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How The NFL’s Julie Haddon Is Making Fans Even More Obsessed With Football


How The NFL’s Julie Haddon Is Making Fans Even More Obsessed With Football

How The NFL’s Julie Haddon Is Making Fans Even More Obsessed With Football
100th season

Julie Haddon (far left) and team celebrating the NFL’s 100th season

National Football League

If you look at Julie Haddon’s LinkedIn profile, it says simply that she’s currently obsessed with making NFL fans even more obsessed with football.  A former technology executive at Twitter and eBay, Haddon is now the SVP, Global Brand & Consumer Marketing at the National Football League. We sat down to talk her efforts in driving change at the NFL while building upon its storied history

Dave Knox:  Your career has put you at this intersection of digital media, e-commerce and entertainment, which is a great combination for the world of modern marketing. How have you used that background to keep the NFL fan based engaged both during the season and off season as well?

Julie Haddon:  For starters, we’re very fortunate because the NFL games are refresh in of themselves. I mean the pure exhilaration that comes out of a Sunday or a Monday or a Thursday, these competitive match-ups and what’s happening on the field and what’s happening every game, every minute, every play… there is this electricity in our product. We are really lucky in that our product is always fresh. I think the other way I look at it is how do we keep the brand fresh?

Number one is the players, because they are a key part of our team, our franchise, and our brand. There are so many remarkable stories of who these guys are with helmets off and how they show up in the community as leaders, as fathers, and as husbands. They are larger than life personalities, but beyond being elite athletes that we see on TV, these guys are remarkable humans and there’s so many wonderful stories for us to tell our fans.

Second is the generations that we have. We’re in our hundredth season at the NFL and a hundred years of this game. There are so many things that have happened over these hundred years that touch all generations of fans. For example, I think about the Superbowl spot that for the Hundred Year Game where we featured iconic players like Mean Joe Greene and Jim Brown juxtaposed with today’s modern stars like Saquon Barkley. These players bridge generations of fans and connects the game for fans of all ages.

Third is influencers. You know, football is a way of life and is woven into the pop culture.  We look at the “influencers” around industries like fashion, gaming, fitness, and music to infuse that fresh culture into football and our game and vice versa. As an example, in our Superbowl spot we featured Ninja as a cameo, who is one of the biggest stars in e-Sports. Things like this show our commitment to these kinds of mash ups at this intersection of sports and gaming and pop culture.

Finally, it is innovation and continuing to work with our partners to engage fans via new products or existing technology like the mobile apps for fantasy, live viewing of the game on your phone or Amazon, and even legalized sports betting. There are incredible things that we’re doing with data and with the real time components of stats.

Knox:  Nearly half of the fans of the NFL are women. What are some of the differentiated efforts you have done for this audience in particular?

Haddon:  Women are one of our fastest growing fan bases so it was really important to myself and my team that we reflect that in our work. For instance, in our Hundred Year Game Superbowl commercial, we had Richard Sherman passing a ball to a running back from Utah who happens to be a girl named Sam Gordon. And that’s important because the next hundred years very much could have a woman in the NFL as a player.

Most recently we just made a documentary called the Lifetime of Sundays that aired on ESPN and ABC. It’s a powerful story of the competitive friendship and football legacy shared by four iconic women NFL owners – Virginia Halas McCaskey of the Chicago Bears, Martha Ford from the Detroit Lions, Patricia Rooney from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Norma Hunt from the Kansas City Chiefs.   This project was a labor of love with Jane Skinner Goodell, the wife of our Commissioner. These four amazing women aren’t from the selfie generation where you want to take pictures of yourself and share every moment. So their natural reaction was why would people want to hear our stories? But Jane, to her credit, was relentless in pursuing this and it culminated with a panel at the Owners Meeting where every person in the room was hanging on every word that we heard from these women. We knew at that moment that we had lightening in a bottle and we had to do more with it. We assembled an amazing team to create the documentary to tell the story of these four women and bring it to life.  What’s exciting is that you’re watching the NFL through the lens of these historical women who paved the path for women in leadership roles. You’re going back to amazing stories where they are talking about Mrs McCaskey buying the team for $100 for instance. For us, it was so important to be able to pull this story together and feature these legendary women.

Knox:  You live in Silicon Valley and worked in technology for many years. How are you personally staying on top of the emerging trends as you lead the NFL?

Haddon:  Well, I think that is every marketer’s challenge, right? I mean we have our day jobs, we have our families, we have change that’s happening at such a rapid pace. How do we stay ahead of it? I personally stay ahead of it as a voracious reader of blogs, books, white papers and everything else that can help me learn, adopt and grow. I also look at a mentorship group that I am a part of because I think that helps you learn a lot from other people and stay on top of it. And of course I have been blessed and grateful for this extraordinary peer group I have at the NFL of incredible women.

The other thing I do is be very involved in startup culture as an advisor and investor. With that, I don’t see it as just a financial ROI but also as an intellectual ROI. I’m giving my knowledge and insights to help a company with the hope of the financial upside should something grow into becoming the next billion-dollar brand. But I also feel like I’m giving and getting because these types of things keep me plugged in and on top of shifting cultures.

Knox:   One of your focuses at the NFL has been on shifting the culture to one of change and innovation. How do you ignite that cultural change at a company that has such a long storied history?

Haddon:  I lead a very transparent organization where I empower my teams to do their best work. With that, I love to hire people smarter than me. I love to hire people that want to come in and experiment and test and learn and iterate. With the risk of sounding cliche, I’ve always encouraged my teams to do things and try things and I’d rather fail by trying something that doesn’t work then watching from the sidelines.

I like to unlock that in our culture of innovation and change and continue to do experiments and tests. I also encourage teams to seize opportunities. A perfect example of that was when Jane and I worked on Lifetime of Sundays. It was a story that was right there for the taking. We

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