SBD/Issue 89/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

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  • AFL Banking On Celebrity Owners In Poker-Themed Ads For ‘06

    By Brad Pinkerton, Staff Writer

    AFL To Kick Off 20th
    Season This Weekend
    If there’s one U.S. city that best exemplifies the fast-paced, high-scoring style of the AFL, it’s Las Vegas. Fittingly, the league kicks off its 20th season this weekend behind the campaign “Drive To ArenaBowl XX,” which will be held in Vegas for the second consecutive season. The league was discussing holding the game in New Orleans before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The league is hoping to build on last year’s championship — the first to be played at a neutral site — that drew a crowd of 10,822, short of a sellout, at the Thomas & Mack Center. AFL Senior VP/Marketing & Fan Development David Haney said the league is looking to build momentum toward ArenaBowl XX with a series of TV spots breaking throughout the season that blend AFL personalities with elements of Las Vegas, specifically Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Haney: “The concept was to integrate Las Vegas, the popularity of poker and Arena football. And that’s quite a stew when you combine all three of those things.” Haney hopes the ads lead to an increased awareness of the ArenaBowl being held in Las Vegas and ultimately a boost in ticket sales.

    AFL Turning To Celebrity Owners
    Like Ditka To Market League
    CELEBRITY POKER: The spots, via Phoenix Communications, showcase some of the household names involved in AFL franchises, like Rush co-Owner Mike Ditka, Soul co-Owner Jon Bon Jovi and Crush co-Owner John Elway. There will be up to five spots — three 30-second spots are already finished and up to two more could be shot later — rolling out over the course of the season, each featuring a Las Vegas setting and poker theme. Phoenix Communications Exec Producer Geoff Belinfante said the agency pitched the idea of having poker as a backdrop to AFL officials, who then “modified” the concept. Belinfante said, “It was a collaboration. They took the idea, then added the mascots and cheerleaders. ... The thought came from us, the execution came from them.” Other celebrities appearing in the ads include Soul President Ron Jaworski and nine-time World Series of Poker Champion Phil Hellmuth to give the spots some poker cred. The first of the ads will debut this weekend on NBC and FSN, as well as in AFL arenas and at Champs Sports and Aaron’s locations nationwide.

    STAR POWER: Unlike the NFL, the AFL doesn’t have the luxury of marketing well-known players to attract fans. Instead, the league is relying on the high-powered celebrity of its owners, as evidenced by the cast in the commercials. Haney said, “They bring their Q-ratings with them, they bring credibility to the presentation and they bring a high degree of entertainment to the advertising message.” Haney added, “When we get to the point that our players are getting endorsement contracts and become more household names, certainly we want to move away from just the celebrity ownership of it and move to the players.” Belinfante acknowledged, “The celebrities are in many cases the owners.” He added the celebrity owners in the spots “instantaneously get them noticed and the message of the AFL follows. It’s terrific they allow themselves to be used.”

    SIN CITY: Holding a league championship game in the gambling capital of the world may raise some eyebrows, but Haney said the ads focus more on poker and the atmosphere of Las Vegas, not gambling. Haney: “Poker is simply the stage. The poker table is kind of the natural stage for it to take place. It’s more of an Arena Football/Las Vegas theme than anything else.” More Haney: “We were very careful to make sure that they were all in fun; there’s never dollars mentioned.” No AFL players or coaches are involved in the spots, so Haney is “not really concerned about connecting Arena Football to gambling.”

    Bon Jovi (l) And Elway Make
    Appearance On NBC's "Today" Show

    ROCK AND ROLL: Consistent with its effort to use its celebrity owners as the faces of the league, the AFL had Elway and Bon Jovi at Rockefeller Plaza with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry on NBC’s “Today” show this morning. Lauer and Curry were given personalized No. 20 jerseys from the Crush and Soul. NBC begins its AFL coverage this Sunday.

    MORE AFL: This continues THE DAILY’s week-long look at the AFL. Tomorrow, look for an examination of the marketing efforts by new franchises in Utah and K.C. Also, visit to see our Q&A with Avengers Owner Casey Wasserman, an AFL Spons-o-Meter and a Turnkey Sports Poll about the league. In addition, see this week’s issue of SportsBusiness Journal for an in-depth on the AFL.

    Print | Tags: NBC, NFL
  • Blackjack Or Bust: AOL, GSN Ink Brand Integration Deal

    GSN has signed a brand integration deal with AOL that will give AOL “heavy exposure on 13 hours of GSN’s card-playing show ‘World Series of Blackjack,’” according to T.L. Stanley of AD AGE’s MADISON & VINE. AOL wanted a promotion that “could span online, on-air and on-site,” and AOL Games VP & GM Ralph Rivera said that blackjack “fit the bill and provided AOL with the opportunity to create a competition and community around it.” Rivera: “We wanted to take a game link and turn it into a destination.” Stanley notes AOL “also wanted original and exclusive content.” Rivera said, “We want to produce compelling programming to create a sustainable audience for our casino games area.” Stanley reports AOL will “carve out large chunks of virtual real estate for GSN and the show” instead of paying an integration fee. AOL is creating a blackjack area on its portal, where consumers can “play blackjack free, get tips from pros and enter a sweepstakes to win a chance to play in the series.” The deal is not attached to a media buy. AOL also recently signed a deal with Harrah’s for the World Series of Poker (MADISON & VINE, 1/25 issue).

