HomeNFLMcKinney’s Marissa Solis writes new playbook for diversifying NFL’s global fan base

McKinney’s Marissa Solis writes new playbook for diversifying NFL’s global fan base

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Marissa Solis traveled more than 5,000 miles from New York to Ghana to oversee the making of a two-minute commercial that will air right after Usher’s halftime performance at Super Bowl LVIII.

The 51-year-old Dallasite and senior vice president of global brand and consumer marketing for the National Football League promises it won’t be like any ad you’ve seen.

You might have caught a 15-second snippet of “Born to Play” during last month’s AFC championship game. Think three ready-for-the-field NFL superstars running, jumping and turning over beat-up cars in reckless abandon amid a teeming market in the West African country’s capital.

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The full 120-second version will air right after the halftime show on CBS and Univision when the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers square off in Las Vegas on Sunday.

“The spot will be upbeat, inspiring and groundbreaking,” Solis said. “All the action and fun you expect from the NFL with a message about the league’s critical priorities. It will speak to the power of the NFL as a global platform.”

That’s a big priority for her and the NFL, which, among its other duties, is a media company that licenses the league’s lucrative intellectual property.

A few years ago, the NFL realized it had a problem. Millions of potential fans were being left on the sidelines.

Even though football is by far this country’s most popular professional sport, its U.S. fan base was predominately white, male, over 35 and not part of America’s youthful and diverse demographics – an increasingly more attractive segment to sponsors and advertisers.

Abroad? Let’s face it, gridiron football isn’t real football to the rest of the world. There’s a lot of yardage to be made up when it comes to making it a true global brand more on par with FIFA and its soccer World Cup.

And most people had no idea that the 32 NFL teams, through a foundation, deploy about a half-billion dollars a year to make the world a better place.

So two years ago, the NFL hired Solis, previously senior vice president of Frito-Lay North America in Plano, to help change all that.

While at Frito Lay, Solis ran many of the giant snack company’s sports promotions and sponsorships. Growing up in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, she’s had a lifelong fanship with the Dallas Cowboys. So she wasn’t starting at the back of the end zone.

“A major part of the work that I do is growing the international fanbase,” Solis said. “We have fans all over Latin America. We have fans in Europe. We have fans in Africa. We have fans in Asia. But we’re not global like FIFA. Everyone around the world watches the World Cup.

“We’re not there yet. That’s a big goal and ambition of ours,” she said.

Super opportunity

Where better to make an impact statement than during a coveted timeslot when many viewers – especially women – tune in primarily for the commercials and halftime, Solis said.

“Super Bowl is the largest telecast by far in the U.S., commanding over 115 million viewers last year,” she said. “More than any sport, entertainment, music event – even the World Cup final – in the U.S. This is our biggest platform in the world to spread our message.”

Solis oversees a staff of about 50 in Los Angeles and New York who create and produce all of the NFL’s consumer marketing here and abroad, such as TV commercials, PSAs, in-stadium marketing and online engagement.

She has an office in Manhattan and works remotely from her home in McKinney.

“I split my time 50/50 between New York and Dallas,” Solis said. “It’s the best of both worlds. I get the energy and vibrancy of the city, and then I can go home and relax in my swimming pool in the suburbs of Dallas.”

Unless she’s racking up thousands of frequent flier miles.

The goal is to give the NFL a more approachable, human and inclusive image that makes the sport more appealing to people who aren’t all that interested in stats.

And it’s working, Solis said. “We’re seeing measurable growth in every key audience: women, Gen Z, Latinos, African American and Asian.”

They’ve just begun tracking results for engaging LBGQT communities, but she feels progress is being made.

So does her boss, Tim Ellis, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, who said he did everything in his capacity to get Solis on board.

“She understands the power of great marketing due to her deep experience with blue chip brands, both nationally and internationally,” Ellis said. “She also has a strong business acumen, as well as uncanny creative instincts. Finally, she leads with courage and is an expansive leader due to her multicultural outlook, and connection to modern culture.

“Quite simply, she is a force, and we’re lucky to have her.”

Marissa Solis with her graphics and design team in the stands at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the site of Sunday’s Super Bowl.(L.E. Baskow / Special Contributor)

‘Go fetch coffee’

Broadening the NFL consumer base was particularly enticing to Solis, who immigrated to Harlingen, Texas, with her family from Mexico City when she was 10 and barely spoke English.

She did well in school and got a full ride to Georgetown University, thinking she’d be a diplomat.

Instead, she went to work for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble in San Juan, Puerto Rico, marketing its Ariel brand of laundry and paper products in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1995.

