The issue has been percolating relatively quietly for months but became a topic of media coverage again last Thursday with the NFL Network airing it’s first exclusive football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys.
The marquee matchup between two teams who had thus far lost only a game each was the first time an NFL game was the first time an NFL game was broadcast exclusively on the league’s own television network, leaving many fans who did not get the NFL Network at the mercy of friends or their local bars that did.
At issue is whether the NFL Network should be a part of the basic cable package just like ESPN is (the NFL’s position) or whether the network should be a part of a for-fee sports "tier" of channels offered by cable companies to keep people who don’t necessarily want the league’s network from paying for it(the cable companies’ position).
Both the NFL and the cable companies have been running a blame game advertising campaign hoping to pressure the other side to cry uncle:
This is an interesting case of brand dynamics, if you will, and how they play out online.
Let’s start with the strength of the brands themselves.
I don’t think there’s much of an argument that the NFL has a much stronger brand than cable companies. People who love football almost inherently love the NFL because it provides them with the best of what they love. Cable companies, on the other hand, are rarely loved. For most people, they are a forced buy, the rates keep getting jacked up for no apparent reason, and it’s a major hassle to switch providers so you just have to grin and bear it. For this reason, the NFL starts with a huge advantage.
Now let’s look at how people interact with these two brands online.
Football lovers interact with the NFL brand all the time online. By simply reading stories about their local team in their local newspaper or at team blogs, they are interacting with the NFL brand. When they visit the football sections of sports web sites like Yahoo! Sports or SI.com or ESPN.com, they are interacting with the NFL brand. When fans watch football highlights that have been uploaded to YouTube, or photos that have been posted to Flickr, they’re interacting with the NFL brand.
And, as much as I’ve been critical of the site, the recently redesigned NFL.com delivers a ton of great content to football fans, including video highlights of all the games and historical data about former players. It’s a playground for NFL fans.
All of these online interactions with the NFL are positive and pleasant experiences for fans.
Consumer interaction with their cable company’s brand online is the polar opposite. Remembering that most people already have a negative feeling about their cable company, they come to the online interaction with a bad attitude already.
The interaction with cable company brands are one of three ways 1) when shopping for a cable company, 2) when paying your cable bill or looking at a statement, or 3) through their Internet portal.
One of the primary considerations for most people who are shopping for a cable company is price. And since the cable companies offer tiered pricing rather than a la cart–which is what most people prefer–they see that they’ll have to pay for channels they don’t want and will never watch. That’s a reminder of how expensive cable is.
When they are interacting with a cable company brand through their e-payment process, people have a negative experience as they watch their bank accounts get that much poorer.
People who get Internet access through their cable company often have that cable companies’ portal as their home page, so every time they go online, they interact with the cable brand. This is obviously a much more pleasant experience that the previous two, but it is still a reminder of your cable company, which may just make you think about how much you’re paying, again.
Interacting with NFL content online carries no such risk.
It remains to be seen who wins as this battle continues to play out for the rest of the season, but my bet will be on the NFL.
And bar owners.