Football season is upon us, and the fans are ready for action. I am not the world’s biggest football fan, but I spent a fair bit of a beautiful afternoon yesterday sitting in front of my TV watching the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning had a magnificent game. Bob Sanders got hurt. The Colts defense allowed somebody we’d never heard of look like the second coming of Gayle Sayers. Same as it ever was. The only difference between this game and most other Colts games was that they lost.
Oh, well. The Colts have 15 games in which to redeem themselves. I suspect I’ll be watching at least part of most of them.
So will everyone else in America.
The National Football League has become an unstoppable marketing machine. The NFL has embraced goofy Man Culture and turned it into something to celebrate–and the men (and women) of America have responded in kind. We love football, and football loves us.
It’s not enough to go to games: we show up five hours early to tailgate. It’s not enough to buy a pennant and hang it in your kid’s bedroom: we build Man Caves and fill them with helmets and posters and football-themed easy chairs with beer coolers built into the armrests. We’ve made it not only acceptable but virtually de rigueur to show up at work on Fridays during football season wearing your team colors.
Then there’s fantasy football. Once the realm of geeky stat hounds, fantasy football now appeals to–well, just about everybody. According to ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, 27 million players spend an average of nine hours a week playing fantasy football. There are fantasy football radio shows and newspaper columns and blogs and podcasts handing out advice about who to start at running back this week.
And the NFL has, wisely, embraced it all. Why would they not? Fantasy players don’t just keep up with their own team: they keep up with every team. They need to know who’s making catches, who’s scoring touchdowns, which defense is working. (Note to fantasy players: not the Colts’.) So the NFL is in–big time. They’ll help you create your own league. They’ll help you join a league. Anything to get you engaged with the product.
I’m not here to make a value judgment. I’m not here to mourn the slow decline of baseball–that leisurely radio game from another era. (Although I’m sure many Man Caves include baseball memorabilia, America’s Pastime has always been more about the sun and the great outdoors.) I’m not going to suggest that nine hours a week might be better spent reading or playing with kids or working out at the gym, rather than agonizing over whether Chad Ochocinco is likely to have a better game than Miles Austin. I admit it: I like football.
I’m here to say, damn. If you’re interested in marketing, take a look at the job the NFL has done. The NFL has turned every weekend, from September through the beginning of February, into some kind of can’t-miss-it party with itself as the Guest of Honor. By embracing its subcultures–from beer-swilling goofs to stat-crunching geeks to regular Joes and Janes who just want to fit in and look fashionable–the NFL has become the greatest marketing force in America. Like any old schlub with a football on any given Sunday running against the Colts’ defense, nobody can stop them.
*Photo nicked from ESPN.com.