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It’s the best time of year… football season. Not looking forward to getting angry looks from the wife or girlfriend when you want to sit on the couch all day Sunday? Turn her into a football fanatic in 10 easy steps.

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Hello and welcome sports fans – um, I mean marketing and technology fans. Before I came to Wired to immerse myself in the latest gadgets, technology, and innovation, I spent 8 years at ESPN.com marketing my first love, sports.

So as football season 2008 kicks off, indulge me and I’ll tell you how to turn your wife or girlfriend into a football fanatic in 10 easy steps – think of it as marketing the game to her.

Scalping Football Tickets

And as a bonus, I’ll give you my 7 rules for scalping tickets – think of that as a tutorial in business negotiation skills.

Note that this was based on a true story, and if you have any feedback, send your comments to: [email protected].

Let’s get right to it:

1.    Start with an open-minded participant
Let me start by saying this isn’t for everyone. Only you can evaluate your relationship to see if your significant other is open to basking in the glory that is the National Football League. Maybe your wife HATES football and LOVES the fact that she knows that you’ll be on the couch all day Sunday, freeing up an entire day for her to do her own thing.

Or maybe it’s the other extreme. My college buddy got married in Vegas in February. That’s pretty cool. By an Elvis impersonator. That’s pretty cool too. On Super Bowl Sunday. Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard stories about the guys at a wedding or another social function sneaking off into another room to watch a big playoff game to the horror of friends and family. This is different.  They actually planned to have the post-wedding party BE the Super Bowl Party. Dress code? Football jerseys required. Best of all? It was the bride’s idea.

But if they’re somewhere in the middle, proceed.

2.    Get a great TV
If you can afford it, there’s nothing like watching the NFL on a giant high-definition flat panel television. You’ll be able to identify the players better, follow the action better, and you’ll feel like you’re almost at the game.

Getting resistance?

Here are some marketing tips to making the sell:
A) Refer to it as a ‘home theater,’ saying that you’ll actually save money because you can avoid paying for $12 blockbuster movies and instead curl up at home and use Netflix. Throwing out the name of some romantic comedies will help your cause.Samsung LCD TV

B) By buying the largest TV you can afford (I personally have a Samsung 46″ 1080p LCD HDTV in a studio apartment), you are combating ‘planned obsolescence’ and won’t have to buy another one for years to come.

C) Congress has mandated that in February 2009, all television stations will have to broadcast in digital only. Sorry honey, it’s the law.

3.    Teach the basics of football through watching TV
For the newbie, start with Football 101 by explaining offense and defense, some of the key positions such as quarterback and running back, and how points are scored. Move on to higher level topics such as down and distance, penalty flags, and replay challenge flags.

I found the yellow first down indicator graphic to be very helpful for this. What was a challenge though, is explaining just how they get that line to appear on the field without it overlapping the players like the other graphics on the screen.

Another helpful thing to have is a DVR or Tivo that lets you rewind the plays to explain what just happened. I found myself pausing the game, then rushing up to the screen and pointing out various elements of the play like a mad football professor. Laser pointer is optional.

4.    Explain Fantasy Football
While this might add another layer of complexity, you might as well cover it while you’re at so she understands why you’re screaming only at the Eagles kicker or a Dolphins receiver.

Like any good social networking site, fantasy football adds the element of community, as you and your buddies talk trash on a weekly basis and everyone in the league shares a common bond.

Tell your wife that it costs you $100 to join your league and she gets angry. Tell her that if you win you get $1000 that can be used to go on vacation, and suddenly things get interesting. (But of course we all know gambling is illegal).

This is where you also start to tread on dangerous ground.
-   Showing her the players on your team and having her cheer along while you watch the games can build camaraderie towards a common goal. This is good.
-   Bringing your wife along with you to your live draft at a bar filled with cigar-smoking fraternity brothers as a co-manager, will probably provoke a lifetime of abuse and the automatic team name like the Washington Wussies or Pittsburgh Pansies. Not so good.
-   Inviting your wife into your league – to manage her own individual team – may seem like a good idea if she really knows her stuff. Just be prepared for the fact that she just might kick your ass. And win the title. I’ve seen it happen.

