Ideas for marketing the Philippines Football League

The upcoming Philippines Football League will unfold in mid-March next year, if all goes according to plan. The league needs at least 6 teams that will meet the club licensing requirements and fork over the as-yet-unannounced franchise fee.

Marketing will be a crucial component of the league's success. After all, a sports league is just like any other product or service. Demand needs to be created for it, and it should fill a need in the minds of the consumer. Fortunately, the club licensing regulations, which can be found here, stipulate that each club must have a dedicated marketing person and a media officer. 

The league itself should have a strong marketing team. I'm no sports marketing guru, but I did work as an advertising creative for 15 years, and was privy to marketing and advertising strategical thinking for many different products and services. This football league should use the same discipline.

Here are some of the few things that need to be done. 

Have a good plan and stick to it. Marketing should always be strategic. It can't be haphazard and scattershot. It must be given plenty of thought. 

Before a plan is made, the league must do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis as well as study the competition. Yes, basketball, volleyball, as well as other sports leagues are all competition for this league. If we are to grow, we can't just get existing football fans to watch (there might not be enough of them), but we also need to lure in non-football fans as well. What are the weaknesses of the other leagues that we can exploit? What are their strengths that we can sidestep? 

There must be a clear, strong, strategy that is rooted in research and draws inspiration from a consumer insight. It's important to know both the demographics and psychographics of the target market. Since there was a Nielsen study on this league, there must be reams of data that the PFL marketing crew can mine for good insights. 

There are many formats and templates for a marketing or advertising strategy. I will use the creative brief template I employed in the advertising copywriting class I taught in One School for years ago. This is not complete; there can and should be more to it. It only covers the creative advertising message which is just part, albeit a big part, of the marketing mix. But something like this can be a start. 

PROBLEM: The PFL is a new entity no one has ever heard of, involving a sport that most Filipinos don't like. 

TARGET MARKET: Class C and B, 12-21 years old, male and female. Rural and urban. Like sports and are very active themselves. Casual football fans who like the Azkals when they see them on TV but don't understand much about the game. 

INSIGHT: Filipinos want to see Filipino athletes, especially those representing their community, excel. 

BENEFIT: The PFL will bring you unbelievable excitement in every match. 

REASON WHY (Support for the benefit): The PFL is the only community-based, nationwide, world-class football league showcasing the best Filipino players. 

THE BIG IDEA: The PFL is where Filipino football heroes shine.

TAG LINE: Ang Galing Ng Pinoy Football. 

This is only a sample, and just an initial attempt. There are so many ways to skin a cat. But once there is a good plan in place, it should be followed in every communication touch point.

I feel that the UFL is actually a good product with many quality matches. But the league could have done better in formulating a truly transformational marketing strategy.

Build the stars. This is an essential tool for sports leagues marketers in every corner of the globe. The NBA understood this very well and promoted the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and more recently, LeBron James. One of the most memorable PBA campaigns that ran while they were fending off the ill-fated Metropolitan Basketball Association was “PBA: Bayan ng Superstars.” The jingle used Queen's “Another One Bites The Dust.” 

Stars are important because that is how a lot of fans of sports teams develop affinity with the clubs. When I was a kid I liked Great Taste in the PBA largely because of Bogs Adornado. 

The league should identify the marketable Filipino stars in each of the teams, and market them as the faces of the franchises. Their exploits should have top billing in news articles, video highlights, billboards, and other content. I say the Filipino stars should be highlighted because I assume they will stick around longer than the foreign players. But if there are some outstanding foreign players, they too can be showcased. 

One team that has understood this concept well is Gilas Pilipinas. Their “Kuwentong Gilas” video shorts are excellent. Not only do they highlight the exploits of the players on the pitch but also their compelling background stories as well. 