She had a bit of a rough start.

At her first creative meeting with clients in the Dominican Republic, the head of the agency told the then 23-year-old to fetch coffee while the guys discussed plans for P&G’s Downy fabric softener.

She told him that she was in charge of the campaign and wasn’t about to leave the room.

“The subsequent meetings were very awkward, but eventually they accepted my leadership of the campaign, and we learned to work together.”

Solis took over P&G’s campaigns for Pampers, Tide, Always, Bounty, and Charmin in Latin America with increasingly less machismo resistance.

Marissa Solis with her husband Juan and daughter Gabriela during a family trip to Machu...
Marissa Solis with her husband Juan and daughter Gabriela during a family trip to Machu Picchu, Peru.(Courtesy Marissa Solis)

Three years later, she married her high school sweetheart, Juan Solis, who runs IT for a division of Emerson. They have an 18-year-old daughter, Gabriela, who is a freshman at SMU.

Leap of faith

Solis, who was an 18-year veteran at PepsiCo, credits Frito-Lay CEO Steven Williams for steering her early career as a colleague in New York and then as his direct report in Plano during her last four years at the company. Williams said Solis was worth his effort.

“It’s truly exhilarating to witness the remarkable strides Marissa has made since joining the NFL,” Williams said. “Her unwavering passion, relentless dedication and boundless creativity are defining qualities that elevate her unique journey. Marissa not only exemplifies exceptional professionalism, but also embodies the essence of a truly remarkable individual.”

Solis agonized about leaving what she felt was a perfect job as the lead marketer for the giant snack food maker’s iconic brands. She loved the corporate culture, deeply respected Williams and could munch Cheetos and Doritos to her stomach’s content.

The NFL would be a detour from her long-held goal of becoming CEO of a public company.

Her daughter was a junior at McKinney North High School at the time and a key soccer player on a top Elite Clubs National League team. Solis worried that she’d miss out on too much.

Kristi Estes, her close friend and taekwondo mate for the past decade, saw the struggle.

“At one point, she broke down in tears in my car as we talked it through,” said Estes, an executive director at Morgan Stanley. “She said, ‘I’m going to tell them no.’ And in my heart, I was like, ‘You’ve got to take this.’

“I was happy that they kept fighting for her because she adds so much to whatever she does,” said Estes, who like Solis, is a third-degree black belt.

Ultimately, the NFL was too iconic to pass up, Solis said.

“The platform that the NFL has, the opportunity to tell great stories, the opportunity to bring in new fans who are different from the fanbase that they have, really fit my life mission and values.”

Esperanza Teasdale, who leads the Hispanic business unit for PepsiCo Beverages North America in New York, said her friend and former colleague joined the NFL because she saw the opportunity and the need and knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“She knew she could be transformative,” Teasdale said.

But it was daughter Gaby’s encouragement that sealed the deal.

“It was a really, really tough decision and a bit of a leap of faith,” Solis said. “I don’t regret it because it opened a whole different world for me.

“The league has such a massive, transformative platform that can lift up communities and give a voice to those who don’t have one,” she said. “That’s probably been the best thing for me in terms of this job. That’s the piece that really gets me excited.”

Revealing players’ faces

One of the first offensive plays that Solis called was “Helmets Off,” which showcases the league’s top players – superstars like Patrick Mahomes and young up-and-comers like Christian Gonzalez, the New England Patriots first-round draft pick last year – as they are when they’re not on the field.

“If you watch our countless ads for any of our big league events or our community efforts, you will see players with their helmets off either having fun or talking seriously about their community efforts,” Solis said. “I’ve gotten to meet and feature some really cool rookies and newer players who don’t typically get seen by fans. It’s been awesome.”

As a former executive with Frito-Lay North America, Marissa Solis worked with rapper Bad...
As a former executive with Frito-Lay North America, Marissa Solis worked with rapper Bad Bunny on a commercial in 2019.(Courtesy Marissa Solis)

While at Frito Lay, Solis forged a Cheetos alliance with Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, more commonly known as Bad Bunny, before the Puerto Rican rapper and songwriter became a global sensation.

She now works with big-time online and social media celebrities, including the enormously popular American YouTuber, MrBeast, who has 236 million subscribers and appeared in last year’s NFL Super Bowl ad.

But Solis makes it clear this is no one-woman show but rather a coordinated strategy across the NFL. “Rarely is a great idea the result of just one person,” she said. “We work together in tandem on everything.”

For example, Ian Trombetta, the head guy for the NFL’s social, influencer and content marketing, lined up MrBeast, along with model Haley Kalil, comedian Adam Waheed and YouTuber Ryan Trahan (each with millions of followers) to act as roving reporters with the cameras rolling to produce non-stop content during Super Bowl week.

