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Score a Touchdown in Customer Engagement With These 3 Lessons From the NFL Pro football provides a great model for entrepreneurs as they seek out loyal, raving fans.

By Carol Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It's my favorite season of the year -- football season, obviously. While you may think of long Sundays as well as Thursday and Monday nights spent on your couch or tailgating at your favorite stadium, pro football can also provide a great source of inspiration for entrepreneurs.

Here are three customer-centric lessons that you can borrow from the NFL and put to work in your own business.

1. Finding new ways to engage your best customers pays off handsomely.

The NFL is a unique organization, as it has cultivated interest not just in individual franchise teams, but also in the league as a whole. With NFL RedZone's "best of each game" and/or NFL Sunday Ticket, the league keeps fans across the country engaged in football for long periods of time. Its media partners provide access to games via basic television, cable and even streaming online.

Related: 6 Things the NFL's Focus on 'Fan Engagement' Can Teach Small Business

The NFL has also leveraged partners that created the concept of fantasy football (which you can also play via the NFL.com site), providing another means for fans to stay engaged in a wide range of teams.

This additional engagement pays off handsomely for the league and its owners, who are able to translate this interest into everything from more ad dollars to increased merchandise sales.

As an entrepreneur, look at your core business to see how you may be able to find new ways to keep your customers engaged and spending money via new products, services, extensions, partnerships and more.

2. You can make a big success with even a small amount of raving fans.

One of the most successful football markets in the country is Green Bay, Wis., a city with a mere population of around 106,000. Compare that to Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the U.S., which has been unable to keep a pro team over the years. The reason and the difference is the loyalty and passion from the fans.

Having a core, loyal group of customers who rave about your company and find ways to do even more business with it can be the holy grail. While it's tempting to focus your marketing efforts solely on finding new customers, there's a strong case for spending much of your marketing time and money on your existing customer base.

In fact, the NFL is a veritable case study in engagement. From the Packer fans being able to become shareholders of the team to the booming billions of dollars in the fantasy football industry, NFL fans feel involved in and connected to the business in many different ways. Involving your customers and having them feel some sense of extended engagement with your business will only heighten your success.

If you can strongly engage fans even in the most niche market, you can build out a strong, sustainable business for years to come. Sometimes thinking small is the best path to success.

Related: 4 Ways to Build a Culture of Trust Culled From My Time in Pro Football

3. Non-core fans can become a big business.

Despite needing to focus on your core fans, some of your time should be focused on converting non-core customers to enhance your business.

One of the youngest franchises in the NFL is the Carolina Panthers. It was founded in 1995, yet it has created a pre-eminent customer-centric football culture that embraces all fans. The Panthers organization has a motto of putting fans first, which means that even if you are a transplant to Charlotte that cheers for a different team or are in town to root for a rival, you are still rewarded with a top-shelf experience that converts you into being a repeat customer, even if you aren't wearing the signature black, blue and silver.

Additionally, the NFL has focused on cultivating fans in areas outside of the U.S. From having an international series of games played in London to expose the game to a brand new group of potential fans to the San Francisco 49ers bringing Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne onto their roster to help bolster interest from potential fans "Down Under," the league and the individual franchises know the value of expanding the customer base by looking at non-core customers too.

As an entrepreneur, take a cue by seeking out new customers to convert them to raving, loyal fans. Or partner with another business to expose your brand, products and services to a new audience. Thinking outside of the core in creative ways can truly pay off substantially, as the NFL has demonstrated.

Now you have a great excuse to watch even more pro football this year, as you may just pick up more strategies to grow and strengthen your business.

Related: The Strongest Connections Come From Telling Your Story

Carol Roth

Entrepreneur, TV host and small business expert

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, a “recovering” investment banker, business advisor, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She is also a reality TV show judge, media contributor and host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. A small business expert, Roth has worked with companies of all sizes on everything from strategy to content creation and marketing to raising capital. She’s been a public company director and invests in mid-stage companies, as well.

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