Official website of the New England Patriots

Tackling Tech: Creating Young NFL Fans: Thinking Outside the Cable Box

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Source: CommonSenseMedia.org

The marketing power of virtual reality spans age groups and has the power to take sports viewing next level. VR has captured the interest of America's youth. Don't be surprised when your kids, nephews and nieces put VR products atop their holiday wish lists. It's not price prohibitive and creating of content for these systems is in fast forward mode. The NFL needs to be a major player here, not a fast follower or laggard.

Deep Grass Roots

Where youth doesn't come to the NFL, the NFL has gone to the young demographic. Grass roots efforts to connect with teens. This long standing practice started in sports long ago started with hospital visits to stricken children. Since then the ways to engage have been expanding to full-on community involvement with some element used across the country. 

players_help_build_a_playground_in_roxbury._ew_england_patriots.jpg

For example, the New England Patriots continue to inject players into surrounding communities where they build playgrounds where they are none. For many years, current and former players have spread out to take on town police and high school hoops teams in no fee charity games where kids (and adults) get to meet team members, chat and grab a selfie and autograph. I've attended these events and they're teaming with kids.

Many teams host their state's high school football playoffs, organized sports for charity and the long established punt, pass and kick competitions. Recognizing youth helps youth recognize the NFL and its players. Together, grass roots efforts are strong medicine that's needed for a sport that needs to stay healthy.

New(erg) Rules of Engagement

Using sports to make learning fun is an innovative way approach to school field trips whereby kids visit team's stadiums not to watch games but to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs where they solve hands-on real-world problem such as how to design and build a better helmet. Kits - and curriculum - for classroom follow up are often provided to teachers. STEM efforts by teams are on the rise with the Minnesota Vikings' COO expressed strong interest joining in what's become much more than a discussion.

Older-school staples such as teams hosting state high school football playoffs, organized sports for charity and the long established Punt, Pass and Kick competitions. Recognizing youth helps youth recognize the NFL and its sport.

Expand Non-Game Content (with a focus on original video)

Getting and keeping youth engaged requires more than live game casts. Captivating video in short form as the league just announced for Whistle Sports,the self-proclaimed ESPN for kids. should address this as it's tailored specifically for youth, not the mass and older audience the NFL addresses today. See Xbox programming.

Partner for Programming

The NFL can team with widely-used subscription streaming online services, such as Netflix, and beyond. These services are widely viewed (Netflix and Chill) despite the fact that they almost completely lack NFL content. The NFL launched the original series All or Nothing on Amazon this year with this is mind. Who will and won't be next in this effort to reach youth where they live?

Consider the low price and the huge reach of current services such as Netflix and the plans of countless companies (AT&T and Hulu) to enter this market in the months ahead. The NFL can help them evolve and they can help the NFL reach youth, all without providing live game casts.

App-etite

Extending app creation from adult fans downward to the youngest demographic should tightly integrate mobility with social media and more toward live game streaming (which is offered to Verizon wireless customers with the free NFL Mobile app.) Apps need to be focused on specific age ranges and take a page from mass audience, non-sports hits such as Pokémon.

Live Game Streaming

Nothing resonates more with the youth age group better than the word "free," as they've grown up online and likely have passed completely on cable TV packages. Without their grandparents' TV antennas, these broadbanders will miss game casts by the NFL's broadcast partners. They could, however, be lured by live streaming the likes of which the NFL tested last year with Yahoo for one game and has waded into with Twitter this year for 10 games.

the_yahoo_control_room_for_the_2015_nfl_game_stream.jpg

Taking free streaming beyond the boundaries of Thursday Night Football would seem to be a high priority given the age group reach of the once social media-only service. It could grab the attention of those who don't follow the NFL while giving those who do access a cheaper alternative to cable TV that many crave.

Social Status 

The NFL has already partnered with social media app/services Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and more to air game highlights, other video clips and scores and updates. The hope is to pull members into the game action or at least have youth visit the sites to check this info specifically.

However, with younger fans leaving Facebook or opting to engage elsewhere, Instagram might be a better target for building a young audience. Numerous NFL stars have already embraced it, shared captivating content of their own and have built large followings.

The league is on Instagram with an estimated 7.3 followers. Between the players and the league taking part, that number should rise. It's not just teens and pre-teens that swarm the service and use it to share images. The number of subscribers to the NFL's YouTube page has almost doubled from about 600,000 to 1.3 million subscribers in the last year. It boasts video clips of best plays and post-game highlights.

The Bottom Line

A sport that becomes absorbed in the present to the exclusion of the future isn't one guaranteed long-term success. The challenges of reaching and engaging the youngest age groups are many, but so too are the options for forward- thinking fan base builders throughout the league.

In a media industry where incumbents are focused on combatting cord cutting and newcomers are introducing online game viewing alternatives, the NFL needs a different strategy for reaching kids. It should instead end with live game watching after kids have become fans, consumed non-game programming and are looking for actual game viewing in affordable and non-traditional ways.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology redefine the way sports teams interact with their partners, players and fans. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

The league needs to run a reverse to attract youngsters and teens that may not already follow the NFL.

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Much of the league's current focus is on addressing the needs of millennials, focusing first on airing games on broadcast TV. But to build the sport's future now by engaging teens and pre-teens brought up with broadband, gaming and social media, watching games is the final step.

The answer for creating young fans is not their father's cable TV-centric NFL. The league and a largely different set of partners need to advance a comprehensive tech-assisted plan. With many of its elements already under way, let's look at approaches for those living life below the millennial line.