“Ian manages our influencers,” Solis said. “I shape the messaging.”

One message she didn’t shape is the biggest social media story of the season: Taylor Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce.

She didn’t talk about it then, and won’t now.

Highlighting good deeds

In a 15-second teaser for this year’s two-minute Super Bowl commercial, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley leaps effortlessly over a checkers table; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson pulls in an insane one-handed pass, and New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan turns over a car à la The Incredible Hulk.

It ends with Jefferson putting on a different kind of groove as he and a local boy do a spirited street version of the Azonto, a Ghanaian dance.

Two 30-second commercials will highlight the NFL’s efforts to help important youth issues, Solis said. “One will be about anti-bullying, and the other on mental well being.”

Marissa Solis (left) with Diana Flores, captain and quarterback of the Mexico women's...
Marissa Solis (left) with Diana Flores, captain and quarterback of the Mexico women’s national flag football team, at last year’s Super Bowl in Phoenix. (Courtesy Marissa Solis)

Last year, Solis featured flag football phenom Diana Flores, quarterback and captain of the Mexico women’s national team, in two minutes of action-packed maneuvers.

There’s a fun, one-word cameo by legendary tennis star Billie Jean King.

“It was very powerful,” Solis said. “It was the first time ever that the NFL had a Super Bowl spot dedicated to women and also a Spanish language spot.”

That commercial won an Emmy in May and a 2023 Clio Sports Award for branded content and diversity in storytelling.

Solis and her marketing team are currently working with USA Football in preparation for flag football’s debut at the Olympic Games four years from now in Los Angeles. The league uses its national flag football youth program to draw boys and girls into organized sports because anyone of any age, gender, body shape or skill set can participate.

Solis didn’t play any sport until she was about to hit 40. She took up taekwondo to spend more time with Gaby, who was in elementary school and thought it would be fun.

“But then Gaby quit. I ended up sticking with it,” Solis said. “I enjoy everything about it – mental strength, physical strength, its discipline.”

Solis routinely borrows fancy heels from girlfriend Estes for big events, including several trips to the White House and major entertainment and media awards.

“I spend my money on wine, food and travel – definitely not spiky shoes,” Solis said.

Drawing in soccer fans

As part of its international push, the NFL has put on four games in London and two in Germany.

Solis attended the London square-off in October between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, looking for ways to connect with international consumers.

“It was so amazing to watch American football and how the British consume it,” she said. “When you go to a game in London, there’s a parade of jerseys – not just the two teams playing.

Marissa Solis took her best shot at the vertical jump during the NFL's pre-draft combine in...
Marissa Solis took her best shot at the vertical jump during the NFL’s pre-draft combine in Indianapolis in 2022.(Courtesy Marissa Solis)

“They get so excited because at the tailgate we have things like burgers and fries. At the Titans game, they had Nashville fried chicken,” she said. “At the Germany games, the Germans will sing Country Roads at the top of their lungs.

“It’s the world embracing American culture. And it’s really great.”

Super Bowl and beyond

On Tuesday, Plano-based Toyota, a major corporate sponsor of the NFL, hosted a panel where Solis, NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz and Diana Flores discussed the emerging role of Latinos in football.

“It’s one of many events that we do during Super Bowl week to raise awareness of the power in growing our fan base,” Solis said.

She doesn’t care who wins the game. “I’m just rooting for a very close match. We want it to be a great experience for everyone.”

NFL marketing executive Marissa Solis (right) comments during a “Latino Legends” panel...
NFL marketing executive Marissa Solis (right) comments during a “Latino Legends” panel Tuesday as part of the Super Bowl week activities. Joining her on the panel were (left to right) Tik Tok Analyst CABRA Endzone, NFL flag football phenom Diana Flores and NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.(L.E. Baskow / Special Contributor)

After the game becomes a memory, she’ll be off to the NFL’s Scouting Combine, where teams get to watch NFL hopefuls show their skills on the field. Then it’s about a month before the NFL Draft in late April.

“We get Monday off, because we have to travel back. But then we’ll be right back in it,” said Solis, who will be working remotely from McKinney. “I haven’t been there in a month, because I’ve been in Africa, Orlando for the Pro Bowl and now Vegas. I do miss it.”

For now, she’s soaking in the atmosphere.

“It’s the place to be,” said Solis, a veteran Super Bowlian from her PepsiCo and Frito-Lay days and now with the NFL. “Everybody in the industry is here. Vegas is always nuts as it is. This week is going to be crazy.”

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