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The Marketing Juju of Fantasy Football

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As marketers, we are always seeking ways to make our products and services more attractive to consumers. When we do it right, we know we've created marketing juju. Brands like Starbucks, Google, Apple, eBay and Whole Foods Market all have oodles of marketing juju.

Consumers are more than just attracted to these businesses. They are downright captivated by them. Each of these brands creates marketing juju by (1) facilitating, not dictating the usage of its products, (2) fostering community and (3) assisting consumers in actualizing their aspirations.

With the 2005 National Football League (NFL) season upon us, we should add the brand called "Fantasy Football" to the list of brands with marketing juju.

Fantasy Football is more than attractive to its 12+ million participants. It's downright captivating. Participants immerse themselves in this role-playing game where they assemble a team of NFL players and compete in a league where games are played and scored based on the real-life performances of NFL players.

Research studies reveal that on average fantasy footballers participate in at least two leagues, spend nearly three hours per week managing their teams, and spend around $154 per year on league fees, stat tracking services and specialized news/information.


What began as a hobby for three football-loving fans in 1962 has turned into big business. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (yes, such an organization exists) reports that Fantasy Football is the most popular fantasy sports game, far eclipsing Fantasy Baseball. In 2004, Fantasy Football generated $100 million in sales (excluding advertising revenue) compared with only $20 million for baseball.

The methods driving the marketing success of Fantasy Football are the same that Starbucks, Google, Apple, eBay and Whole Foods Market use to create marketing juju.

1. Facilitating, Not Dictating Usage

Football doesn't belong to the NFL. The game belongs to its fans. The league could never have envisioned that its fans would create something so captivating from a pile of game-day stats. By freely providing an open platform of statistics and allowing consumers to create something from seemingly nothing, the NFL facilitated the creation of Fantasy Football.

Starbucks doesn't dictate how its customers can use its coffee beverages. Customers are not limited to the menu board they see. Starbucks provides a blank canvas of options and allows customers to choose among 21,000 different drink combinations to create a beverage expressly for them.

Google certainly doesn't dictate how its users use its services. It freely allows computer-savvy folks to tie directly into its database to create "Google Mash-Ups." One such popular mash-up created by a Google enthusiast allows Web users to overlay apartments for rent featured on Craigslist atop a super-cool Google map (www.housingmaps.com).

Takeaway Lesson: Create marketing juju by facilitating, not dictating, how customers can create new, more meaningfully unique uses for your product.

2. Fostering Community

According to an Indiana University study, friendship is cited as the major reason that people participate in Fantasy Football. For those fantasy leagues that offer prizes to winning teams, the prize is not the reward players seek. They seek the reward of renewing and strengthening friendships. Every Fantasy Football league is a community where players strengthen camaraderie through the enjoyment of shared experiences and through sociable competition for bragging rights.

Apple and eBay are the two brands that marketers associate most with building community. Both companies nurture the relationships they have with their customers. Apple would never have survived in the '90s to realize the success it is enjoying today if it hadn't created a community of small, but vocal and ever-loyal evangelical users. eBay thrives solely because of its active community of buyers and sellers.

Takeaway Lesson: Create marketing juju by bringing customers together to form a community where they are part of something special and purposeful.

3. Assist Consumers in Actualizing their Aspirations

A gap exists between a consumer's aspirations and their actual lifestyle. All consumers aspire to live a certain lifestyle, but most times they settle for living a life below their aspirations. Nearly all Fantasy Football players had aspirations at one time or another to become a professional athlete. And if not an athlete on the frontlines of the playing field, they had aspirations of holding a glamorous job in the front office of their favorite team.

With Fantasy Football, participants get to draft players for their teams, set lineups and make blockbuster trades. They get to feel an excitement from the rush of competition much as they would if they were playing on the field or managing from the front office. In a small yet meaningful way, Fantasy Football games allow participants to actualize their aspirations of being involved in pro sports.

Whole Foods Market, with its abundance of natural, organic and artisan products, makes it easy for shoppers to actualize their aspirations of living a healthier and more rewarding life. Shoppers at Whole Foods are able to shop with confidence, knowing they are fueling their bodies and souls with good food that feels good. Whole Foods truly makes it easier for its shoppers to actualize aspirations ranging from being a better cook to living a healthier life.

Takeaway Lesson: Create marketing juju by helping consumers live the life they desire and actualize their aspirations.

* * *

The Fantasy Football season kicks off for "real" on Thursday, September 8. And, yes, I'll be captivated by watching the statistics my fantasy team compiles, reveling in the community and camaraderie of my league, and actualizing my aspirations of winning a fourth consecutive Fantasy Football League Championship.

Gotta love the marketing juju of Fantasy Football.


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John Moore was formerly in marketing at Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market; he now runs the Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice (www.brandautopsy.com) and is the author of TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture (www.tribalknowledge.biz).

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