The Canadian Football League: being the brand

Back in 2007, the Canadian Football League did some soul-searching and unearthed three core brand truths that have come to define its positioning: affordability, authenticity and accessibility. From that, the league's current tagline and brand identity, 'This is Our League,' was born.

Back in 2007, the Canadian Football League did some soul-searching and unearthed three core brand truths that have come to define its positioning: affordability, authenticity and accessibility. From that, the league’s current tagline and brand identity, ‘This is Our League,’ was born.

This year, the CFL’s been revamping its digital properties and marrying the online and in-stadium worlds, working with strategic partner Toronto-based Bensimon Byrne and digital agency MRX in order to deepen its brand and help fans to live it and own it.

‘The whole aspect of our behaviour this year is to amplify people’s sense of belonging by making them a part of it, bringing the brand closer to them,’ explains Rob Assimakopoulos, SVP marketing and commercial assets at the CFL.

In July, the launch of the redesigned flagship website CFL.ca formed a new digital network that places CFL team websites under one banner. Features include a new big-screen video player, more in-depth video content – like extended game highlight packages and feature-length interviews with players, coaches and GMs – news blogs from writers, fans and players and links for fans to distribute content to their online social networks.

In August, CFL.ca‘s unique visitors logged in at 501,538, up from 371,713 the same time last year. Visits were up 33.3%, and page views up 20.3% during the same time frame.

Users can also contribute their own content and comment on big stories, and the redesign also includes a live Twitter feed that lets users see tweets that pertain to the CFL.

‘Part of our content strategy is to walk that line a bit more,’ says Jamie Dykstra, manager of communications at the CFL. ‘We want opinion on our site. We would never allow someone to disparage the league or attack one of our officials, but at the same time we want their real comments there.’

The on-site Twitter feed complements the CFL’s presence on the social media website. Twitter.com/CFLca has a following of 3,100 people and, among other things, interacts with fans during games. The league’s also made a foray into Facebook with a profile and fan page, but it’s been more involved in the Twitter space, ‘mainly because we have these live events,’ explains Dykstra. ‘I think Facebook is more used to set up a live event, but when you’re in it, Twitter is a better social platform to engage fans.’

And the CFL has made Twitter interactions with its fans a personal endeavour indeed. On top of its own feed, league commissioner Mark Cohon also has a profile at Twitter.com/canadiancommish, giving fans direct access to the man in charge. When one of his 512 followers sends him a tweet, he usually replies.

‘You’re getting a lot more instant interaction with your fans and instant opinions,’ says Cohon.

The commissioner also extended his online accessibility into the offline world. On top of making personal phone calls in May to fans across the country to thank them for supporting the CFL – an initiative that he announced on Twitter and which garnered significant online feedback – he hosted a pizza lunch in his office for 15 bloggers who post content on fan pages and the league’s website.

‘The commissioner outreach is part of the bigger things that we’re doing,’ explains Assimakopoulos. ‘There’s a move to turn to the digital space for transparency [which] endears you to people. So having the commissioner not sit high on his perch [is part of that].’

It’s also an example of how the CFL is successfully marrying the online and offline worlds in a series of new initiatives. Back in February, the league invited fans to propose rule changes – a first in the league’s history – by submitting them via email or web. Another new digital initiative is a property set up to allow fans to vote for All-Star balloting at CFLallstars.com. It’s also close to announcing an unprecedented fan engagement project in one of its biggest properties, the Pepsi Max Grey Cup Halftime Show.

‘For us it’s got to be a series of firsts for this to be meaningful to people,’ says Assimakopoulos, ‘plus, just a steady stream of fan-facing behaviour.’

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