Appeal to kids. It's no accident that every single club in the Singapore S League has an animal as its mascot. According to the wiki of S League outfit Warriors FC, the side chose a rhino as its mascot in line with league policy. The Lion City's league is a virtual menagerie of stags, swans, cheetahs, tigers, eagles, and lions. Only Home United does not have a real animal mascot. The team is known as “The Protectors,” since they have roots in the police force, and their mascot is a fire-breathing dragon. 

These icons are cartoon characters that kids can relate to, especially when turned into real live mascots at games. 

Almost all sports fans get turned on to their favorite games during their youth. Unfettered by the jadedness of age, all kids can see are the beautiful aspects of a sport, and none of its seamy underbelly. 

Corollary to this is that the PFL should actively encourage young footballers to watch the matches in person. Not only are the games entertainment for them, but also a vital part of their footballing education. There is so much to learn from watching matches live. This new league should nourish partnerships with entities like the Rizal Football Association or RIFA, which runs youth football in Metro Manila. Free or heavily discounted tickets should be part of the deal. The relationship can be symbiotic: players in youth clubs get to watch top-class football, while the club gets help in filling up the stands. 

It pains me to see so few young footballers at UFL and UAAP matches these days. 

This wonderful quote attributed to the legendary Bobby Robson says it all: “It's a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father's hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him, and without being able to do anything about it, falling in love.”

Goals and more Goals. Football is so much more than the goals. But the act of putting the ball in the net is the only thing that casual fans understand about the game. 

The UFL already has a YouTube page for its highlights. The upcoming competition should do even more. Not only should highlights be shared, but individual goals as well. The whole gamut of platforms for this should be taken advantage of, from YT to Vine to GIFs. 

There should be goal shows from every matchday, and online Goal of The Week contests. I would give maybe 5 nominees for Goal of The Week with the video of the strike on the league FB page. Then a prize from a sponsor for the scorer who gets the most number of shares. The scorer will ask people to share it on their timelines. Presto, the PFL is being promoted for free, virally, through goals.

Forge a bond with the community. The PFL will be community-based. That will set it apart from every other sports league in the nation. The team and the city or town it represents should learn to like each other very much.

Teams should endeavor to get at least two or 3 players from that area. And outreach programs in the community should be a regular occurrence. We also need more of this:

Hearts of Sons from Paolo Lindaya on Vimeo.

Of course Ceres did spend quite a bit on this video, apparently using skilled labor and expensive equipment. But anyone with a DSLR, a decent lens, and reasonable knowledge of a video editing program should be able to cook up something almost as good. But naturally, a video is not the only way to strengthen the relationship between club and community. 

If the communities can get behind the teams, then success is within our grasp. 

Hype up the experience of watching the matches live. Will the PFL come close in quality to the Premier League or La Liga? Most certainly not. But the league will have one major advantage over those top leagues: you don't need to fly to Europe to watch it in person. World-class football in the flesh will be just minutes away from home. 

Football, like any sport, is far more appealing in person than on TV. You can only appreciate the physicality and skill fully when you are seeing it with your own eyes. And the collective energy of the crowd when a goal is scored is something completely indescribable.

The league, and its clubs, must therefore encourage fans to watch in person. That means targeted marketing efforts to get the turnstiles spinning. Part of the mix is also reasonable ticket prices, clean and comfortable stadia, and promos and other associated freebies or gimmicks to get folks to show up. 

Proposed tagline for this effort: #PFLLoveItLive. 

The stakes are high with this upcoming league. No less than the future of the sport in the Philippines hangs in the balance. There will be an unprecedented investment needed to make it work. It's expected that the investment will somehow be recouped. All the stakeholders must be aligned to get it to succeed. 

Having good players and a competitive, exciting product will not be enough. Marketing is key, and everyone, clubs and the league itself must realize that sooner than later. With March just around the corner, the time to act is now. –

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

For football fans, who can’t get enough from just watching the game, why don’t you try playing football yourself and see if you have the chance of becoming part of the Philippines’ football league? Click here for some of the best deals we have on football equipment that could help grow your skills.