A recent Harris Poll showed that 31% of people in the U.S. who follow sports say pro football is their favorite passion. It marked the ninth consecutive such poll, dating back to 2002, in which football has had a double-digit lead over baseball. The league faces challenges, not the least of which is resolving the CBA situation. But as related by Jaime Weston director of brand and creative operations, and Peter O'Reilly, vice president for brand strategy and marketing, changes have been and are continuing to be made to elevate the NFL.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted February 4, 2011)
In 2008, the NFL made a dramatic change to its logo, which had, in turn, been redesigned in 1980. The new logo now has eight stars to represent the league's eight divisions (the previous logo had 25). The football on the logo also was adjusted to resemble the football that sits atop the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl.
This past year, the league continued its branding redesign. The logo being used for Super Bowl XLV will now be a standard design rather than changing each year to reflect the city in which the game is being played. The NFL also made a major move by standardizing its off-season logos and redesigning its George Halas NFC Championship and Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophies to closely resemble the Lombardi Trophy. All three trophies were designed by Tiffany.
This was all done in large part to enhance not just the post-season, but also to boost such off-season elements as the NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 23-March 1), the NFL Draft (April 28-30) and the pre-season for partners and fans alike.
The NFL had a record year with 207.7 million unique TV viewers, 19 of the most-watched shows (up from 11 in 2009) and 28 of the top 30 most-watched shows overall. With an historic Super Bowl XLV top of mind, Peter O'Reilly, vp-brand strategy and marketing for the NFL; and Jaime Weston, director of brand and creative operations, spoke with NYSportsJournalism about how these changes affect marketing partners and how they reflect the current and future image of the league.
NYSportsJournalism: Where do you see the Vince Lombardi Trophy's place in sports history, say compared to the NHL's Stanley Cup?
Peter O'Reilly: Certainly the Stanley Cup is iconic. But Lombardi Trophy represents something that is so big. Visually is where we saw the need to improve the perception across our post-season logos and trophies. To make them more a part of what the Lombardi Trophy represents. I think now, as we track it over time, the changes we have made will elevate the awareness of and the connections to the Lombardi Trophy.
NYSJ: When you saw the trophies actually being presented, how did they look?
PO: Amazing. They are so premium. They tell the story about how they are a piece of the Vince Lombardi Trophy but not quite there. The players were very responsive to them, which was great.
Jaime Weston: When I saw the Green Bay Packers receive the NFL championship trophy [in the locker room because they won it on the road in Chicago], it looked good amid all that pomp and circumstance. But when I saw the Pittsburgh Steelers get the AFC championship trophy out on Heinz Field, it was really exciting. They were both getting a lot of air time. I'm not sure which player it was, but one of the Packers, because the new trophies have footballs on the top, was actually holding it like a football and not a trophy. It looked as if he was protecting it from being knocked out of his arm. We never expected someone to do that. But it made sense that a player would want to hold it that way.
NYSJ: What are the challenges when you are making changes in the NFL logo, the trophies, other key marks?
PO: It started internally in making sure that everyone was aligned. We put a good team together to make sure all the pros and cons were discussed. At the end of the day, it was about this being the most preeminent moment in sports, so how do we capture that in a mark that can create equity over time. That was a big deal. Then we needed to get approval from the clubs. It really is about an entire evolution in trying to create real consistency across the entire year. Being consistent in all of our off-season marks and then in-season and into the playoffs.
JW: When we looked at the symbol that represents the NFL playoffs and post-season, the most important is the Vince Lombardi Trophy that is presented to the winner of the Super Bowl. So we needed to tell a more compelling story and have a more compelling presentation for the Conference championships. We brought in Tiffany, which designs the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and explained that we wanted to evolve the design of the NFC and AFC Conference championship trophies and tell a story that brings it closer to the Super Bowl. Now, when you see the three trophies together, the story is more consistent. Everyone wants the Lombardi Trophy, but now the [Conference trophies] reflect that they are more of a huge stepping stone toward the ultimate goal. Now the logos reflect the trophies. And it is a really nice portfolio for our partners to activate behind. We really have elevated the overall presentation of the entire season.
NYSJ: What were some of the challenges in working with NFL partners, especially during the Super Bowl when fans and consumers are being loaded with so many messages?
PO: Each of our partners works hard to figure what their unique connect is to the NFL. Then they carve out that territory and make sure that they build and strengthen that message with fans and consumers. What we are doing now is taking the NFL message year-round and working with our partners to build that message. Where we have done a better job over the past few years is to provide category exclusivity, and then working hard to protect that exclusivity. So each of our partners has that and the freedom to develop their territory with the league. Obviously, this is the time of the year when all of our partners are activating. Not only in the marketplace but on the ground around the Super Bowl. And we have done a good job in giving them support and connecting them with fans in a way that they each stand out. Brand consistency and equity is vital.
