How The NFL Adds Mojo To Media With Database Marketing

LeagueMediaThe National Football League (NFL) customer database is about as diverse as it gets.

Segments span season ticket holders, a millennial parent who loves football but might lack time for games and younger fans who may have been introduced to the sport in school.

But the NFL recognizes that “a fan is not a data point or a conversion,” said Aidan Lyons, VP of fan-centric marketing for the NFL, at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas on Thursday. “All we hear is ROI, conversion, click-throughs, impressions. We tend to think of those as success metrics, but what about that person who didn’t click or view?”

That is the perennial problem Lyons hopes to solve. He’s tasked with identifying ways the NFL can convert valuable data into marketing decisions that contribute to a better game experience.

Part of this mandate includes leveraging the NFL databases to activate new audiences programmatically, which is one of the league’s new marketing strategies.

“We struggled with paid media in the past because we only operated in email and onsite personalization historically,” said Lyons. “It was not always easy to ask the [NFL] commissioner for paid media budget when we had the highest TV ratings in the world. But we knew if we wanted to reach new [audiences] we couldn’t keep using the same channels or speaking to the same people.”

So the NFL developed a new data strategy, where it evaluated different ways fans engaged with its properties. It fed both traditional desktop cookies and analytics pixels into its fan database, built in partnership with Epsilon. 

There, various traits and attributes meet more deterministic data sets from fan logins.

The NFL’s data management platform, Adobe Audience Manager, builds a master ID based on numerous traits and identifiers across channels.

“Those traits are pushed back on a daily basis into the FCM [Fan-Centric Marketing] database,” which enables real-time personalization, said Judy Loschen, SVP of digital analytics for Epsilon. “We run Adobe Campaign and Epsilon’s Agility Harmony (email/messaging platform) on top of that, so we can effectively push out mobile push notifications or personalize messages” based on incoming data attributes.

Segmenting known audiences and determining lookalike audiences on Facebook has also benefitted the NFL. For instance, the NFL drove traffic and awareness for its youth football foundation.

It also uncovered another popular segment: mothers likely to register their kids for youth football after interacting with mobile ads on publisher sites like TMZ.

“You can’t think of football only being on the NFL network and ESPN,” said Lyons, noting an 87% conversion lift when messaging moms with different creative on their tablets and smartphones at different points in the day.

The NFL sees digital platforms as an incremental boost to TV campaigns; once a spot hits commercial air, the NFL might supplement it with display, Facebook and YouTube videos as an additive measure. It then tests whether brand lift was higher in TV or TV-plus-digital campaign runs.

Lyons team strategizes new campaigns based on who’s gotten a message from the league and who hasn’t using its DMP and database, which prevents email list abuse if the league has a new program it wants to push more broadly.

“You save yourself from wasted impressions when you improve your marketing metrics,” Lyons said. In some cases, “we’ve saved $330,000 in paid media than we would if we had spent and hit the same people.”

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