(Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots). “German Fans Welcoming the Patriots.”
The New England Patriots made their German debut in Frankfurt playing the Indianapolis Colts last November. Disappointedly, the Patriots lost against their opponent 10-6, but the Patriots and the NFL presence in Germany was a major success that weekend. Starting several months before the Frankfurt game, the Patriots strategized on engagement with German American football fans, collaborated in marketing with Germany’s soccer league Bundesliga and the German National Football Team and developed the Patriots brand in the country.
Unlike the NBA and MLB, the NFL has struggled in the last few decades promoting American Football beyond the United States. The game has complicated rules, is not ingrained in foreign cultures and is expensive to play. Joe Dorant, Senior Director of Sales Operations at Kraft Sports and Entertainment who participated in the sales operations for the Patriot’s Frankfurt debut, explained that the objective in Germany was to introduce basic knowledge of the game into a market that is not well-educated about how to play American football. Dorant explained how the Patriots sought to overcome that challenge, saying, “[We would] get fans the opportunity to learn what the atmosphere is like, what the fans are like…” for them to learn about the experience of American football. Additionally, the “Mascot was able to explain who the Patriots are, what they have accomplished, who the athletes are, and how the game works.” Even in an environment that lacks basic knowledge of a company’s product and services, small things can still be done to get the word out there.
Beyond the atmosphere and the mascot, the Patriots utilized partnerships with the Bundesliga and a German television network to spread awareness among targeted demographics. The NFL targeted German soccer fans and young families and introduced American football to them. The sport was marketed to children and young families via TOGO (Germany’s Nickelodeon) who “pushed out Patriots stuff for kids to understand,” Dorant said. Additional fan engagement was done for soccer fans when the “Patriots partnered with the German National Soccer Team to gain more exposure for our brand and collaborated with the Bundesliga (Germany’s national soccer league) on content, so soccer fans will see Patriots content show up on their social media…” Going further, an FC Bayern player collaborated with the Patriots with a “‘Welcome to Germany’ marketing campaign”, Dorant said.
American Football and the Patriots have a long way to go before they reach the popularity level of basketball and baseball. Yet, these marketing efforts had been successful promoting the sport and developing the favorable brand that the New England Patriots has in its own local community. “It is still a grassroots effort since the NFL is so new to these foreign markets,” says Dorant. The best way for the New England Patriots and the NFL to build their brands is to keep doing what they are doing.
A week before the game, the Patriots players were greeted warmly by Germans at the Patriots’ Haus. Fans had the opportunity to get photos with players, watch them at practice drills and interact with the cheerleaders. Patriots were great guests in Germany by collaborating with a local homeless shelter and teaching flag football to school children. Though the Patriots were not responsible for ticket sales as they are at home, the NFL reported selling out the stadium for the Pats-Colts game. The game was the lowest-scoring game in the whole NFL season with one touchdown and three field goals scored on each side. Its unfortunate the game did not match the hype, but the NFL and the Patriots sure did.
In the future, the NFL plans to continue having games in England and Germany to reach new fan bases. There are also extensive social media campaigns in China by all NFL teams to gain a foothold in that market too. However, the same challenges are in the way for American football reaching the global popularity of basketball and baseball. Yet, the Patriots’ German debut proved that the Patriots have still a popular brand to offer sports fans.