NFL CMO Tim Ellis Takes the Helmets Off and Creates a New Social Media Ecosystem

Headshot of Nadine Dietz

As Tim Ellis, CMO of the NFL, and I were sitting in Cannes just recently, we turned the mic on and embarked on an incredible journey together. This podcast really should be two separate ones but they come from one fantastical person, Tim.

The first would be a podcast about a curious and adventurous young man who went from learning how to fence in Paris, to working in a Kibbutz in Israel milking cows and driving tractors, to building oil rigs in Norway, to being an actor and teacher in Tokyo, Japan, to then jumping on a cruise ship as a bartender to see the world, to joining an agency in Sweden to eventually deliver the ad that changed the Super Bowl forever. How did he do it? Well, you’ll have to tune in to find out and then hang tight as we dive deep into the NFL and what he’s doing with a collective audience of 750MM as part two of this incredible podcast.

That’s right. 750MM is the collective audience of the NFL when you add up the NFL brand, the clubs, the players, the former players – A.K.A. “legends” – into one social media ecosystem. What do you do with that ecosystem? Well, Tim has a pretty elaborate plan he shares around education, focus on verticals, partners, influencers, social platforms and more. His recipe for success is not to be missed. It’s exciting and fun and includes people with names like Ninja and JuJu – you’ve probably heard of them. 😉

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Tim’s Playbook

  • The Challenge – When I came to the NFL, I realized that because of the sheer [audience] numbers, you could actually miss something in the data. If you match the finale of Game of Thrones to our games, it would be #74 right now, so that gives you some sense of the overall power. That’s obviously a massive strength to build upon, but it was stopping people from looking deep into what was going on with our audiences. Younger people had begun to trickle away to do other things and they were much more difficult to engage than audiences 35+. The NFL was suffering in terms of losing fans.
  • The Field – I started looking closely at the numbers I found that the footprint of the own and operated at the NFL was close to 60 million fans, which is pretty damn big. Most brands would die to have that volume of fans. But then if you look at all of our players and their social footprint combined? 330 million. Wow. So then you add what we call the legends, some of the former players who are still active online. Then you have half a billion. Before you know it, you add all of these potential audiences up you have 750 million people.  That is a massive opportunity.
  • The Play – I felt that our biggest opportunity to connect in a modern and authentic way was to be much better at using the players to connect with young people, but also to really tap into this NFL ecosystem because we weren’t really doing that. We have a little bit of a disadvantage compared to other leagues and that we have helmets on all the time. So fans don’t see the players. They don’t know really who they are. So I had a whole helmets-off strategy and then finding ways to match the passion points of our fan base. The opportunity here was to focus on three key verticals, gaming, music, and fashion, which are incredibly important because they were not only the most interesting areas of a younger generation’s lives, but they also happen to be the same passion points as the players.
  • The Pass – We put in systems to where we could immediately get content on the field, close and intimate to the players and great highlights to the players as soon as they play the game and get those to them so they can share it with their audiences. We created this army of correspondents, we call them LCC, live content correspondence, and these are young people who have a camera and a phone and not only do they follow these guys around the field to get these really close and intimate moments, but they also follow them now in their everyday lives. But how a player engages on social media is totally up to them. So we work with them and try to understand their needs.
  • The Win – We try to give the players the right content that will help them open up about who they are and to be authentic, not just around their great football moments, but about them as people. And we offer programs to help them be successful like one that we’re about to do right now, which is bring the top players to one place with the top CEOs and visionaries of all the social platforms and the best influencers and best streamers in the world to learn about how this works best and to help provide the inspiration in areas they love. Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.