News flash: The National Football League (NFL) is an event planning organization. And they happen to be among the best in the universe. The NFL runs a year-long series of events, from mini-events, to large scale events to mega events (e.g. The Super Bowl).
Recently, the release of the NFL’s 2012 schedule coincided with 3-hour, prime time specials on both ESPN and NFL Network. Wow. Unlike any other major sport, the NFL is top of mind (in their fans’ minds) 365 days a year, 24×7.
While I’m not suggesting that your virtual event become a year-round, round-the-clock sort of thing, I do think the NFL can teach you some things. Instead of your annual virtual event being a “one and done” experience, steal some ideas from the NFL to extend your event’s livelihood. Let’s take a further look.
While the NFL is the arbiter of its brand, it relies on an ecosystem of partners to extend and reinforce that brand. The ecosystem includes:
- Individual teams
- Broadcast partners
- The Press
- Related content providers
- Merchandise retailers
The point here is that the NFL can’t do it alone. Where would it be without CBS, FOX and ESPN? Similarly, consider your virtual event. Your ecosystem includes:
- Exhibitors and sponsors
- Speakers and presenters
- Content providers
- Service providers
Be sure to fully leverage your own ecosystem in areas like monetization, audience generation, buzz building and media coverage.
The NFL, over the past several years, concluded that it needed to beef up its owned media, to complement its ecosystem. Have you visited NFL.com recently? It has as much original content as its ecosystem partners (e.g. ESPN.com, SI.com, SportingNews.com, etc.), written by a growing team of writers.
And of course, there’s NFL Network, which launched in 2003 and is carried on cable and satellite TV systems. With its talented team of analysts, I often find myself tuning in to NFL Network before and after games, when I’d formerly watch ESPN.
As a virtual event planner, you need to consider owned media, too. This could take the form of an event web site, a related blog and social media channels. If you run an annual, mid/large scale virtual event, realize that you’re now in the publishing business. Devise an Editorial calendar and start banging out content. Start by linking to and commenting on existing articles, then consider developing content of your own.
Generate Online Chatter
Is there any other sports league where the release of the season schedule is an event in and of itself? That’s the genius of the NFL. For an organization where most of the action takes place on the field, the NFL finds ways to create action (and generate related commentary and discussion) off the field.
The release of the 2012 schedule is an example of using its ecosystem (e.g. ESPN) and its owned media (e.g. NFL Network) to create an event (“2012 Schedule Prime Time Special!”). The prime time specials were the “main event” and it generated a wealth of discussion and commentary online, in the form of social networks, blogs and web coverage.
Think of similar ways to create news about your event that results in online chatter.
Select and Announce Speakers
Speaking of which, how about generating buzz around the selection of speakers for your virtual event? Madden NFL (from EA Sports), a key partner in the NFL’s ecosystem, runs an online tournament to select the player to appear on the game’s cover.
This not only puts the power in the hands of its fans, but generates buzz and chatter about the upcoming season’s game. Why not do the same for your virtual event? Allow your attendees to vote for the speakers they’d like to see and build some buzz at the same time. You could generate additional registrations, while creating a loyal attendee base at the same time (which will help your attendance rate).
Create an Off-Season Schedule
If your virtual event makes up your season, consider how you engage with your audience during the remaining 11+ months of the year. The NFL loves to generate online chatter, but it also knows that it needs to connect directly with fans via off-season events. Consider the following “mini events,” which occur after The Super Bowl:
- NFL Combine
- NFL Draft
- Training Camp
- Pre-season Games
Fans are invited to attend each of these events and all build up quite nicely to opening day. Like I said, with the NFL, it’s a year-round schedule that doesn’t have an end. Consider ways in which your virtual event can be complemented with off-season events. Speaking of which..
Re-broadcast (i.e. re-purpose) key content
Ever notice how NFL Network re-broadcasts a selected game from the prior week’s action? They don’t re-broadcast the entire game, mind you. They edit out the “between play” action, where players stand up, walk back to the huddle, etc. If you missed the game, this makes it quite convenient to view the action you missed.
In virtual events, you can provide access to all sessions for on-demand viewing, but why not take it a step further? Create abridged versions of the sessions (e.g. the top 10 slides from the presentation), then schedule a mini event during which the presenters appear (online) to engage with the audience.
Further Monetize Your Audience
The NFL has numerous ways to monetize its audience, in the form of ticket sales, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships. There’s also TV commercials, the content of which has nothing to do with football.
According to Wikipedia, NBC generated $75MM in advertising sales for the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast (2012). The NFL benefited in the form of broadcast rights paid by NBC. Consider ways in which you can leverage your ecosystem to generate additional revenue from your audience. Hint: it could be in the form of unrelated content!
Conclusion: This takes work.
I can hear you already: you’ll tell me that your organization has nowhere near the resources to pull any of this off. And I’ll agree, somewhat. All of this takes work, which involves resources. You must first analyze how much you’re willing to invest (dollars, head count, etc.) and whether the anticipated ROI is there.
The NFL decided it was. It now employs writers, analysts, broadcast engineers (and more) – but, it continues to wisely tap into its ecosystem to widen its reach. Leverage your ecosystem to make this year’s Super Bowl your best ever.
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