Today is a big day in the US for many American households – it is the day that football officially starts.

17 weeks of football filling up every Sunday (and part of every Monday and Thursday and the days you read about the games from the day before and the day you update your fantasy league).  It is a big day.

You may not know it but you – the fan – are at the center of it. It feels like the teams and the players are at the center because of how dedicated fans are to their teams. It also feels like that because the media helps us stay focused on the players and the coaches. And then there are all the companies and products that pop up around the team. But it is actually the opposite. You are at the center and all those companies and the team are there to make your time more enjoyable.

For the most part all this attention on you is to earn your dollars.  Not surprising. It has always been that way. Without you buying tickets, buying apparel, watching advertisements, and so on there would be no league.

Something changed in the last 8 – 10 year: the sports industry got very complex.

It used to just be: the fan + the team + the NFL + the advertisers + a few apparel companies

Now it is : the fan + the team + the NFL + the advertisers + a lot of apparel companies + your phone + your internet provider + fantasy sports + bars + tv providers +++++

It is much harder for the team or any of those companies to earn a big part of the money you are spending on sports now. There is just so many things competing for your attention and your sports dollars.

Enter  the ‘Fan Experience.’  Fan experience is one of the best examples of a “customer experience ecosystem.” I am not sure who coined that phrase but it is a good one. It puts the customer in the middle and allows your experience to be defined as everything you experience related to football, not just to one company. It also implies that no one company owns your experience, you do. Sports, the NFL specifically, is a massive customer experience ecosystem.

With other companies – like your cable company, your telecom provider, or a software company – the major reason to focus on customer experience is to make things better for you so you stay loyal and keep spending money. In sports it is different. Fan experience isn’t to keep you loyal to the team – you are already dedicated. When it comes to sports teams it would take a lot to get you to turn on your team (trust me, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan).

The focus on fan experience is to find more ways to keep the money you are willing to spend as a fan with the team and the NFL. Since you aren’t going to the stadium as much, and so you aren’t buying as many tickets or things from the team store, and you aren’t necessarily watching the game on the one tv channel that has all the advertising revenue, they aren’t getting as many of your sports dollars.

Whenever we talk about a company trying to get more of your money it sounds dirty and conniving. It isn’t. It is brilliant on their part: you have dollars to spend on sports and they want to do more for you to earn more of those.  And it makes things better for you, the fan, in the end.

Remember how record companies lost their way when music began to be sold and shared online? Businesses learned a lot from that and now they are trying to get ahead of what is referred to as the disintermediation of the value chain. This means they are trying to stop middlemen from getting between them and the fan or if they can’t stop it they will try to own a piece of the middleman or change their business to deliver the same product to you.

It means you get more options of things you get to buy or participate in that relate to your team.  It means that more innovation will exist in all aspects of your experience with your team – in the stadium, on your smart phone, on all the screens you can watch football on, in apparel, on team websites. It means that every time you hear “fan experience” you should think “all the better for me!”  It means that every season your experience across your entire fan experience ecosystem is going to get better and better because your team and all the companies in that ecosystem are fighting over your attention.  Stay tuned for some great innovations!

Now, let’s get going – it is NFL Sunday! There are 13 games ahead of us today. Good luck to your team (and to your fantasy team) and Go Bills!