NFL CMO Talks Player Safety, Fan Experience

Despite ongoing criticisms, the NFL’s chief marketing officer said the league is investing tens of millions of dollars to try to improve player safety, working with companies like GE and Under Armour to invent new helmets, turf and diagnostics systems. The efforts come as the league has been chided for not being more proactive in preventing head trauma – even after nearly 90 former players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition.

“We’ve made almost 40 rule changes in the last 10 years and we’re going to continue to make more,” said Dawn Hudson, the NFL’s executive VP and CMO, in an interview with ASI. “Every year we go out and say what rule changes we’ve made, and people understand that and try to figure out if the officials are going to call things differently. It’s really been a journey about how to make sure we stay as exciting and active a sport as we can. But I think we are and will be making a difference in contact safety.”

Hudson, the keynote speaker at ASI’s Power Summit in November, stresses the league is trying to take “head shots” completely out of the game and maintains part of her role in marketing the NFL is to bring the player safety message to the entire football community, including collegiate and youth leagues. “It’s really important to us,” Hudson said.

Now in her second full year on the job, Hudson’s other focus is to improve fan experience during an age when live sports are the biggest draw on TV. “We’re looking for how we can make the broadcast even more engaging,” Hudson said. “How do we tell more stories about what some of the players are doing? How do we connect what’s on the screen to our social feeds or apps, so you get a complementary experience?”

Hudson said the league is also looking at ways to make in-stadium fan experiences more interesting, especially during TV breaks and halftime. Those improvements would likely give fans more in-game, possibly real-time looks at what’s happening on the sidelines – bolstered, as well, by stats and other information that could be readily shared through social media. “People want to be able to go in and watch a game and not be static,” said Hudson, the former CEO of Pepsi North America and chairwoman of the LPGA. “Fans want more experiences.”

One of those experiences could involve virtual reality. “At halftime of the Super Bowl, wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall under one of those pieces of equipment going out onto the field and then immediately share with the fan what it’s like to be there? When that kind of real-time VR comes, you’ll see a tremendous amount of applications,” Hudson said. For now, the league is “dabbling” in the technology, but Hudson expects more broad use of it over the new couple of years.

Hear more from Hudson in this exclusive podcast, hosted by Advantages Editor Dave Vagnoni.