By Darren Rovell and Paul Toscano
Last year's Super Bowl matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers was memorable for many reasons, but one key aspect missing from it was a squad of professional cheerleaders. This year, a team with cheerleaders is guaranteed to make the Super Bowl, after Pittsburgh, the only AFC playoff team this year without cheerleaders, was eliminated.
In the off-season, one of the best ways for teams to generate buzz and get significant page views on their websites is to have a strong cheerleader page. So we went through all 32 teams, including the ones still in the playoffs, and ranked the top cheerleading squads, taking in consideration everything from presentation of the cheerleaders online, to fan interaction, community outreach and overall success of the cheerleading teams.
|Slideshow: The NFL's 10 Best Cheerleading Squads 2012|
Although there is certainly a measure of subjectivity that goes into rankings of this nature, the cheerleader websites and the team's cheerleader-related marketing campaigns were the major factors in determining this list.
In 2011, 26 teams had cheerleaders for games and have found ways, especially online, to generate revenue from their top cheer teams. As valuations go, NFL teams are hesitant to put a dollar figure on their cheerleading squads, but the use of cheerleaders as a vehicle for marketing is certainly in the public eye.
Here is our ranking of the top 10 teams that make the most of their cheerleading squads, both on and off the field.
The headlines in Denver this year may have focused on Tim Tebow, but the Broncos also clearly know how to cash in on its cheer team. The squad's sponsors include a spa, a tanning resort, a yoga studio, a cosmetic dentist and a uniform company. It was also the only team to sell tickets to a cheerleader talent show, which this year included a meet-and-greet afterward.
In addition to their work on game days, the cheerleaders commit nearly 1,000 hours per year to charities and other events in the Denver area, according to the Broncos. It also has a robust junior cheerleaders program for girls between the ages of six and 14, covering seven months of instruction by team cheerleaders. The program is "designed specifically to promote self-esteem, pride, commitment and discipline," and offers young girls the chance to perform with the professional squad during a regular season game, both during pre-game warm-ups and at halftime.
The Houston Texans were one of the top teams in the league this year, and the same can be said for its cheerleaders. On the cheer team’s website is a convenient scrollable list of its cheerleaders, allowing fans to familiarize themselves with members of the squad. We awarded extra points for the relatively long videos on the team's site -- there's a six-minute piece on the cheerleaders getting ready for a game -- as well as being the only NFL cheerleading squad to feature two sets of twins.
The cheer team also held the fifth annual "Bulls and Birdies" charity golf tournament in late 2011 to raise money for the Houston Texans Foundation. At the event, a cheerleader photo was displayed near the tee for each hole at the course, and cheerleaders were on hand to sign autographs and take photos with fans. According to the Texans, the tournament sold out this year, even with a $3,500 entry fee.
While the Miami Dolphins haven't given football fans much to look at on the gridiron in recent years, the same can't be said for the team's cheerleaders.
The Dolphins are the only NFL team to have links to the cheerleaders' Twitter and Facebook pages right on the front of its website. There are plenty of photos that can be enlarged, as well as high-quality video.
The Dolphins cheerleaders take their auditions very seriously, holding prep classes twice per week from February to April, leading up to official auditions on April 20.
The squad has also sent its members on outreach programs, including visits to military bases, charity events, and in support of NFL Mexico in Mexico City.
The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders are not only the most prestigious squad in the NFL, they're also the most heavily marketed. On the team’s website are endless photos and updated cheerleader blogs, not to mention more than 130,000 people have "liked" the squad on Facebook. Additional fan interaction takes place through youth programs and public appearances, including store openings and trade shows targeted at football’s key demographic: Men.
The Dallas Cowboy website is truly comprehensive, including a section called "our secrets", which endorses the squad's favorite local businesses, listing everything from the team’s official dentist and where the women have their hair and makeup done, to their bootcamp and yoga exercises. If there's a negative for this cheer team, it's that the Cowboys don't let the cheerleaders have their own individual social media accounts ... and that's a shame.
Chances are that you were shocked to find a cold weather team at the top of this list. In reality, in order to have the best cheerleading page what you really need is a great mind behind it. What makes this team so good? Let's start with its website, which contains 16 years of photos and something called "Cheer 365" where fans can vote on which picture they find most attractive.
The team is also successful in marketing its top squad, sending cheerleaders to local charity events, such as the Doug Flutie Bowl, Fitness for a Cure and the Lowell General Hospital, among other events this spring. Not only that, but the cheerleaders recently geared up to shoot their 2012 swimsuit calendar in Aruba, which the team is marketing through "Postcards from Paradise" videos produced from the perspective of the cheerleaders.
The squad also has a "Junior Patriots Cheerleaders" program that hosts clinics for aspiring cheerleaders at Gillette Stadium a game-day performance, and the opportunity to make community appearances with Patriots cheerleaders throughout the year.
Click here for CNBC's complete slideshow of the Top 10 NFL Cheerleading Squads 2012.
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