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NFL’s Recent Gamble on Fortnite: Why It Was Worth It

Fortnite has been taking the world by storm over the last year. It’s currently the most popular game to stream on Twitch. And thanks to the ability to buy character customizations, which range from $2-$20 each, Fortnite is on pace to generate $2 BILLION in 2018 alone as of September.

Recently, Fortnite announced that NFL jerseys would be available the game’s Battle Royale item shop for a limited time. The uniforms accompanied other football-themed items, such as referee skins, touchdown dances, and weapons modeled after common NFL items (goalposts, first down markers, etc.) that were up for grabs.
 

 
On the surface of this deal, this seems like just another promotion Fortnite has done to generate revenue, like it did earlier this year with the World Cup and “The Avengers.” You also might have seen some gamers misusing the NFL skins. However, when analyzing both the NFL’s and Fortnite’s audiences, one could still argue that this was still a thoughtful—if not smart—move that works out for both sides of the partnership.

Getting Closer to the Target Audience

It goes without saying that sports leagues and teams need to tap into younger generations to continue evolving.

Using Zoomph, we analyzed over 500 thousand Gen-Z Twitter users who express an interest in sports. Our findings show that most Gen-Zers gravitate towards one of three sports categories: “International Football,” “Basketball,” and “Esports.” They’re also more interested in music, gaming, and luxury brands than the average sports fan on Twitter.

top interests of gen-z sports audience on twitter

Bottom line is: they’re a unique audience. They should be marketed to differently than the average sports consumer who may be older and care more about mainstream American sports.

For this reason, traditional sports leagues have started to creatively invest in gaming and esports. The NBA and MLS have each launched leagues surrounding NBA 2K and FIFA. The NHL and NFL have held tournaments through the NHL and Madden franchises where players have represented teams on stage. Teams have started launching Twitch channels, where athletes have joined streams, allowing fans to connect with them on a more personal, unfiltered level. Sports teams in Europe have even entered the realm of competitive gaming outside of the sport they’re mostly known for.

Why This Works for the NFL

This past week, the NFL tried to do the same thing but in a different way to engage the casual fan.

According to Zoomph, the NFL is having a harder time tapping into that younger audience than other leagues on Twitter. The NFL has a smaller percentage of Millennial and Gen-Z fans (67.0%) than both the NBA (73.3%) and MLS (71.9%). Among Gen-Z sports fans in America, the NFL is the third-most followed sports league, behind the NBA and the Premier League (by comparison, the NFL is #1 among all sports fans in the US). As a result, they need to identify an effective way to grow their younger fanbase.

top followed twitter accounts by gen z

Enter Fortnite. Looking at their Twitter audience, it’s an ideal one for the NFL to pursue. We determined that 80.2% of Fortnite’s followers on Twitter are either Millennial or Gen-Z. The NFL is also the most-followed sports league among Fortnite fans, so it’ll be a lucrative opportunity for Fortnite as well. On top of that, Fortnite’s followers associate with products and services like quick service restaurants, consumer electronics, and automotive brands more than the NFL’s followers do. The NFL and each of their teams have a multitude of partners in each of those spaces so they’re a great audience to have under their umbrella.

fortnite versus nfl audience comparison in zoomph

If you can turn those fans into advocates, especially in the virtual space, then it’s a win and a good way to reach into said younger fans.

The Campaign

In terms of execution, both sides have utilized multiple media channels and influencers throughout the life cycle of this promotion. The announcement video got picked up by news outlets like Bleacher Report, The Washington Post, and The Verge. Influencers and streamers like Ninja and TimTheTatman, both of whom have millions of Twitch followers and are known fans of the NFL, got access to the NFL skins early and used them together on streams, switching between various teams and players. NFL teams took notice and made sure to interact as well.
 

 
On launch day, the skins went up for sale for 1,500 V-bucks (about $15) and players could buy characters of different races and genders wearing the jerseys. With that purchase, you could switch between any team and any number.

Most NFL teams created social content advertising the jerseys. News sites like The Checkdown ran contests to pair up and play in the new skins with Twitch streamers and NFL players. Fans were getting involved, replicating their favorite players and mentioning them in their Twitter feeds.
 

 

The Results

We ran a feed pulling in data on those that posted about this on Twitter to get a gauge on the social reaction to the campaign. The results from it were quite impressive. From 11/5 – 11/13, over 60 thousand pieces of content were created, reaching over 88 million users and leading to over 500 thousand engagements (likes, replies, retweets). Over $3.7 million in media value was generated based on impressions alone, with 65% coming from post-launch.

total tweets around nfl and fortnite collected by zoomph

Some of the top featured players in the game helped to promote the partnership online, like Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tarik Cohen of the Chicago Bears, and Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers. Each landed a spot in the Top 5 mentioned players in posts related to this campaign. Rounding out that Top 5 were JJ Watt of the Houston Texans and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The three most mentioned teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Seattle Seahawks.

The audience that engaged with the campaign matches who the NFL was looking to target as well. Seventy-six percent of those who engaged with the campaign are between the ages of 18-29, a group that engages more with American football and the NFL than the average Millennial/Gen-Z sports fan on Twitter (see below). In addition, this audience has an affinity for industries that the NFL has many sponsors in: quick service restaurants, fantasy sports, consumer electronics, and food categories (like soda and pizza).

comparison of the nfl campaign audience and general sports audience

Key Takeaways

Looking back, there are lots of major takeaways that can be learned from the end results of this campaign:

  • Understand your audience and identify areas of opportunity using data. Despite having a massive audience on social media, the NFL identified an area of growth and tried to create something to fit that audience.
  • Partnership and influencer marketing are a two-way street. Oftentimes in corporate partnership activation in sports, it’s one side doing the activation and the other sits back and waits for things to happen. Resources need to be devoted from both sides to ensure success.
  • Diversify your marketing execution to see where your target audience lies. This campaign touched a multitude of outlets, spanning from Twitter and Instagram to Twitch and YouTube. Figure out where your audience lives and put your resources into optimizing your progress.

This campaign has shown immediate benefits for both sides; it’s a massive revenue opportunity for Fortnite and Epic Games and allows the NFL to become more engaged with a younger audience. It also goes to show that with the proper data-driven insights paired with audience alignment, any partnership between sports and brands can be successful.

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