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A growing number of public figures, from President Obama to Le Bron James to Brett Favre, have said that they wouldn’t let their children play the game—and polling shows that 40 to 50 percent of parents agree with them.Between 20, youth participation in the game dipped markedly.
Over and over, I heard comparisons between the league’s marketing work and that done by the coal industry or Big Tobacco, conjuring images of Joe Camel in a helmet and shoulder pads. “We are always looking for new ways to engage the next generation of NFL fans and connect with kids in unique and authentic ways,” a spokesperson told me.Being a part of the NFL’s apparatus eventually began to eat away at Guiliotis. When she participated in calls with members of the NFL’s department of Fan Development & Marketing, she said they applied constant pressure on Brandissimo to find new ways to hook kids.“It was a weekly, almost daily thing: how do we increase kids’ time on site,” she said.He isn’t easily shocked by the NFL’s methods, but when I told him about the fantasy game, which he’d never heard of, he let out an exasperated growl. “This is the kind of thing you do when you don’t care about anything but making sure the money keeps rolling in.” From the outside, the NFL looks like one of the jewels of American capitalism.It remains the most profitable sports enterprise in the world, with $12 billion in revenue in 2015.It wanted to “get to kids as early as possible,” Guiliotis says.
“They talked about creating lifelong customers.” To that end, the league had Brandissimo create a website and a virtual world meant to entice kids.
It was the kind of prank-heavy place where you might walk in one morning to find your computer surrounded by 10 empty water cooler bottles, or where you might be talked into joining a zombie unicorn drawing competition, no matter how busy you were. For decades, the NFL had funneled most of its advertising dollars to large, New York-based legacy firms.
Everyone knew what to expect from that arrangement: commonsense product tie-ins, 30-second ad spots.
By tapping Brandissimo, the league made it clear that it wanted a different kind of partner for a different kind of project.
Brandissimo’s founders had previously worked for Disney and had helped produce well-known kids television shows like “Doug” and “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.” But they didn’t bill themselves as just TV guys or mobile guys or video game guys—they sold a more complete vision.
She only joined Brandissimo because she got tired of being broke.