Ever find yourself stuck in a foreign country, unable to satiate your desire for live American football? While football fans’ sights are set on the upcoming Pro Bowl in Hawaii and Super Bowl in New Orleans, the NFL’s senior director of events, Dave Wintergrass, is looking farther afield. He works on the league’s International Series events, organized by the NFL on Location in order to deliver the (live) goods to American football fans abroad. The next two games in the series will take place this fall at London’s Wembley Stadium, including one game featuring a Super Bowl contender, the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL’s international efforts are part of a growing trend to increase the visibility of American professional team sports worldwide. Other notable examples include the NBA hosting a game between the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons at London’s O2 arena last week, and the World Baseball Classic.
Wintergrass spoke on a panel about experiential travel at The New York Times Travel Show on Friday in New York. He said that the NFL wants to expand its global branding efforts by taking advantage of the league’s online media platforms and providing an entertaining, social experience in which only some of the customs mirror those of American football. Click through for his play-by-play:
What’s the point? “The International Series games are an outgrowth of expanding the NFL brand globally. Many fans in London follow American football, and by focusing our efforts there we build a new fan base throughout the U.K. The games are for NFL fans of both teams who want something unique. Our combined packages appeal to football fans and tourists.”
Leveraging the NFL’s mega-media. “NFL on Location uses the marketing power of NFL.com. We take the league’s media assets and drive them to the NFL on Location website. That’s where we explain the international series products and where customers can see and build their options.”
It’s about socializing and special access. “We host interactive events for our guests with parties at high profile venues like Kensington Palace, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square. We also offer sightseeing trips on the Thames with cheerleaders on the boats.”
There are certain things money can buy here that aren’t options in the States. “Some of our customers get an on-field experience, so they can see the field as the players do”. (In the U.S., any on-field activity would result in seeing the field from a police officer’s perspective.)
“We also have a different version of tailgating. Wembley is a state-of-the-art facility that offers a different level of hospitality. Here the pre-game experience is a three course sit-down dinner. It’s a warm, intimate environment despite Wembley Stadium’s capacity of 80,000 fans.”
Fans of opposing teams keep calm(er) and carry on. Unlike European football (aka soccer), where rival fans are kept separate for security purposes, NFL on Location encourages interaction between fans of competing teams. “We host all the fans at one hotel to try to create community. The bonding and sense of camaraderie of the fans is remarkable.”
“We have seating sections together, but fans of different teams can sit apart if they want. All thirty-two NFL teams are represented in the Wembley Stadium building”. In other words, the International Series merchandise is an added branding opportunity and revenue generator.
A host of travel options. “Our customers can build extended stays, so the complete focus is no longer just a football game. We partner with a European tour operator, and we’re full service, providing a choice of travel before or after the game.”
We don’t think Queen Elizabeth will parachute into Wembley as she did into Olympic Stadium last July, but if she did she’d also receive the royal treatment.
The whole project is a fascinating study in international branding.