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Gameplan for Growth

Promo piece drives NFL campaign.

The National Football League has not been coy about its pursuit of Hispanic fans. The Latino population is growing by about 2% annually in the U.S., making the group a prime target for league officials.

“We have spent a lot of time really working with and asking Hispanic fans how they want to consume the NFL,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s vice president of fan strategy, in a recent Forbes interview. “For us, it’s about making sure that we are delivering the game in customized and unique ways to serve the Hispanic population’s needs.”

The NFL’s first big Latino marketing push came in 2010 when it launched a Hispanic Heritage Month program and began simulcasting Spanish-language commentary during every English-language broadcast. The effort worked. Super Bowls XLVI and XLVII became the most-watched TV programs on record among U.S. Hispanics. A recent ESPN poll found that 25 million Hispanics in the U.S. now identify themselves as NFL fans. Still, the NFL realized its work wasn’t done – it still had to convince skeptical advertisers.

Many marketers – some with considerable advertising budgets – have always associated Hispanics as soccer fans first and foremost. The NFL needed a way to change the perception, so it turned to a promotional campaign that centered on – of course – a football. The NFL tapped New York ad agency The Vidal Partnership to create the “Trojan Ball” – a promotional piece that aimed to break viewership stereotypes.

“The numbers and statistics were always there, but cultural perception seemed to be a much stronger factor. We were tasked with reversing that trend,” said project art director Oleg Sarkissov. “Early on we understood that to be successful, whatever the form of the communication would be, it had to be disruptive and memorable. Hence, the idea of a Trojan Ball was born.”

At the heart of the marketing piece was a box containing what appeared to be a soccer ball with the accompanying messaging: “Here’s the ball 28.5 million Hispanics really identify with.” But, when the recipient opened the package, it contained a limited-edition NFL football. The ball contained messaging that included “73% of U.S. Hispanics are NFL fans” and “28.5 million Hispanics watched the NFL in 2008.”

The NFL sent the Trojan Ball to 50 key decision-makers, influencers and potential partners who were senior level executives with authority to invest their companies’ marketing budgets. Eight of the mailings yielded follow-up responses in the form of a conversation or meeting with the NFL. 

“It was targeted at key deal-makers, influencers and potential partners, so the volume of mail was small, but one conversion would represent a significant amount of revenue for the client,” said Alberto Ferrer, Vidal’s managing partner.

In the end, the mailer surpassed the projected response rate and generated a great amount of potential business opportunities between the NFL and key brands within the Hispanic audience. And, it seems, the league’s efforts to reach Latinos will only expand in the future. “Without overstating our role, there is a role the NFL can serve in terms of being a bridge to American culture,” O’Reilly told Forbes. “In a lot of American communities, football is a glue. Hispanic fans tell us it’s a connection point.”