ‘voice’ in the NFL UK marketing, the diversity of knowledge with fans, London as a hub for Europe, NFL Fantasy, the NFL UK marketing plans for the Twickenham game and continuing to discover high-profile NFL fans in the United Kingdom – including Sue Barker.

The interview will appear in a number of articles throughout October on A Head For The Game, with the final part going live before the New York Giants @ LA Rams match at Twickenham on Sunday 23 October.

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