NFL UK: 'the BBC is the biggest asset we have in this market'
The BBC is vital to the NFL's British brand building efforts, the sport's head of marketing UK has told The Drum.
Sarah Swanson, who has been with the NFL for more than half a decade and headed up UK marketing since 2015, has helped drive the brand towards mainstream appeal.
The BBC brought the NFL to free-to-air British TV in 2016, with Mark Chapman hosting a weekly digest package occupying the vital post-Match of the Day slot on a Saturday. While educating a wider audience on the nuances of the sport, the show avoids digging too deeply into the tactical situations like commentators are prone to stateside.
Its sister show, NFL This Week, airs late on Tuesdays.
“The biggest asset we have in this market is the late night show on the BBC," said Swanson. "When you look at the number of people who see it – you can’t touch that anywhere else. It is very much designed for a broad audience. We contextualize what is happening on the field, who the players are and their storylines to a broad audience.”
She touted the benefit of being on BBC's linear schedule, the iPlayer and the BBC Sport homepage as a result of the show and its coverage. Swanson added: "We want to be mainstream [and] this is a great way to be mainstream.”
Beyond the BBC
Meanwhile, Sky broadcasts matches to smaller, more fanatic audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. There's also its direct to consumer strategy; the NFL sells its feeds, additional shows and data straight to consumers through its globally available Game Pass service that is priced at £84.99 a year in the UK for the basic package.
Through the mainstream media channels, the NFL claims to have secured some 24 million unique UK broadcast viewers last season.
The Super Bowl
NFL UK can traditionally be relied upon to generate a buzz for the big game. The issue is that once that momentum is created for one game, then the season is over.
"Super Bowl is a really big deal, it is more known that the NFL and it is a highpoint of the season," Swanson said.
"The challenge is the day after the season is over, we are in the dark for a number of months. So in the last year or two we have tried to pull forward from the Super Bowl, and get fans watching the January playoffs instead of a one-off."
In 2017, two games were staged at Wembley and two at Twickenham Stadium. Some 300,000 fans attended these four London games. This year, there will be one game at Tottenham and two at Wembley.
From a marketing perspective, some favourable conditions were met on the field that enabled the brand to tell some strong stories. The four teams that won their London fixtures in 2017 made it to the playoffs, giving event attendees a team to root for.
A big part of the story was Hackney-born Jay Ajayi who is hoping to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to glory against the power of the New England Patriots when they collide at the Super Bowl in Minnesota. If he succeeds he will be only the fifth British player to lift the award.
"Jay has been such a big part of giving people a reason to care, to engage," said Swanson. "It's amazing having someone British born, with most of his family over here and watching him grow, playing in the Super Bowl.
"We unashamedly promote Jay over here."
Swanson said Ajayi wants to become an inspiration to young kids and help cultivate the game in the UK.
"He wants them to see him and see that that is possible," she said. "He is such a nice asset for us."
That Saturday slot after MOTD taking over from the EFL has been mutually beneficial all round; the BBC is getting the NFL on the cheap (especially compared to the EFL rights) and the NFL is in 1million+ homes every week. To have 700,000+ watching on occasion past 12am is fantastic. 555,000 (8.6% share) watched last night for a nothing episode of Chappers and co freezing their bollocks off in Minneapolis (-21!).
The BBC coverage is great, and can only help the sport's exposure over here. Osi and Jason are great, and Mark Chapman is always good. The coverage is so much better than the likes of MOTD, but Chapman himself has said that they couldn't get away with doing an NFL-show style MOTD. Can't wait for tonight, don't really mind who wins, lots of pundits seem to be going for the Eagles. All I know is I've got lots of beer and snacks.