This is the first story in a two-part series about the NFL kickoff. Click here for part two.
The National Football League is warming up for its season kickoff on September 4 by promoting the second year of its Together We Make Football campaign. But this time, the league is putting a spotlight on social media.
The second edition of Together We Make Football, which the league says reached 45 million people last year, launched on August 3 with a TV ad during the preseason Hall of Fame Game, when the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills 17-13.
The 30-second spot that aired on NBC is one of 30 videos that NFL Films created in-house, focusing on stories gathered from last season’s campaign about why fans love the game and what football means to them.
Last year, more than 5,000 fans volunteered their stories, and about 1 million people watched videos on TogetherWeMakeFootball.com, says Joanna Hunter, director of corporate communications at the NFL. To amplify the effort this year, the league has launched dedicated YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter pages for the campaign, rather than just relying on the website and NFL-branded social channels, she adds.
"We’re integrating social media, because, at the end of the day, football and social media really go hand-in-hand," says Hunter. "If you look on social media now, especially since our games have started, people are talking about football."
Using the newly launched social platforms, fans can upload photos, stories, or videos via their Facebook pages, giving them "instant shareability" as the content is aggregated to the Together We Make Football website, she notes. The NFL is also leveraging the hashtag #TWMF to share stories and encourage fans to post about what football means to them for a chance to win a trip to Super Bowl XLIX next February.
Last year, the league picked ten finalists from submissions, then narrowed that group down to five based on fans’ votes. The winners were allowed to bring two guests each to the Super Bowl.
For the 2014 season, one winner, who can bring up to three guests, as well as a group of 62 people, will win a free trip to the league’s championship game. Groups that have submitted entries for a chance to win include youth sports teams, community organizations, and parents who manage concession stands at high-school games, Hunter explains.
In addition to the new social elements and revamped sweepstakes, the NFL will also air a one-hour film before the Super Bowl based on stories from fans.
Hunter adds that "as the season gets going, there will be some integration and cross-promotion" with NBC, as well.
The league’s internal departments are handling all aspects of the campaign, with its marketing wing managing commercials and its media unit overseeing social media and the website. NFL Films is creating the videos, while its PR team is managing communications.
The USAA, the official military-appreciation sponsor of the NFL, is also working with the league to curate stories from members of the Armed Forces.
The NFL is launching the campaign after an offseason of negative publicity for the league. Recently, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was criticized for what many saw as a lenient punishment for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he was arrested for domestic violence.
The league has also faced ongoing scrutiny over how it handles brain injuries. A group of former players has appealed a $765 million class action settlement of a concussion-related lawsuit against the league.
Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins continue to face outside pressure to change the team’s nickname. The franchise is working with Burson-Marsteller on communications supporting the "Redskins" brand, including a website backed by team alumni.
"With any number of issues that come up here at the NFL, we have different responses in place, whether it be for discipline on the field or off the field, or for a variety of other incidences or for larger national issues," says Hunter. "At the end of the day, the fans want to focus on the game and get back to football."