The 2022 NFL season is officially underway, with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams, suffering a major loss to the Buffalo Bills during the Thursday night season kick-off game. This season will look a little different though, from partnership activity to new rules, and everything in between.
All is Fair in Football and Overtime
Major rule changes don’t often come along without a catalyst, and one of this year’s shifts sparked from a prior Bills' game. The 2021 AFC Divisional round matchup between the Chiefs and Bills was one for the ages. In a duel between two of the bright young quarterbacks in the league, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, the two teams played an instant classic that sparked major controversy for days to come. At the time, the overtime rules indicated that one team would pick heads or tails, and whoever won the toss had the opportunity to end the game on the first possession. Unfortunately for the Bills, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs won the coin toss and did just that. Players and fans voiced their dislike for the rules at the time, and once the 2022 season concluded, the NFL was forced to have a conversation about how to improve the game.
On March 29th, 2022, the NFL and all the team owners met in Palm Beach, Florida in order to discuss rules changes that ownership proposed to executives within the NFL. The first order of business that was suggested by the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, was to fix the overtime rules. This change amends rule 16, which now allows both teams an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime, specifically in the postseason. These owners believe that in a do-or-die situation, both teams should have the opportunity to possess the ball and have the chance to score and put their organization into the next round. This news was bittersweet for the Bills organization and fans as they wished this rule change was implemented before their heartbreaking loss, but on the other hand, this rule change allows this to never happen to another team again.
The Setup Zone
In an effort to provide more excitement and competition in the game, a second rule change involves the kick-off setup and where players can line up. While this rule doesn’t carry the same magnitude of the postseason overtime adjustment, this rule states that until the ball is kicked, all players must be behind the restraining line. Additionally, between 8-9 players have to be positioned in a place between their restraining line and 15 yards behind their restraining line. This new rule was implemented in 2021 and has now been made permanent for the 2022 season and beyond. For coaches and other personnel, this will adjustment will allow them to strategize differently.
In a move that focuses on the growth and development of the league itself, the NFL announced last year that 18 teams would be granted access to 26 International Home Marketing Areas (IHMA) across eight different countries. This has allowed clubs to access international segments for marketing, fan engagement, and commercialization initiatives, which have started to take effect for this season. This move is part of a long-term goal to enable clubs to continue to build their global brands while also exposing consumers around the world to the sport of football, specifically the NFL. Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer, Christopher Halpin, explains that this initiative enables NFL teams to curate meaningful relationships with fans abroad while driving fan growth and awareness of the league.
As an example, in order to grow their team's fan base, primarily in Germany, the Kansas City Chiefs recently agreed to a streaming partnership with DAZN, a global sports entertainment platform. This comes after NFL Europe started selling Chiefs apparel with the German flag on it, and has opened up new advertising and content opportunities. Teams will have access to these abroad markets for a five-year period in which a team will have the chance to pursue in-person and digital marketing, corporate sponsorship sales, fan activation events, youth football activities, merchandise sales, and more. For example, the NFL can hold fan fests throughout pre-games to meet and greet with team legends. All 32 teams within the league will play at least one international game in the next eight seasons, the first one coming between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints on October 2nd.
Bringing New Energy to the Field
The NFL is charting new terrority with its existing partnership with Gatorade, launching a no sugar, no carbonation caffeinated beverage called Fast Twitch. For this upcoming season, the drink will be featured on the sidelines during games throughout the league. Product won’t hit the shelves until February 2023, building excitement and buzz for fans looking to get their hands on a drink that was developed with sports performance in mind. What’s even more interesting about this new product is that the NFL and PepsiCo will share revenue on the sales, helping push across the line a renewal deal that the two were struggling to see eye to eye on. This is a highly uncommon arrangement to date that could set precedent for future sponsorships with major sports properties.
With the first Monday Night Football game taking place tonight, NFL fans have a lot to look forward to. From progressive rule changes to new initiatives focusing on fan engagement, the NFL is staying in tune with the ever-changing sports industry. Get your taco dip ready and your fantasy football lineups out - it’s going to be an exciting season.