ESPN Fantasy Focus Podcast

Since playing Fantasy Football online is usually free, it’s best to take baby steps, grab a team at one of the 4 major sites, and jump into a beginner’s league if you’re just starting out.

If you like listening to my podcast, check out ESPN’s Matthew Berry on Fantasy Focus Football for a really entertaining show that has great fantasy tips mixed in with conversations about Beverly Hills 90210.

And don’t worry, there’s plenty of advice out there to help you along.

Roger Rotter Fox Sports

And my friend Roger Rotter, the Senior Fantasy editor at FoxSports, really knows his stuff too and advises you on who to start, who to bench, and who to pick up off waivers.

5.    Get out and play
When you’re not watching the games on the weekends, grab a football and head out to the park to throw it around. In the past, most guys would have a jersey or two and can let their girlfriend borrow one for the look of a real game experience.

But to prove how much buying power women have now in sports, and to show how much the NFL is targeting this market, head over to the women’s section of NFL shop.

Women's Football Jersey

I fully expected to find the same game jerseys, t-shirts, and hats that the men had, but in girlier colors and cut differently for a woman’s figure. The women’s Patriots page alone has 201 items.

What I wasn’t prepared for was:
-   $80 titanium rings
-   $60 suede and crystal bags and other purses as seen on Rachel Ray
-   An entire line by Alyssa Milano, including football-branded jeans
-   A $3,000 glittering purse containing 5,300 Swarovski crystals.

Wide Receiver Gloves

My best advice? Do yourself a favor and skip the fluffy expensive stuff, and get yourself a pair of Wide Receiver Gloves. For about $20 it will accomplish three things:
-   The sticky palms make it much easier to catch the football, so you’ll have more fun playing
-   It keeps hands warm in the cooler weather so there’s less complaining about the cold
-   It cushions your hands and protects against small scrapes from the ball, not to mention manicured nails

6.    Apply your learnings
Now that you’re out tossing the ball around, don’t just play catch, apply what you’ve learned from watching the game. It’s no revelation that people learn by doing, whether it’s putting together a marketing plan, learning Adobe Photoshop, or throwing a football with the perfect spiral. In other words, you can sit in driver’s ed class for 100 hours, but the fact is, you’re never going to learn how to drive until you’re behind the wheel of car.

My girlfriend at the time was probably the exception, but since she was genuinely interested in learning as much as possible, I would do things like sketch out simple pass patterns. Post pattern. Down and out. Button-hook. Fly route.  Get that down, and you can graduate to fake handoffs, going in motion, and misdirection plays.

We’d go out to the park and practice. Then, when watching the game together later on, she would be able to see the receivers running various routes and be able visualize what the quarterback was trying to do.

7.    Cover the game through stories and drama
This one is actually very important across the entire process, and actually a lot easier than you think. It’s obviously what the Olympics tries to do to attract female viewers, because if there are three words that I have found to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt in my life, it’s these:

Women. Love. Drama.

Think of anything that networks target to a female audience, from Grey’s Anatomy to Sex and the City. Or look at TNT’s slogan: We know drama.

Let me give you an example. That year, the Indianapolis Colts started out 9-0, and two months into the season, my girlfriend turned to me and said,

‘Hey Jim, has any team ever won every single one of its games?’

Pull up a chair and let me spin a little tale and tell you about the 1972 Dolphins. They are the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, even though their QB broke his leg in the middle of the season. However, there is some controversy in that, statistically, they played one of the weakest schedules in NFL history. Every year the record carries on, the players from that team get together and light a victory cigar to celebrate. Then she asked,

‘Has any other team come close?’

1972-miami-dolphins

Well, let me tell you about the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the best teams in NFL history. They were 12-0, but had to play Miami – the team with the record – to keep the streak going. You have to know that some of the old Dolphin players that were on that undefeated team in 1972, went into the locker room before the game and said, “listen, good luck, do your best, but you better not lose this game.” It was the unlucky 13th game of the season for the Bears, as they were defeated by Dan Marino, who wore # 13. It ended up being the highest rated Monday Night Football game in history.