"What we are doing now is taking the NFL message year-round and working with our partners to build that message."
JW: It wasn't directly tied to Super Bowl XVL. But it all came together for the championship games this year, so it worked out very well. We do a lot of research on how our fans and our partners perceive us. We do rely on our partners to express our brand through our products. Everything from apparel to our TV partners. They use our logo portfolio to present our brand. So we decided to focus in more on the fact that we are the number one brand in sports and entertainment events.
NYSJ: How was the NFL able to get the message regarding the new trophies out to the fans via marketing partners?
JW: It has generated a creative springboard for our partners to be more expressive with their product designs. We put the new look on Conference championship T-shirts, so consumers who went to the NFL Shop Web site were able to order them right away. The Lombardi Trophy has been so sacrosanct to us. But now we are opening it up a bit. We are giving our partners an added opportunity to market their products. In the past, we had so many logos and were trying to say so many things: A nod to the cities, a nod to the region, a nod to football. And then the Super Bowl. Now we have captured all of this with one logo, in one core design.
NYSJ: Will this be the look for Super Bowl L in 2016, which will be another historic game?
JW: That's a great question. We have to look at that. We will be dealing with the Roman numeral L. So we will sit down and figure out the best way to present it to fans and use it to work with out partners.
NYSJ: How do you feel this consistency works now as compared to the past?
PO: I wouldn't go so far as to say it was haphazard. But it was not a clean and consistent look as it is today. The visual identity doesn't get a ton of attention, but it is what wraps all of our marketing efforts. The previous Conference trophies were classic looking, but the average fan likely would not be able to describe them or even say what they were if they saw them. But the Lombardi Trophy has a visual presence, and we were looking for that in [our Conference] trophies, as well.
NYSJ: Does this actually date back to 2008 when the NFL changed its shield for the first time since 1980?
JW: Yes. The image of our shield is so strong. So after that, we stepped back and looked at the rest of our portfolio. We saw that our partners were activating more around time periods rather than individual events. We looked at all the logos that our partners use, from the draft to pre-season, during the regular season and on through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. We want to improve and unify the way [league symbols] are used during those time periods. About a year ago we updated all of our pre-season logos: the Combine, the Draft, the mini-camps, training camp and pre-season games, and modified those so they had a consistent look and feel. Then we made some adjustments with our in-season logos to give them a more consistent look.
NYSJ: Was everything bigger this year because it was Super Bowl XLV and also because it took place in Dallas, Texas?
PO: [Laughs.] Clearly. Regardless of what [Roman numeral] it was, it was going to be big because of the location. Big in every way from Cowboys Stadium to the support from the Dallas Cowboys and the city itself. The region really embraced the game and everything leading up to it. Even finding more ways for fans who may not have a ticket to be part of the Super Bowl experience with more events, more access. And that means more touch-points between partners and fans.
NYSJ: How did the NFL approach activation for this game regarding its location that might also be used at future Super Bowl games?
PO: We always seek to involve communities, schools, regions, people not just in the [host city] but are far-reaching as we can. This year, there were activities involving the Hispanic market, which is a big part of the community in North Texas. We had major events to really connect with the market. We worked with the [organizing committee] and our partners to hit the ground in a powerful way that goes beyond the game and what people see on TV.
NYSJ: Was there any special karma this season because of Lombardi, the Broadway show, which has been getting great reviews?
PO: [Laughs.] The NFL Network and NFL.com have been running ads [with Dan Lauria, who portrays Vince Lombardi], so we have been supporting our role with the play. It was great to see it extended. There certainly seemed to be some good Green Bay karma this season.
NYSJ: Let's figure that the CBA situation will somehow be resolved and there will be play in 2011. What do you see for the NFL moving forward?
PO: We are coming off a season that has seen record engagement between the league and fans and very strong support from our partners. You will see us continue to look at the vital events during the off-season and continue to evolve them. Looking for ways to elevate them even farther. We have been able to use the power of social media like never before. This all started in the  pre-season with the "Back to Football" campaign that really rallied our marketing and broadcast partners in a big way. The goal was to reach not only avid fans but attract casual fans, younger fans, more female fans. We wanted to connect early in the season with the roller coaster ride of the season. Numbers from this season showed we were successful. Our goal today is to not rest on the laurels of the 2010 season and Super Bowl but to elevate the draft and combine and other events leading to the 2011 season and then beyond.