NFL Canada touches down with a pop-up sports bar

"The Huddle" is the league's latest effort to attract younger Canadians to the game by immersing them in its fandom.

NFL Canada's The Huddle - Interior Bar New Era Fanatics Wall

NFL Canada is launching a Toronto pop up sports bar, part of its efforts to connect with next-gen fans.

The Huddle opened its doors during the final weekend of TIFF and will continue for another two weeks. It will showcase the Lombardi Trophy, and feature spaces for tailgating, a zone to play yard games and a chance to win official NFL swag and prizes.

Tara Chetkowski, director marketing and fan development, NFL Canada, tells strategy the pop up is about bringing people, particularly younger cohorts, together for the love of the game.

“For us, it’s a return to normalcy of the football season and that we can actually celebrate again,” Chetkowski says.

With over 13 million fans in Canada, the NFL is the second most popular professional league in the country, and Chetkowski says it is by far the league’s biggest international market. However, it is looking ahead to head off a challenge it may be facing in the future: youth interest in the league has dropped.

The NFL faces some unique hurdles to bringing in new fans in Canada. Youth football programs are not as developed in Canada as they are in the U.S., with far lower participation than hockey and soccer, and people are more likely to engage with a professional league if they’ve played the game. Also unlike the U.S., Canadians don’t have their own local team to support.

NFL Canada's The Huddle - Exterior Game Zone

Chetkowski says the experiential approach is meant to immerse Canadians in NFL fandom, from watching the game to everything else that comes before and after it. It is also focused  on primetime matches as an attempt to deepen connections between fans and specific teams.

The pop up sports bar also offer something its CPG and gaming partners can leverage.

Pinty’s is providing tailgate food, alongside samples from Pepsico and M&M’s, with Labatt and Diageo serving beer and cocktails. Fans will get to prove their mettle in an EA Sports Skill Zone that mixes Madden and Xbox gaming with tailgating games. Guests will also be able to shop their favourite team’s merchandise, thanks to New Era and Fanatics, get a photo moment with Wilson and lounge in FanDuel’s VIP space.

This is a new experiential way of activating for NFL Canada, a two week event, in one market. And it is going to continue to scale, and wants to potentially bring this to other regions, Chetkowski says.

NFL Canada's The Huddle - Exterior Night

The NFL is promoting The Huddle through event-focused media like BlogTO, Daily Hive and NFL Canada’s social channels, along with players and influencers to create a buzz in the city.

Chetkowski says this is one of its biggest efforts, representing about 50% more investment compared with past fall seasons. While the Super Bowl takes on a life of its own, as a pop culture juggernaut, kick off is becoming increasingly important to get fans engaged right when the season begins in September.

Narrative is behind the experiential activation. Mint conceptualized and fabricated the FanDuel space.

NFL Canada began a relationship with the agency in March.