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What product pros can learn from pro ball: an NFL user experience case study.

Product professionals from designers to product managers to UX researchers have long struggled with how to serve multiple user personas. This can be especially hard when the attitudes and desires of these personas are at odds with each other. However, to deliver a truly outstanding user experience, it's crucial to understand and cater to the different personas your product serves.

To show what understanding and serving multiple personas can look like, we dove into video and survey data from our Pulse Labs IQ™ series on Mobile UX for NFL news. NFL game days are characterized by lively discussions and debates among fans across various media platforms. However, because different groups of fans focus on different aspects of the game, in order to create an experience that entices fans to return for more, product owners must understand the unique fan personas, hone the in-app experience, and provide top-notch content.

Understanding a diverse user base and creating a robust set of user personas plays a pivotal role in understanding what content to create and how best to serve different groups. This offers businesses and product owners immediate benefits in terms of conversions, brand value, and engagement. With deep insights into their users, businesses can shape more effective content strategies, design approaches, and create a seamless user experience.

Read on as we delve into the nuances of the NFL fan personas, what each group finds most compelling, and the various types of user experiences that they seek. 

Game Highlights and Team News Top the Leaderboard!

 To better understand various NFL fan user personas, we asked them, "What types of sports news, content, and videos do you typically like to read or watch?" We found that NFL fans consume a wide variety of content, with game highlights (24%) and team or league news (21%) being the most popular types consumed. Analysis, game and player stats are also popular, making it among the top three genre choices for NFL fans.

There are interesting differences in content consumption patterns between different groups of fans. For example, men are more likely than women to consume analysis, game and player stats (18% vs. 12%). Casual fans are more likely than Super Fans to consume game highlights (27% vs. 22%). Gen Z and Millennials are more likely than older fans to consume fantasy team information (12% vs. 6%).

Most fans indicated that they liked consuming a mix of content from different sources, including from official sources, user-generated content (UGC) and aggregators that allow them to consume personalized content based on their interests. Here’s what fans say about content they enjoy:

“I am mostly interested in team level info and highlights. There is always more info and I can go find it if something unique or special occurred.”

—Frank, Gen X, Kansas City Chiefs, Casual Fan

“I love everything about football, from the games themselves to the team constructing and roster management as well as behind the scenes slice of life (hard knocks; TAYLOR FREAKING SWIFT). I want it all.”

—Bulinda, Gen X, Seattle Seahawks, Super Fan

(Interested in how often and where are NFL fans reading news and watching video clips? Check out our story The Quest for Daily Active Users: How NFL Fans Use Apps.)

Users Don’t Care About Features, They Only Care About Scoring a Touchdown (and Achieving Their Goals)

 Given the substantial appetite for content, it's hardly surprising that the typical NFL fan engages with 3 or more distinct content genres. However, we noticed there were variances across the types of content users sought out, so we looked to understand distinct NFL fan personas by asking: What behaviors do all fans have in common, and what, if anything, sets apart different groups of NFL fans? Through our review of qualitative data, video recordings, and survey responses, we learned how they differed in terms of the type of content they consumed, the frequency of consumption, what contributed to frustrations and delights in their user experience, and their underlying motivations when it came to consuming NFL content and news. Through our in-depth analysis, we determined that the world of NFL fandom is inhabited by three distinct personas: Team Aficionados, Data Devotees, and Offbeat Enthusiasts

Our specific focus was to identify what contributes to effective content and optimal user experience. This is critical because, as we know, designing for a broad, generic audience leads to a lack of clarity and can depersonalize the future user profiles, which can be detrimental to app owners.

In 1999, Alan Cooper published his groundbreaking book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, for which he is largely credited as the first person ever to describe personas as a method that we can use to describe users. "Personas consolidate archetypical descriptions of user behavior patterns into representative profiles, to humanize design focus, test scenarios, and aid design communication." The personas approach is critical to app owners because it enables a deeper understanding, moving beyond mere gender and age to delve into the psychological aspects of the user cohorts and their interactions with the product. This, in turn, offers invaluable insights for app owners because it allows them to create user-centric experiences that resonate with their diverse users, ultimately driving higher retention and satisfaction.

The NFL Fan Trifecta: Insights By Archetype

We identified three unique groups: Team Aficionados, Data Devotees, and Offbeat Enthusiasts. These personas shape the landscape of content, mobile app design and experiences, driving the ever-evolving nature of NFL engagement. Let’s take a closer look at them:

Team Aficionados, make up almost half of our research sample and serve as the backbone of NFL fandom. Their unwavering devotion to their favorite teams is matched only by their unquenchable thirst for every detail about their beloved franchise. When it comes to mobile app user experience, they are in search of a platform that aligns seamlessly with their purist approach to NFL content.

These dedicated fans avoid the clutter of opinion and commentary, preferring instead specialist sources and unbiased coverage. They frequently turn to platforms such as ESPN and Yahoo Sports for match highlights and written pieces focused on previews and team information, seeking effective content. Importantly, they value a mobile app design and experience that allows them to keep the spotlight squarely on their favorite team.

To provide an exceptional user experience for Team Aficionados, mobile app owners should consider personalized recommendations based on the user's viewing history. Effective content creation and curation will help deepen their connection with their favorite team. These fans highly value platforms that offer comprehensive coverage of their team, including local news networks, so they can stay seamlessly connected to their beloved franchise, all within the convenience of a mobile app. Here’s what Team Aficionados have to say:

“I like to watch sports and athletic abilities. Not so interested in pundits and post-match commentary.”

