Saturday, July 08, 2006

NBC Drops Arena Football

Last week NBC dropped the Arena Football League from its programming schedule. This is not a big surprise since NBC has Sunday Night Football returning in the fall. In the article I read, AFL games also appeared on OLN, ESPN, and the Fox regional sports channels. What does the future hold for the AFL?

What is so surprising is that the AFL has been around for 20 years, but has not been able to make "the jump" to become a top-tier league in the U.S. What do you really know about the AFL? The commissioner, David Baker, is 6'7 and his son plays college football at USC, Kurt Warner and Jon Gruden's brother were AFL quarterbacks and John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi are owners.

Over the last two years, the league has finally spent some money on marketing and PR to generate additional interest in the league. It's interesting, since most football fans get depressed the day after the Super Bowl and start counting the days until camps open in the summer. Why wouldn't hard-core fans turn to the AFL?

All right, it could be the level of play, the different rules or the fact that no one knows any players. From what I have read and been told, the AFL fans are as passionate and loyal as NASCAR fans. If that really is the case, then as a sponsor, I would want to be a part of the AFL. Check out this information from an ESPN research poll summary from 2004:
• The AFL indexes higher than the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NASCAR in the 18-34 male age category
• The AFL rivals the NBA in highest percentage of African-Americans among its fan base (18%)
• Overwhelmingly, AFL fans are more likely to try, switch and be loyal, to a sponsor’s product due to a sponsorship of an event/sport they follow
• AFL fans’ loyalty to sponsor’s products eclipse the more referenced and well-publicized NASCAR loyalty figures

What does the AFL need to do moving forward:

* Sign an agreement with Versus. This might be tough for Versus since their agreement with the NHL states if the cable outlet signs another league to the station, the NHL receives 15 million from Versus. This is the best platform for the AFL if they are interested in securing national coverage. They can still sign deals with the regional sports channels as well.

* Ensure they keep their contract with EA Sports. We know EA knows how to develop top football video games (thanks Oge) and video games fans are going to buy the football game moving forward. This can only help to introduce fans to the League.

* Try to develop an agreement with the NFL to become a "minor league of the NFL." Did you know there any nine NFL owners who own an AFL team? Now I understand NFL Europe is considered the minor league for the NFL. It has been widely reported that the AFL is the ideal place to groom quarterbacks. The AFL QBs need to make quick reads in a smaller field. The game is a little faster than the NFL because of the size of the field. It seems to me that some QBs would want to stay in the States to play football rather than going overseas. On the flip side, this would be a steal for the AFL since they would be able to promote known college players who are getting a year of experience in the League. At the very least, you would have the alumni of the QB’s college checking out the games.

* Find a national sponsor that will spend money on promoting the AFL and their involvement with the league. Consider including a logo of the company on the player's jerseys. The bottom line is this -- they must create promotional events in the top markets - NYC, Chicago, LA, Miami to generate interest in the AFL.

According to a report I read -- "The AFL entered into its first-ever exclusive ‘head-to-toe: uniform supplier and apparel partnership with a three-year marketing partnership with NIKE, who will serve as the AFL’s Official Uniform, Sideline Headwear, and Sideline Apparel Supplier through 2007.’"

Um..hello? The AFL should have taken little to no money, but DEMANDED that Nike create a huge marketing/PR campaign around its involvement with the League.

* Buy tons of advertising in SI, ESPN Mag, Sporting News,, etc. I don't care what anyone says, but if an advertiser spends a plethora of money in a magazine, they have the ability to have a story written about their company or product (I know from experience) -- that is what the AFL needs. They should also consider advertising during NFL games. Those are the fans they want to attract and the League doesn't play at the same time as the NFL.

* Last, and yes, I know this is not "really legal," but they need to find a way to get gamblers interested in the sport. Gamblers spend billions of dollars every football season watching games. You can't tell me if they started to gamble on the AFL that it wouldn't raise the interest in the sport.

The AFL has potential, but they need to revise some of their marketing and PR.


At 1:19 PM, Blogger Bob said...

I guess I can only speak for myself, but the AFL needs to realize that its audience is American, and Americans are lazy. When I surf by an AFL game I'll stop and watch because the action is entertaining. But I have no idea when games are on, and I know little to nothing about the teams and players. Am I going to do any work to figure that out for myself? Nope. It seems like there's a lot of room for improvement in promoting the league.

NFL Europe seems pretty much useless to me, but for a lot of the same reasons. Maybe whichever league figures out the p.r. first wins.

What does the AFL need to do to make itself more appealing to gamblers? I know gamblers will bet on the opening coin flip of NFL games so it can't be that hard....

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Patterson said...

I can't believe you just spent that much time writing about the AFL.

If they sign on with Versus, a channel that nobody watches because it's not part of their surfing blocks (the sets of channels you + through to see if there's anything on) thne I think its stupid.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Bomber said...

Bob is entirely correct. Even with the advent of a completely searchable on-line TV guide, I still hardly use it - I know which channels I like and surf those.

I think the summer is hard time for raising TV viewship as well. People like to go out-of-doors and do stuff besides watch TV. Granted baseball is a summer sport, but if you miss one night, you have 6 other nights to watch a game.

And you are right on the money re: gambling. Lets be honest, if you have money on the game, you will def. watch.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Oge said...

There's a lot of money to be made appealing to fans who want to root for the underdog league. EA Sports AFL game wasn't great, but it blew doors off its sales estimates. Those AFL fans are VERY loyal, partly because they're grateful to have a team in a smaller market. Go Austin Wranglers!


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