The following guest post is from Jack Isquith, a digital music expert who has held senior posts at Warner Brothers Records and AOL Music, that originally appeared on his blog Digital Music Insider and is reposted with his permission.
The Football Commissioner & The Music Biz -- Change Before You're Forced To.
He embraces the new. "Change before you're forced to," Goodell told owners. "Find a better solution."
This from Sports Illustrated's cover piece on the trailblazing and enormously successful NFL commissioner, Roger Godell.
Pro Football makes an interesting case study for the music industry. It's not a perfect analogy -- the NFL pre-Godell was already a thriving business. But, I'll argue, that for record labels and new model music companies, there are many good lessons to learn from the tactics and strategies the NFL has employed, especially under Godell.
First, some facts and figures regarding the NFL:
- Last year's Super Bowl was the most watched TV program in U.S. history. With 106.5 million viewers, the game supplanted the long-time leading final episode of M*A*S*H (which had 105.5 million viewers in 1983).
Pro Football is the most popular and the most lucrative sport in the United States. It is run by a charismatic and innovative leader who has advocated for change, placed consumer experience at the top of his priority list and delivered new thinking consistently during his tenure.
Let's take a look at four tactical things the NFL has done -- and how the strategies behind these tactics could inform a music company:
1. Embrace multiple partners & multiple touchpoints. Choose ubiquity over scarcity: For most of its history, the NFL was built on a two network approach, with games only played on Sundays and Monday Nights. Over the last decade, and especially under Godell, this has broadened dramatically with games on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, carried by multiple networks.
This multi-partner approach is interesting as the labels and sites wrestle with the idea of licensing multiple partners, or new music companies look at multiple experiences such as streaming just on computers, streaming to mobile devices, or owning the files outright.
2. Embrace gaming, and gaming technology: While gaming such as Madden NFL is more than a decade old, the Goodell era has seen a much closer link between gaming and the league. Broadcasts now are filled with computer generated graphics that approximate the look and feel of gaming, not to mention the deep linking between Fantasy Football and the NFL's websites and broadcasts.
The music business with a few notable exceptions like Guitar Hero and Tapulous, has done a horrible job of leveraging gaming. Think about American Idol -- it's the ultimate music business "game." People love American Idol, karaoke, music message boards and blogs, etc., yet labels and new services are rarely part of the economic equation around these behaviors.
3. Broaden the demographic you appeal to: The NFL has employed a series of tactics to broaden its appeal -- most notably by catering to women. More American women watch the NFL than any other team sport, and not just the Super Bowl. In the past decade the NFL has launched several marketing and outreach programs, including coaching clinics, apparel that fits women and donning pink during breast cancer awareness month. The league has amplified the idea of watching football tends to be a social event, with people watching in groups of varying gender composition.
Think back 10-15 years. The best sellers of the old-guard music business were truly mass-appeal hit-makers -- Christina Aguilera , Dixie Chicks, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Metallica, Linkin Park etc. These acts were for Mom's & daughters, Dad's and sons. Songs from these albums were on four to five radio formats and all over TV. But the last ten years have seen tremendous erosion of teen radio listening, and increased dominance of niche albums at the top of the charts -- Susan Boyle, Sade and Josh Groban representing adults, countless first-week SoundScan winners representing the hard rocke and rap communities. The industry desperately needs more than one Taylor Swift -- it needs multiple all-things-to-all-people stars.
Which brings us to….
4. Make more stars, and then make them bigger. Build star-making into the DNA of everything you do: From Nielsen; "In 2001, journeyman Trent Dilfer led the Ravens to a Championship, creating the perception that a team can win a Super Bowl without a marquee quarterback. Most NFL teams now subscribe to the belief that the quarterback is the most critical cog, both on and off the field. The Cowboys, for example, lost QB Tony Romo to injury and saw their season and ratings go south. In recent years, the NFL has tried to safeguard their stars, implementing rules to ensure that the QB isn't tackled low, hit in the head or after the whistle. And to a large extent, the quarterbacks this year were healthy and able to serve as the marquee names for their team. Interest in quarterbacks goes beyond the stadium: they are making news off the field too. Many have been linked romantically to supermodels, actresses and singers, creating news in celebrity magazines and other non-traditional media."
This should be the music business's greatest advantage: The faces (and bodies) of our stars aren't hidden by helmets and pads. Music stars have fashion stylists, gauzy lighting, and PR-handlers. But our star-making machinery is broken. Sure it's partially broken by piracy, partially broken by radio and retail lameness, but I'd argue it's also broken by ourselves. The labels, and even the newer model companies like Spotify, Rhapsody, etc. underestimate the power, even the necessity, of big stars. The labels have slashed their marketing budgets so dramatically, that it's a miracle they can develop any stars at all. And the new model companies have only learned half the story from Steve Jobs. Yes, great design and an amazing consumer experience are key, but look at all the marketing Apple does. Think about what those Coldplay, U2 and Mary J. Blige ads have done for both Apple and those artists. Think about 5 million Beatles tracks sold in just a few weeks, when almost every digerati turned his or her nose up on the very idea that The Beatles on iTunes even mattered. The music industry needs to spark superstar creation, nurturing and amplification, and that means money, marketing and partnerships that understand this have to coalesce.
Final Take: Pro Football is the biggest it's ever been, a multi-billion dollar industry lead by a charismatic, change-friendly evangelist. The (traditional) music business is the smallest it's been since 1991, feeling more like a once exciting candidate or a company hanging on past its prime, than an industry with momentum. But entertainment is much like politics and pure business -- a comeback, while difficult, even highly-unlikely, is always possible. Just ask Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan, or even Steve Jobs.
Perhaps on the eve of Super Bowl weekend, the music business should take a big page from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's playbook.