Marketing for the NFL, and sports leagues in general, is really quite unique when you think about it.
While the teams are competitors, their individual marketing departments never have to worry about converting fans from other teams. (For example, no matter how excellent their ad campaign / promotion / event is, the Jets are never going to win over a Patriots fans. Along with things like getting a face tattoo, I’m gonna file that under my “when pigs fly” folder.)
However, transforming local non-fans to avid fans and keeping them connected throughout the year are responsibilities of the team marketing departments, and in my opinion, are key tactics in the mission to grow their female fan bases.
With women making up approximately 45% of the NFL’s fan base and the percentage of female fantasy football players jumping from 20% to 34% in the last year, it’s easy to see why NFL teams should care about the female demographic.
The fascinating thing is not all teams are taking the same approach when it comes to marketing towards their female fans. Today, we’re continuing our Women and the NFL series with a look at what one AFC West team is doing.
The ladies you see above posing with the Lombardi trophies are some lucky Denver Broncos fans. After speaking to Marisol Villagomez, the Broncos Manager of Fan Development, I learned all about the opportunities like this Lombardi photo opp that Broncos fans have through Crush, the team’s fan club for women 21 and over.
Similar to other female fan clubs, Crush started as NFL 101 and 201 events for women. Held in the fall, the educational sessions were open to a limited number of women and taught the fundamentals of the game. In August 2010, the team officially started Crush as a fan club and held their inaugural Crush Night Out in October of the same year.
Since then, Crush Night Out has become the group’s signature event, giving female fans an opportunity to get autographs and pictures with players, sample food from local restaurants, shop, and watch football demonstrations at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
This year’s Crush Night Out will be held on Wednesday, October 7 at 6 p.m. (Tickets can be purchased here.)
On the surface, the event seems pretty similar to the Purple Evening we attended last year with the Ravens, but after talking to Marisol, there are definitely some differentiating factors.
“It’s a night for ladies with a splash of football,” said Marisol, which is the complete opposite of how the Ravens Purple night was described to me by the Ravens staffer I interviewed. (When it comes to events like these, I don’t think one marketing mindset is better than the other – it was just something I found really interesting because it speaks volumes about how fans react in different markets.)
One of the other interesting things that Marisol mentioned is that they have experimented with the size of the event over the years. In 2013, the team welcomed over 2,000 fans to the event, but now the attendance is being capped at a smaller number in order to keep the experience more intimate. Marisol also pointed out that by limiting the number of attendees, it reduces the amount of time spent waiting in lines.
With Colorado consistently ending up on healthiest state lists, it’s no surprise that the Crush Workout series has also been a big success for the team.
Earlier this year in May, Crush hosted a boot camp workout series. Over the course of four Thursdays, women interacted with Broncos strength and conditioning trainers through a series of boot camp activities, including learning about the gym equipment, nutrition, and various exercises.
According to Marisol, a different demographic of women showed up for the summer yoga workout series held in the field house. Led by CorePower yoga and featuring Broncos players, the yoga events were capped at 200 attendees. What I thought, by far, was the coolest thing, was that participants got exclusive Broncos yoga mats. (According to Marisol, even the players asked if they could take the mats with them.)
The exclusive yoga mats are just one example of how Marisol’s group caters to female fans. In addition to realizing that fans loved getting exclusive swag for attending events, they noted that Broncos female fans really loved shopping. (I realize that how obvious this statement sounds, but let me explain.)
In a world where teams can be very easily criticized for their approach to women despite their good intentions, it’s not easy to find inclusive events that appeal to fans at different ends of the fan spectrum. (You know, the spectrum that measures a fan on a scale of “doesn’t care at all” to “needs counseling because no one should be that emotionally attached to a sports franchise.”) One thing that really appealed to all women of Broncos nation just happened to be shopping, which is why shopping is a key component of Crush Night Out and why the team hosted a shopping night in December exclusively for Crush members.
(If wearing Broncos gear wasn’t so heavily frowned upon in Massachusetts and Peyton Manning didn’t deliver heartbreak on a silver platter during games I was emotionally invested in, even I would have been tempted to check out what swag they were selling for 30-50% off. It’s not my fault I look so good in navy blue, but I digress.)
Player involvement is also a key component of any Broncos event and in order to create the best experience possible for the fan, Marisol looks to involve players who have a genuine interest in attending.
Appealing to all types of fans was something that Marisol kept coming back to throughout our conversation.
“It’s really important to make sure you are meeting the needs of every group,” she said.
Describing the fans as passionate, she shared stories about the range of women her group needs to appeal to with their events. There are women who blew her away with their football knowledge during a film session event led by Broncos alumni. There are also women who made their picks in the team’s Weekly Pick ‘Em challenging based on team colors. (With a mom who picks her fantasy football team based on the players’ smiles and finds success with this method, I’ve learned not to judge when it comes to making choices for these types of things.)
The challenge for Marisol and her co-workers not only lies with appealing to all female Broncos fans, but maintaining the fan engagement year-round, which pushes the group to be creative with their events.
“It’s an amazing feeling to see so many women who are committed to this brand,” said Marisol.
Even though I can’t say I cheer for the Broncos all that often (unless there are playoff implications), I will admit that I got warm fuzzy fan feelings (and quite frankly, some jealous feelings as well) hearing about what the Broncos are doing for their female fans. Sensing that they value this demographic, I’m excited to see what is to come from this franchise.
For more information on Crush, check out the links below:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BroncosForWomen
Thanks again to Marisol who took the time out of her day to answer my questions about Crush. It’s always great to chat with someone who shares my enthusiasm for discussing the female football fan.
All photographs in this post courtesy of the Denver Broncos.