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Marketing Genius Behind the NFL's Flex Schedule

November 10, 2011

Football is a religion. Well, some people will tell you that. A few weeks ago we dove into the expert marketing behind the NFL’s push to grab female fans, including its Breast Cancer Awareness efforts during the month of October. While at Quaintise we focus more on medical, hotel, and local business marketing, it is fascinating to look deeper into the incredibly effective marketing strategies of the NFL.


The NFL and TV Ratings

In the world of television advertising, ratings mean everything. When you have high ratings, you have the world at your fingertips simply because you have the opportunity to charge a small fortune for advertising spots. Everyone is well aware of how expensive it is to advertise during the Super Bowl because the amazing ratings that the Super Bowl gets.


According to, NFL broadcasts account for 13 of the 15 most-watched programs on TV. No fewer than five NFL games have delivered 25 million viewers or more; tops among these is Fox’s October 16 late game (Patriots-Cowboys), which scared up 28.4 million.


NFL’s Advertising Genius

In 2006, the NFL implemented ‘flexible scheduling,’ also known as the Flex Schedule. This stroke of genius solved a problem that had been plaguing the NFL; how can they keep fans engaged throughout the entire year without losing them as teams fall out of playoff contention?


The problem: The Sunday night and Monday night games have been a staple in the NFL’s television history. Viewer ratings are always higher on these nights, and games are always better when teams are in the spotlight. Towards the beginning of the season, these games are crucial to the progression towards the playoffs. By week 11, many teams have fallen out of playoff contention, but were still being scheduled to play on Sunday and Monday nights. Viewership declined as fans realized how inconsequential these games were in the big picture.


The solution: The NFL took a long, hard look into this problem and came up with an ingenious solution; the Flex Schedule. With the Flex Schedule, the NFL ensures that all Sunday night games hold playoff significance, thus winning back fans.


From a marketing and advertising perspective, this move to Flex Scheduling showed a remarkable commitment not only to its fans, but to its advertisers. By refusing to lose ratings and viewers on Sunday nights, the NFL has transformed the Sunday night game into another element of expert marketing. Before 2006, an advertising spot during a Sunday night game was workable for many brands. Today, a 30-second spot during Sunday night football costs over $500,000, up 24 percent from last season, according to


Women and Ad Spots

We’ve talked about the NFL’s expert marketing that targets female fans, but the new ratings numbers shows amazing opportunity for advertisers. According to Adweek, last season, women accounted for 33 percent of the Sunday Night Football audience, and if a recent Adweek/Harris poll is anything to go by, the potential for growth in the demo is enormous. According to this survey, 55 percent of American women say they watch televised NFL games, while another 85 percent say they consume their sports live. If nothing else, those numbers represent an almost criminally overlooked pool of engaged viewers who aren’t going to be zapping through your advertising any time soon.