—Andrew, Gen X, Houston Texans, Casual Fan

“I don't invest much in off-field drama and prefer the Xs and Os over anything. I don't play much fantasy sports or watch documentary footage.”

—Chris, Gen X, Atlanta Falcons, Super Fan

“I am not clicking on that, as it is against the Panthers!”

A fan explains why he is only interested in content related to his team.

—Shawn, Gen X, Carolina Panthers, Casual Fan

Data Devotees are the analytical powerhouse within the NFL fanbase. Their primary mission is to remain astutely informed about every facet of the league, driven by a love of detailed statistics and thorough analysis. These fans find their ultimate satisfaction in fact-based reporting and data-driven insights, and so a seamless and comprehensive app experience is paramount. They highly value features that enable them to effortlessly consume data across multiple devices, ensuring they never miss a beat. However, their journey is not without its frustrations. Poor-quality editorializing and a lack of content diversity often leave them underwhelmed.

Data Devotees enjoy a balanced mix of content formats, including written content, videos, and audio podcasts. Their sources range from local news networks for topical and team-specific updates, major sports networks like ESPN and CBS Sports, to specialist sources like The Bleacher Report, The Athletic, The Score, and Barstool Sports.  

In the space of NFL content and mobile app design, understanding the unique preferences and pain points of Data Devotees is essential. By crafting mobile app designs and experiences that connect these users to high-quality data, diverse content, and impeccable analysis, app owners can align seamlessly with the analytical mindset of this group. Here’s what Data Devotees have to say:

“I am someone who wants to be informed and understand all of the small details about a team, statistics, and events. During the course of football season, I can’t get enough information. I want the full picture and also as much in depth analysis. I am not a surface level fan.”

—William, Gen X, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Fan

“I always watch analytical (post and pre-match) because it gives me a deeper insight about the game.”

—Hossein, Millennial, New England Patriots, Super Fan

“Tons of news and articles to choose from!”

A fan explains why he likes the aggregated content from The Score.

—Chris, Gen X, Chicago Bears, Super Fan

Offbeat Enthusiasts emerge as a unique subset of predominantly casual fans and make up 13% of our study respondents. What distinguishes the Offbeat Enthusiasts is their penchant for the quirky, entertaining, and light-hearted aspects of the NFL. Their content preferences mirror their desire to move beyond the headlines and uncover the fun side of the league. They gravitate towards videos, particularly on platforms like YouTube, to keep up-to-date with league news and gossip. The most effective content types for this cohort often feature unexpected accidents, daring moves, humorous bloopers, and off-field news about the players.

When it comes to app features, Offbeat Enthusiasts value discoverability above all else. They gravitate towards platforms that offer robust search functionalities and trending tabs, enabling them to effortlessly find the latest and most engaging content. The ability to easily share their discoveries on social platforms like X (Twitter) and Reddit further enhances their user experience, allowing them to join the conversation and shape future trends. Here’s what Offbeat Enthusiasts have to say:

“I love to see the draft picks because I love new talent and trying to predict who will be the next big thing. I also love the player and coach interviews because it gives the game a personal feel.”

—Jinna, Millennial, Baltimore Ravens, Casual Fan

“Big hits and accidents and crazy moves are fun to see. More unique content is what I enjoy.”

—Lance, Gen X, Denver Broncos, Casual Fan

“Taylor Swift to Twitter, here for all the drama!”

A fan explains how she finds fun NFL content on YouTube and Twitter/X.

—Ainsley, Gen Z, Chicago Bears, Casual Fan

Implications for Interaction Design

The NFL fandom, like all sports fandom, is deeply rooted in identity, belonging, and passion. As such, any attempt to engage with fans must be done with respect and understanding that not all fans are created equal. Tailored experiences are critical. 

Team Aficionados seek a platform that serves as their ultimate gateway to comprehensive coverage of their beloved team. They hold personalized recommendations and seamless team connectivity in high regard. Additionally, providing exclusive team content and fostering connections with fellow Team Aficionados can further enrich the user experience. 

For Data Devotees, a premium data-rich experience is the holy grail. They crave high-quality data, diverse content, and impeccable analysis. To cater to Data Devotees, app owners should offer access to advanced data visualization tools, raw data feeds, and diverse content formats. To ensure effective content, make sure it’s free from low-quality editorial elements and provides a range of perspectives to enhance the user experience. 

Offbeat Enthusiasts, on the other hand, seek a platform that indulges their love for quirky, entertaining, and light-hearted content. Discoverability and effortless social sharing are their priorities. App owners can cater to this group by providing trending content feeds, robust search options, and seamless social media sharing features. A variety of content formats, including memes, GIFs, and videos, can further elevate the affinity towards the platforms. 

By recognizing and catering to the unique needs of these distinct personas, app owners can craft immersive and user-centric experiences that foster lasting connections with NFL fans.

Stay tuned for more insights from Pulse Labs IQ™ as we take a look at how local news content options are able to engage with NFL fans, and much more in upcoming stories. Regardless of who your app users are, by understanding the different personas that exist, your mobile app design can be focused on creating more engaging and user-centric experiences. Pulse Labs provides end to end user experience research services that can help you understand and serve your unique user personas. Contact us to tap into unparalleled user insights and analytics from real-world people.

*Super Fan refers to fans who watch 15 or more games a season, consume NFL content from 5 or more different apps, and follow more than one team.