DISCLAIMER : THE FOLLOWING "NFL Trolls Digital Fields for Young Fans" CONTAINS STRONG OPINIONS WHICH ARE NOT A REFLECTION OF THE OPINIONS OF FOX NEWS AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS INVESTMENT ADVICE WHEN MAKING PERSONAL INVESTMENT DECISIONS. IT IS FOX NEWS' POLICY THAT CONTRIBUTORS DISCLOSE POSITIONS THEY HOLD IN STOCKS THEY DISCUSS, THOUGH POSITIONS MAY CHANGE. READERS OF "NFL Trolls Digital Fields for Young Fans" MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN INVESTMENT DECISIONS.
In a marketing marriage of fantasy and reality, the National Football League (search) has grabbed about 20 million new young fans by making sure its video games (search) are cooler than those of most other sports.
Over the last decade, professional football has been aggressively marketing to America's youth, who'd been won over by the street credibility of basketball.
Like other savvy marketers, the NFL is developing brand loyalty at an early age - promoting to kids aged six to 11 - because 69 percent of its die-hard fans became fans before they were 12 years old.
It even created the $100 million NFL Youth Football Fund, which supports youth football initiatives.
What's remarkable is the NFL's success in attracting young fans off the field.
Unlike most sports, whose fan base consists of former and current recreational players, the NFL is drawing fans who don't actually play the sport.
Through video games and fantasy sports, the league has fueled essentially grass-roots marketing campaigns targeted specifically at the next generation of football viewers.
That's fortunate for the NFL because, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, participation in actual tackle football decreased 16.7 percent between 1990 and 2000.
And a Michigan State study determined that of the 20 million youth who play organized sports, 70 percent will quit before age 13.
Instead, kids have been turning to video games.
Worldwide game console shipments skyrocketed from fewer than 10 million units in 1992 to nearly 50 million units in 2002. Sales of Madden NFL - the No. 2 video game - have exceeded $1 billion since its inception 14 years ago, earning the NFL more money from licensing the game than from any other type of non-apparel product. Its 2004 release sold a record-setting two million-plus units in just three weeks.
How much have things changed?
Many young fans have no idea John Madden is a Super Bowl-winning coach, but they know him well for the NFL video game he developed.
By all accounts, the NFL has been successful with this young, grass-roots campaign.
According to the league, 10 million kids younger than 11, and another 10 million ages 11 to 17, now watch the NFL each weekend. Unlike traditional fans who are rabid for their home teams, these young fans are simply fans of the NFL.
Hilary Kramer serves as a business news contributor at FOX News Channel. She can be seen on Cashin’ In every Saturday at 11:30 am and Monday at 5:30 am on the FOX News Channel.