Other ways to tie in drama involves linking the players with celebrites…

Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen
-   Everyone thinks dating Jessica Simpson caused Tony Romo to have a bad game, what do you think?
-   That’s Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher … Did you know he was rumored to have dated Paris Hilton?
-   Oh, you think Tom Brady is better looking than me? Did you he dated actress Bridget Moynahan, got her pregnant, then dumped her for Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen?

Any time you can combine an ESPN story with an US Weekly story, you’re hitting on all cylinders.

8.    Celebrate your learnings
Once you’ve got the basics down at home, once you’ve put it to practice on the field, it’s time for a field trip to the local sports bar for burgers and beers. Once she sees 100 people yelling at the TV in unison, seeing you do it by yourself won’t seem so strange. Again, the pull of the community can be very strong. Just get out of there before the guy that bet $500 on the Cardinals and the points gets belligerent and starts throwing bottles.

9.    Identify with a team
By this point, my girlfriend wanted her own team to cheer for. Because she was essentially a clean slate with no team loyalties, for fun we treated it like a business project.

We started out with all 32 NFL teams and planned on eliminating those that didn’t meet certain criteria. Feel free to come up with your own.

Football Team Spreadsheet

Excel Chart

-  After watching two teams playing a game in a domed stadium and explaining retractable roofs and the intricacies between grass, artificial turf, and field turf, she thought it was pretty lame that dome teams didn’t have to play in the snow. And only 1 dome team had ever won a Super Bowl.
-  Goodbye Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans, and St. Louis

-  For political correctness, she eliminated all offensive team names.
-  Goodbye Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Redskins

-  While she was at it, she eliminated franchises with questionable fan bases or players associated with them.
-  Goodbye Arizona Cardinals (pathetic history of losing and no real fan base), Buffalo Bills (former team of double murder suspect OJ Simpson), Oakland Raiders (psycho crazy fans wearing gang inspired colors), and Philadelphia Eagles (was shocked that the notoriously vocal fans once booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus)

-  Eliminate teams that were too obvious or seemed like a bandwagon choice
-  As a New Yorker, that meant goodbye New York Jets and New York Giants, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers (just coming off a Super Bowl win)

-  A longer term goal was to one day see the selected favorite team at their home stadium. Therefore, the winning city needed to be a worthwhile vacation destination (ideally sunny) and fun city.
-  Goodbye Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Green Bay, and Tennessee

-  Because she would ultimately be buying a team jersey, she looked at the color schemes of the remaining teams.
-  Orange and teal green? Sorry Miami, despite the beach, you’ve got to go

Now we were down to the Top 10 — Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, New England, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay — which we could look at based on the following criteria:
-  Uniforms
-  Vacation spot
-  Stadium
-  Team History
-  Personality of players and coach
-  Quality of fans
-  Drama Factor
-  Super Bowl chances

This was a formidable list to narrow down:mario-williams
-  Who doesn’t enjoy visiting San Francisco Bay, the mountains of Denver, or the beaches of Florida?
-  Many of the teams listed have state-of-the-art stadiums
-  There’s rich history with Elway, Montana, and the Monsters of the Midway
-  Bears, Patriots, Broncos, and Seahawks home fans are all diehards that can become a ’12th man’
-  Drama surrounding players and coaches was easily found, from  ‘Spygate’ to Mario Williams being chosen over Reggie Bush

Despite a strong Top 10, I thought the winner would be obvious.

Not only was San Diego a fantastic place to visit, but it had a good-looking, up-and-coming quarterback (Philip Rivers), the best player in the league (LaDainian Tomlinson), and a drama-centric linebacker (Shawn Merriman), who has been suspended for steroid use, has his own sack dance, and recently decided to play the 2008 season with two torn knee ligaments.

The clinching factor would be the throwback powder blue uniforms with lightning bolts.

