Speaker interview with Will Stone

Hey Will! Can you let us know what challenges and opportunities the growing rise of UK based interest in the NFL created for the company as a global brand?

There has been a huge amount of opportunity that has come from developing the international market and in particular the UK.

Our ultimate aim is to increase the number of fans who are excited by and want to engage with the NFL. Number one we think we have an exciting sport that people will enjoy and we want as many people as possible to be entertained by our product.

From a social impact perspective, our growing popularity gives us a tremendous platform to use our position for social good. If we can use that platform effectively to create strong initiatives and programmes, we can engage young people who may be disenfranchised having not have found the thing that excites them. American football and the NFL could be the thing that provides that sense of belonging and opportunity, that puts them on a pathway to understand and realise their potential in life, whether sporting, educationally or careers wise. We are seeing that directly through our NFL Academy in London. 25% of the student-athletes at the Academy would not have carried on with their education if it wasn’t for their desire to play American football.

Commercially there are obvious benefits, more fans mean more people buying merchandise, buying tickets for Games, more people watching our broadcast partners and more eyes seeing our commercial partners and sponsors.

There is also a sporting element to it as well. Our player base is still mostly made up of Americans. There is of course a global talent pool out there who may never have played the sport before but given the opportunity could be a fantastic player in the NFL. If we can get more kids seeing the sport and having the desire and opportunity to play, then not only is that great for that young person to be active and playing sport, it will also lead to the talent pool increasing and more great athletes having the opportunity to play in the NFL, improving the sport and the quality of the league.

One of the major challenges is having enough International Series Games in the UK to service the demand of our fanbase. The tickets sell out extremely quickly and a lot of fans are left disappointed. With the additional Game in the season and renewed commitment by the Club Owners to focus on growing the number of international games, hopefully we will have many more opportunities for our fans to experience the sport live.

How have you maintained consumer relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular with those whose key motivation for engaging and following the sport is attending matches?

It has definitely been a challenging year for us without games in London for the first time since 2007. We have built incredible momentum in that time and the two 2019 games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, our first in our new purpose built NFL facility were (and I know I’m biased), some of the best sporting occasions that I have been lucky enough to attend.

Thankfully, we benefit from a very active social media audience and we have seen our engagement continue to grow significantly across all our channels. We also had a couple of major milestones this year which has helped us engage our audiences in a new way, the first of which was the launch of our Sky Sports NFL channel in August which is the first dedicated NFL network outside of the US. This has given us a fantastic new platform to engage our existing audience, as well as drive new fans to view the sport for the first time and we enjoyed record viewing figures all season, culminating in the most watched Super Bowl ever by UK audience.

Secondly, Jason Bell, former NFL player and pundit for our BBC One highlights programme, The NFL Show, took part in Strictly Come Dancing raising awareness of the NFL and our programming to a new mainstream audience, which for many was their first interaction with the NFL.

Nothing can replace the live experience though and hopefully we will be in the right place in the pandemic for the 2021 London Games to happen this year.

Which digital marketing trend of the past few years have you enjoyed the most?

Cause based digital marketing has certainly been the trend that has interested me most over the last few years. Audiences are making a real decision to choose the businesses or products that are sustainable and socially conscious and smart marketeers have been quick to recognize this.

The key for me though is authenticity which is something we talk about a lot. These approaches must fit with your business and must be tangible.  Audiences are smart and see through half-baked initiatives or activations that lack sustainability and legitimacy and the result can be potentially damaging.

Ultimately when this is done right it is a win-win for a business. They are able to sell or market their product in a way that engages their audience, whilst making a genuine and tangible positive societal impact.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned throughout this last year?

Patience. There are a number of initiatives that we had planned to launch over the last year that we haven’t been able to yet and it has definitely been a frustrating period not to be able to get them going, particularly as many of them are aimed at supporting those young people and communities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

I do think though that is has given us more time to take stock, plan more and get into greater detail than we probably would have had time to do in a normal year. This will no doubt make the initiatives much stronger when we can get them going but at the same time, inequality has only increased and there is an even greater need for us to effectively use our growing platform to make a difference. 

If you could give one piece of advice to your teenage self, regarding you career, what would it be?

It’s okay to not know what you want to do in the future. Just make sure you follow your instincts and take the opportunities that come your way as you never know what doors will open and where it will take you.

Who or what is your biggest daily inspiration?

I fundamentally believe in the ability of sports to shape and impact people’s lives. I’ve been very lucky in my career to see it happen all over the world, whether at a major event or in a grassroots programme, in a developed or developing country, in an urban or rural setting, sport is able to engage and excite in a way that very few other things can.

We have an amazing platform at the NFL to use the power of our sport and our brand to make a difference to how someone views themselves and the rest of the world. The ability to play a part in achieving that is the thing that excites and inspires me every day.



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