Across the advertising world this weekend, all the talk has been of the biggest US advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl.
Creatives across the world enjoy the hype surrounding the Super Bowl ads, but the game has traditionally been an All American event. However in recent years, the NFL has been expanding into Europe, with particular focus on the UK and Germany. There are big budget deals with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur’s football stadium in London, while Germany’s RTL Deutschland now shows the Super Bowl live plus broadcasting other NFL games. This year, Taylor Swift has thrown even more of an international spotlight on American football through her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. So should European brands now be investing their marketing dollars in American football?
Let’s look beyond the hype at the reality here: thus far, the NFL has not made enough effort to build a real culture around the sport outside the US. Yes, the NFL, which has identified Germany as its main growth market in Europe, boasts of audiences of over eight million when they play international games there. But dig deeper into the actual figures – according to Statista, the biggest sports associations in Germany in terms of membership are football followed by gymnastics followed by tennis. Other data, from Germany’s Allensbach market and advertising media analysis AWA, suggests that 2.67 million people in Germany over the age of 14 are particularly interested in American football. But 3.22 million are interested in basketball (and indeed Germany are currently basketball world champions).
Much of the reason for this starts at the grassroots level. Although the NFL has now started an outreach program for flag football in German schools, the sport is not routinely played at amateur level. And if consumers don’t know the basics of how the game is played, why would they watch it? Until the NFL itself starts to invest in even more outreach, its potential for growth will remain limited.
Secondly, it needs to look beyond the super-hyped tent pole entertainment events like Super Bowl to the other 364 days a year to develop substantial engagement. Whereas in the US, viewers follow the entire NFL season, outside of America there is limited awareness of the teams and their progress. Individual NFL teams are starting to try now to build their marketing outside of America and this seems like a good start, but I’d like to see more.
Another aspect to consider is whether bringing the Super Bowl’s All American culture to Europe is the right way to go. Yes, we all love hot dogs and parking lot BBQs occasionally, and that might work for Super Bowl Sunday. But outside of that, why not try to connect more authentically with local cultures? What are Germany’s pregame traditions, for example? And what will help fans connect with the sport when it’s played in the middle of the night on US soil?
It’s not to say it can’t be done. Premier League football, for example, has a huge global audience, but that is given a global flavour and its own traditions in each different market where it is viewed – it’s not reliant on tapping into, say British cultural references. There’s also an argument that US culture isn’t as dominant as it once was – working for an Asian agency, Innocean, I’m all too aware that we’re increasingly looking to markets like Korea for cultural trends and developments.
So, in summary, the entertainment-based hype around the Super Bowl seems to be much higher than the actual engagement. Yes, there is huge untapped potential in Europe for the NFL. Undoubtedly there will be hard core fans in Germany and beyond who will stay up to watch the Super Bowl this year. Maybe they’ll even tune in purely for a glimpse of Taylor Swift or for Usher in the half time show.
But the sport needs to build its cultural impact gradually, rather than storming in and throwing money at it, and build engagement beyond the entertainment hype in order to achieve cultural gravitas. Only then will brands outside of the American market start to take a real interest.
For now, those brands with marketing budget to spend on sport in Europe might be better off investing it elsewhere – tapping into an active audience of engaged consumers in gymnastics, perhaps – than sinking it into a hyped-up entertainment franchise.