I thought we had a winner, until…

10. Attend a game in person, tailgating to fully immerse yourself in the NFL experience.

Before we could narrow down the top 10 and select a winner, it was time for the final exam. Attending a game.

We headed out to the swamps of Jersey to see a NY Jets-Buffalo Bills game on a crisp, sunny day in December.  One tip here is that the hassle of bringing additional layers of clothing or even blankets is a small small price to pay compared to sitting miserably cold in the stands for 3 hours. Always assume the worst when it comes to weather.

You know the incredible rush you get as a little kid going to your first game, as people toss footballs in the parking lot, the smell of sausages being grilled fills the air, and the atmosphere is electric with anticipation? Well I found out that it doesn’t matter how old you are when you go to your first game. She was delirious with sensory overload.

But first we needed tickets. While I remind you to adhere to all local laws, here are:

JIM’S 7 RULES OF SCALPING TICKETS

1. Never accept the first offer
2. Always be willing to walk away
3. Inspect the tickets for counterfeits, including the date of the game and make sure that the seats are together
4. Print out a copy of the stadium chart and bring it with you
5. Always try to target fans selling tickets vs. scalpers
6. Separate your money into different pockets, broken up into various packets of what you want to pay, so you’re not flashing a lot of cash or need to make change
7. Don’t get too overwhelmed with the process, at some point you need to pull the trigger

You want to build skills in the workplace that require savvy business negotiation, strong people skills, analyzing supply and demand, and thinking on your feet? Put down that business school case study and head out to the parking lot at The Meadowlands.

Thanks to our preparation, everything went down like clockwork. I avoided the sketchy sellers the second we got off the bus at the stadium. We did a few loops in the parking lot to see what the market value was for tickets. And then I saw him, a guy in mid conversation with a friend, with a beer in his right hand while holding up 2 tickets in his left. The binoculars around his neck told me he was a normal fan.

Like any business transaction, you need to determine the other party’s motivation and come up with a win-win scenario. Unlike a scalper, a fan isn’t there simply to make a profit. They’ve already paid for season tickets in advance so it’s a sunk cost, they’re just looking to unload the extras for beer money because 2 of their buddies or clients backed out. Most likely you’re going to be sitting next to them all game, so they’d rather it be a normal couple vs. two crazy drunks that are going to get kicked out and risk losing their season tickets. Thus, we had some leverage.

A quick check of the section against my seating chart told me I had hit the mother lode, corporate seats with a face value of $100 each.  When he asked for only $80 for the pair, I sheepishly reached into my front left pocket, which I knew specifically contained three strategically folded $20 bills, pulled it out and said, would you take $60? He bit, and we skipped into the stadium.

The rest as they say is history. Before I end the story, there was one anxious moment when my girlfriend went out on her own to the restroom. 5 minutes passed. Then 10. Then 20. Were the lines that bad? Did she get lost? Did something horrible happen?

Just then she returned to our section with another woman, both with huge smiles on their faces.

“Jim! Jim! You have to meet my friend Susan… she was my best friend in college, we went to Paris together, and I haven’t seen her in 5 years. But I bumped into her in the bathroom and I’m so excited.”

Yes, we were at a football game, and she managed to meet a long lost international traveling partner in the women’s room.

new-york-jets-logo

In the end, the other teams in our top 10 didn’t stand a chance, as we discovered that even the best analytics are no match for real world experience. The New York Jets had their newest fan, and my friend went home that day as a newly converted football fanatic.

E-mail feedback at [email protected]

Follow me at twitter.com/hopkinsonreport

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Photo Sources:

Diamond Patriots Bag: NFLShop.com

Tickets: Footballticket.TV

Samsung TV: Amazon.com

Fantasy Focus logo: ESPN.com

Roger Rotter photo: FoxSports.com

Women’s Jersey: NFLShop.com

Wide Receiver Gloves: Amazon.com

1972 Miami Dolphins: ESPN.com

Tom Brady Gisele Bundchen: babble.com

Mario Williams: Allposters.com

NY Jets logo: NewYorkJets.com

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