Gaming and Game Consoles

The broadband youth consume content through their gaming stations whether it's games, online services like Netflix or shows and movies. The NFL made its vaunted and long awaited Next-Gen Stats available through Xbox One first with help from Microsoft. Perhaps the duo can do more for America's game by delivering more NFL content through their platform to an already-engaged audience.

Virtual Reality

You can't put a price on the ability to take viewing of real life from 2D to 3D with little more than a headset and app. This approach is already changing the way events are viewed and enhanced how ordinary tasks (buying sports tickets) are performed. 

commonsensemedia.org_.jpg

The marketing power of virtual reality spans age groups and has the power to take sports viewing next level. VR has captured the interest of America's youth. Don't be surprised when your kids, nephews and nieces put VR products atop their holiday wish lists. It's not price prohibitive and creating of content for these systems is in fast forward mode. The NFL needs to be a major player here, not a fast follower or laggard.

Deep Grass Roots

Where youth doesn't come to the NFL, the NFL has gone to the young demographic. Grass roots efforts to connect with teens. This long standing practice started in sports long ago started with hospital visits to stricken children. Since then the ways to engage have been expanding to full-on community involvement with some element used across the country. 

players_help_build_a_playground_in_roxbury._ew_england_patriots.jpg

For example, the New England Patriots continue to inject players into surrounding communities where they build playgrounds where they are none. For many years, current and former players have spread out to take on town police and high school hoops teams in no fee charity games where kids (and adults) get to meet team members, chat and grab a selfie and autograph. I've attended these events and they're teaming with kids.

Many teams host their state's high school football playoffs, organized sports for charity and the long established punt, pass and kick competitions. Recognizing youth helps youth recognize the NFL and its players. Together, grass roots efforts are strong medicine that's needed for a sport that needs to stay healthy.

New(erg) Rules of Engagement

Using sports to make learning fun is an innovative way approach to school field trips whereby kids visit team's stadiums not to watch games but to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs where they solve hands-on real-world problem such as how to design and build a better helmet. Kits - and curriculum - for classroom follow up are often provided to teachers. STEM efforts by teams are on the rise with the Minnesota Vikings' COO expressed strong interest joining in what's become much more than a discussion.

Older-school staples such as teams hosting state high school football playoffs, organized sports for charity and the long established Punt, Pass and Kick competitions. Recognizing youth helps youth recognize the NFL and its sport.

Expand Non-Game Content (with a focus on original video)

Getting and keeping youth engaged requires more than live game casts. Captivating video in short form as the league just announced for Whistle Sports,the self-proclaimed ESPN for kids. should address this as it's tailored specifically for youth, not the mass and older audience the NFL addresses today. See Xbox programming.

Partner for Programming

The NFL can team with widely-used subscription streaming online services, such as Netflix, and beyond. These services are widely viewed (Netflix and Chill) despite the fact that they almost completely lack NFL content. The NFL launched the original series All or Nothing on Amazon this year with this is mind. Who will and won't be next in this effort to reach youth where they live?

Consider the low price and the huge reach of current services such as Netflix and the plans of countless companies (AT&T and Hulu) to enter this market in the months ahead. The NFL can help them evolve and they can help the NFL reach youth, all without providing live game casts.

App-etite

Extending app creation from adult fans downward to the youngest demographic should tightly integrate mobility with social media and more toward live game streaming (which is offered to Verizon wireless customers with the free NFL Mobile app.) Apps need to be focused on specific age ranges and take a page from mass audience, non-sports hits such as Pokémon.

Live Game Streaming

Nothing resonates more with the youth age group better than the word "free," as they've grown up online and likely have passed completely on cable TV packages. Without their grandparents' TV antennas, these broadbanders will miss game casts by the NFL's broadcast partners. They could, however, be lured by live streaming the likes of which the NFL tested last year with Yahoo for one game and has waded into with Twitter this year for 10 games.

the_yahoo_control_room_for_the_2015_nfl_game_stream.jpg

Taking free streaming beyond the boundaries of Thursday Night Football would seem to be a high priority given the age group reach of the once social media-only service. It could grab the attention of those who don't follow the NFL while giving those who do access a cheaper alternative to cable TV that many crave.

Social Status 

The NFL has already partnered with social media app/services Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and more to air game highlights, other video clips and scores and updates. The hope is to pull members into the game action or at least have youth visit the sites to check this info specifically.

However, with younger fans leaving Facebook or opting to engage elsewhere, Instagram might be a better target for building a young audience. Numerous NFL stars have already embraced it, shared captivating content of their own and have built large followings.

The league is on Instagram with an estimated 7.3 followers. Between the players and the league taking part, that number should rise. It's not just teens and pre-teens that swarm the service and use it to share images. The number of subscribers to the NFL's YouTube page has almost doubled from about 600,000 to 1.3 million subscribers in the last year. It boasts video clips of best plays and post-game highlights.

The Bottom Line

A sport that becomes absorbed in the present to the exclusion of the future isn't one guaranteed long-term success. The challenges of reaching and engaging the youngest age groups are many, but so too are the options for forward- thinking fan base builders throughout the league.

In a media industry where incumbents are focused on combatting cord cutting and newcomers are introducing online game viewing alternatives, the NFL needs a different strategy for reaching kids. It should instead end with live game watching after kids have become fans, consumed non-game programming and are looking for actual game viewing in affordable and non-traditional ways.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology redefine the way sports teams interact with their partners, players and fans. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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