Football season is upon us!

My favorite season is here. And no, I’m not talking about fall (although I really do love fall), but rather late August/early September means we’re entering into the beginnings of another football season. College football and the NFL are here to dominate my weekends, as I work to stay on top of the latest news, scores and playoff picture.

 But football is more than just a game. It’s more than just cheering on your favorite team and players. It’s more than who wins and who loses.  It’s a dominant part of American pop culture, and the brand of football, particularly the NFL, has become a behemoth in its own right through marketing, fan involvement, and partnerships. I think there are things other organizations and brands can learn from the NFL too.

 First, I think a key piece of the NFL’s strategy is that it has made itself not just a sports franchise, but an entertainment company that keeps their fan base engaged year round. If you can engage your customers or audience throughout the year—that’s huge. For the NFL, there’s the season, post season, training camp, the draft, trades, and of course the Super Bowl. Plus, there’s volunteerism, community events, contests, and fantasy football. And through all of these components, the most important thing the NFL does is control its message and image. Even through scandals, stepping (however unwillingly) into the political arena, and more, it keeps fan engaged and works to keep a consistent image and each decision they make is made through the lens of how it affects the NFL brand. Through partnerships, its own TV network and more, even when the news isn’t always positive, it can highlight the message they want to get out about their brand through their own channels and continue marching forward with what the NFL believes its brand represents.

 And of course, working on its overall image and getting out positive stories means you need to invest in communities too. Community involvement is a pillar that the NFL has integrated into its brand well. If other brands want to emulate the success of the NFL, being seen as an active community partner who is invested in its people, its economy and its culture is key.

 Naturally, when people think about community with the NFL, they think it’s about loyalty to favorite teams, and that means you’re purchasing merchandise and buying tickets to see your team play, but it’s more than that. The NFL has started their own volunteer organizations, partnered with other non-profits and community organizations, and worked to publicize their work to give back. We’ve all seen the stories about the NFL coming to teach kids about healthy habits or a local player visiting a hospital. Advertisements, news stories, features during games and more all highlight how individual players, teams and the NFL are instrumental partners in the community who give back.

 That kind of work to build up brand connection with community can be huge. Think of the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina, or how much Houston Texan star J.J. Watt raised to help victims of Hurricane Harvey last year. Community connectedness is an essential piece of building up brands.

 Finally, I would point to how well the NFL has done on building new audiences and engaging new target markets as a way to build their brand. Finding women to be a growing demographic of their audience, they’ve created marketing campaigns around women, expanded their merchandising and worked to expand a sport that was traditionally marketed solely to males. As they expand their brand overseas and grow their markets, they are now hosting annual games in Mexico City and London too. And what’s more, they’re actively engaging a growing Latino fan base, celebrating Hispanic Heritage month annually, and also reaching that audience through NFL Español.

 The NFL has positioned itself as one of the most influential and engaging brands in the country, and I think there are definitely opportunities for other brands and organizations to look to football as a guide on how to build, grow and strengthen their own brands.

 So happy football season everyone! Oh, and I may be a Minnesota girl, but shout out to my six-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

-Chelsea