August 7, 2006
From: Roger Goodell, applicant
To: The NFL Commissioner Selection Committee
RE: Notes on increasing NFL visibility and revenue
In regards to your request for ideas about expanding the NFL as a brand in both domestic and international markets, I submit the following suggestions. As we discussed in my interview for the position of league commissioner, this last Super Bowl (XL) between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks garnered 90 million viewers in the United States. This may sound like a substantial number, but it is only 30 percent of the 300 million people who actually live in the country. Where is the other 70 percent? Why are they not watching?
It is with the goal of achieving 100 percent media saturation that I submit these notes. While they remain at this juncture the first sketching of a hypothetical scenario, it is my firm belief that, as commissioner, such a reality may be yet achieved. I therefore submit the following recommendations as support for my application and as indication of my intent, should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence and become commissioner.
Roger S. Goodell
The Right Player for the Right Time: Toward NFL Media Domination
While the NFL is, without a doubt, the most popular sports product in America, its appeal as an on-field game has, in my view, been exhausted. Those who enjoy the sport will, undoubtedly, continue to serve as a dependable customer base. Still, that base falls far short of our goal of turning every man, woman, and child on the planet into a fan. No amount of slow-motion hits or rapid-cut highlight reels will reach those others. We need another way.
That way forward, I believe, can take its cues from many successful campaigns of years past. Sport, as a faceless product, will always be limited in its popularity to enthusiasts with some connection to the game itself. Our goal, however, should look beyond the game and seek to captivate the attentions of casual or even non-fans. Such a strategy will therefore need a central figure.
As with any cult of personality, a human face is needed to drive interest and spark discussion. The NFL has done a fine job of marketing its superstars in the past, but there may be still more potential fans available to the league, provided they choose the right player to attract attention.
That player must play a skill position—preferably one that influences play on a regular basis, like a quarterback. To galvanize the league’s existing fan base, this player must have a demonstrated track record of on-field success. To reach beyond that base, it would be helpful if the player demonstrated other key attributes. He should be:
White—In order for the media outlets to embrace this figure, we’ll need him to be acceptable on every level. Though black players dominate the league demographically, their portrayal in the media remains fraught with stereotypes of menace and overt physicality. The same aggressiveness displayed by white players, however, tends to be seen in terms of plucky hustle and hard work, which would highten positive associations with this player.
Rural—To build upon that pre-existing notion of hard work, a rural background will connect this player both with those who remain in some way associated with that same lifestyle but, more importantly, the millions of Americans who, despite living in suburbs and cities, retain the same neo-Puritanical privileging of simplicity, humility, and manual labor that is so often associated with life in the country.
Moreover, such a background will protect this player from the ever-present accusations of egotism that so often dog our top stars. Ideally, this player might possess the hint of a Southern accent or, at the very least, a penchant for “down-home” expressions. The likes of this would likely be seen as a reflection of an uncomplicated, working class background. Ideally, some company that targets working class customers (perhaps a producer of work boots or hard hats) will use this player as a spokesman to truly cement this connection in the popular imagination.
Old—This, of course, will prove the most difficult. Still, I feel it’s necessary for this player to be in the game long past his expected retirement age. This will, in itself, account for a great deal of attention and media coverage. How long will this player continue? What keeps him going? Such vapid speculation is the stuff of sports columnists’ dreams and will surely drive coverage from a variety of outlets (see below). As important, though, is the symbolic quality that this player will attain. As an aging man who still plays a boy’s game, he will be stand as a marker of youthful exuberance for those who might take inspiration from his example. No doubt, an expanding, older demographic will find a way to translate this player’s agelessness to their own mundane lives. Consequently, the figure’s status will grow.
Still, the player himself can accomplish only so much for us. We’ll need other events to take place in order to truly drive spectatorship. Aside from his race, age, and background, this player should possess one final, key attribute: indecisiveness. Nothing drives a media frenzy like guesswork, and our player should ideally be someone whose motivations are murky. It would be ideal, in fact, if he went back on his stated intentions once or twice. For the sake of argument, let’s say he retires. Then he comes back. Then he thinks publically about retiring, but returns just before the season. Such hemming and hawing will surely drive coverage for our benefit. Reports will fall over themselves in a bid to be the first to report the actual, final decisions of this player—which of course will never be certain and thus always necessitate further coverage.
You might be wondering: Won’t this create a backlash? Undoubtedly so. However, even the backlash will constitute its own current of commentary. Supporters and detractors alike will be unable to keep themselves from filling airwaves and websites with opinions. Positive or negative, our brand will soak in the attention.
As a final effort to completely saturate coverage, we’d need a sex scandal. Once the figure has captured imaginations of sporting fans and casual observers, some questionable sexual activity (of course, nothing too perverse or overtly illegal) will push this wave of coverage from the sports page onto the front page. Morning talk shows, women’s magazines, celebrity scandal rags—these outlets and more will no doubt seize the opportunity to indulge the alternately moralistic and voyeuristic appetites of their patrons. They will, in effect, be doing our own marketing for us—and at no cost.
For this plan to work perfectly, such a scandal should be uncovered through emerging media, like a blog. The young, ironic, jaded, hipster crowd, so connected to technology, has historically been the hardest demographic for us to reach through conventional methods. If they felt somehow responsible for “breaking” this story and scooping the traditional media outlets of their parents, it would at long last allow us to bridge the technical divide and reach this younger group. No doubt, comedy sketch shows and other youth-targeted media seeking to secure their “edgy” bona fides would follow suit with their own brand of coverage.
Naturally, breaking the story via a blog would precipitate a variety of knuckle-biting on the part of conventional media, and so the way the story was uncovered would soon create a topic for a second-level of discussion, above and beyond the coverage of the scandal itself. Perhaps even a third level of coverage might emerge, driven by tongue-in-cheek columnists bent on taking the entire process to task. The possibilities are nearly endless.
As you can see, the cumulative effect of such a player, and such a circumstance, would be one of total media saturation, perhaps oversaturation. The soaking will be driven by this one, as yet hypothetical, figure, a player who will constitute the eye of a media hurricane whose self-sustaining momentum will take the NFL into every household in America—and beyond. For you see, gentlemen, that, while this player may be hero to some and a villain to others, he really, at the end of the day, is a product. Most importantly, he is a product that leads, ultimately, back to us. This means revenue, and a chance to push our ratings beyond a mere 30 percent of the national population.
To that end, we should not be satisfied until this player is on every television or computer screen in the country—and then some. Once that happens, we can sit back and reap the whirlwind of attention and the windfall of profit. If only we find the right player, I’m confident of this plan’s success. Vote for me as your commissioner. I’ll start looking immediately.