  • Carmelo Anthony Faces Obstacles In Marketing Rebound

    Nuggets F Carmelo Anthony is profiled by ESPN THE MAGAZINE’s Tom Farrey, who notes Anthony’s appearance in “Stop Snitching,” an underground DVD released in ’04 that “discourages cooperation with the police, specifically by drug dealers.” Anthony appears in “a few scenes, mostly in the background ... and never advocates drug dealing or use, much less violence.” However, his appearance at all “was damning enough.” His agent “left messages pleading with [Anthony] for help in controlling the damage,” and “potential endorsement deals were yanked.” But during that time his signature Jordan Brand shoe and No. 15 Nuggets jersey “hit No. 1 in sales among active players.” Anthony said, “I probably lost a couple endorsement deals with Fortune 500 companies, but I actually gained fans.” Rodney Bethea, who produced “Stop Snitching,” said, “The DVD gave ‘Melo street cred on a national level. People in other hoods saw it and said, ‘He understands. He’s like us’” (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 1/30 issue). Bethea said that he is not going to use footage of Anthony in “Stop Snitching II,” set to be released this month, because he “doesn’t want to cause [Anthony] any more trouble” (, 1/18).

    DOING GOOD WORK: Farrey reports Anthony recently filmed a guest appearance on Nickelodeon’s “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and has signed a letter of intent to participate in a joint effort with Spider-Man creator Stan Lee. Anthony has also written a children’s book titled “It’s Just the Beginning,” pledged $100,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims, raised money for Denver-area family services, donated meals in Baltimore, his hometown, and bought a van for a wheelchair-bound teenager. He also has financed “Prison Ball,” a documentary he narrates that “profiles some imprisoned ballers and explores the forces that drive dysfunction in urban neighborhoods.” The movie also “questions the wisdom of giving hard time to two-bit [drug] dealers.” He hopes to premiere the film during NBA All-Star weekend. Anthony said, “I’ve touched a lot of people. But all anyone sees is headlines: ‘Melo is a gangster, ‘Melo is a thug. No, ‘Melo is a good person. I got a mission” (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 1/30). Anthony has said he “wants to be a leading voice of urban America.” Univ. of Southern California professor Todd Boyd said that that makes him think of Michael Jordan, “who went a different direction and became a voice of corporate America.” Boyd: “If ‘Melo’s successful on court, if his team is successful, people will embrace him. The street will embrace him. Madison Avenue will embrace him. The suburbs embrace him. It all really depends on how ‘Melo plays” (, 1/18).

    QUALITY CONTROL: Anthony said that for his “B More” Nike ad, which was shot in Baltimore and “follows him as he walks late at night along a stretch of abandoned rowhouses,” Nike “originally proposed a concept that had him buying cars and playing video games.” He rejected the first version, “feeling it was too much bling, too little substance,” and wanted to “keep it real.” Anthony: “I worked for two days on the script. It was hard boiling my life down to 30 seconds” (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 1/30 issue).

    Print | Tags: Denver Nuggets, ESPN, Kroenke Sports Enterprises, Nike, Walt Disney
  • Super Bowl Names & Faces: Steelers Top NFL Merch Sellers

    Super Bowl Helps Steelers Become
    Top Merchandise Seller In NFL

    The Steelers this month became No. 1 in sales of NFL apparel and headwear for this season, according to Gary Mihoces of USA TODAY. NFL licensee Reebok said that five Steelers players rank in the top 50 in jersey sales, “more than any other club”: QB Ben Roethlisberger (No. 2), WR Hines Ward (No. 10), S Troy Polamalu (No. 11), RB Jerome Bettis (No. 33) and RB Willie Parker (No. 40). Raiders WR Randy Moss is No. 1. Reebok VP/Team Properties Eddie White said, “The Steelers have a following right now that is unrivaled” (USA TODAY, 1/26).

    WHO’S GOING TO DISNEY WORLD? In Pittsburgh, Ed Bouchette reports Bettis, Ward, Roethlisberger and Steelers LB Joey Porter will join four Seahawks players in a Disney TV spot “spoofing the traditional post-Super Bowl” ad. The ad will be shown during ABC’s Super Bowl pregame show (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/26).

    BUS SCHEDULE: In a separate piece, Bouchette notes Bettis’ busy schedule leading up to the Super Bowl, which is in his home town of Detroit. Yesterday Bettis filmed the Disney spot, and this morning he was scheduled to appear on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning.” He is also featured in Time’s “Ten Questions” feature in an upcoming issue, and he and his mother, Gladys, will film a Campbell’s Soup ad with Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and his mother next week in Detroit. Also, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wants to “designate the days leading up to the Super Bowl as Jerome Bettis Week.” Additionally, ESPN flew Bettis’ parents from the AFC Championship game in Denver to N.Y. to appear Monday morning on ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/26).

    Super Bowl Could Be Breakout
    Opportunity For Seahawks’ Alexander

    BREAK-OUT GAME: Pickett Advertising Exec Creative Dir Bob Dorfman said of the marketing potential for players in this year’s Super Bowl, “My feeling is that Roethlisberger is the man. He’s already done real well on a regional level ... but this is his chance to really break out nationally, become a household name.” He added, “Certainly [Seahawks RB] Shaun Alexander, if he had a great game. He’s already (the league’s) MVP, and he’s a really good-looking guy. I’m still not sure if he has the personality to go out there and get a lot of deals, but he definitely would be doing ... the talk shows.” Dorfman said that the “only other real breakout possibility” for either team is Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck. Dorfman: “And that’s if he has the game of his life. He might not be quite as good looking as maybe a Tom Brady type, but certainly with that bald head he could get some Rogaine commercials” (Skip Wood, USA TODAY, 1/26).

    See SportsBusiness Daily's up-to-date list of Super Bowl advertisers.

    Print | Tags: ABC, ESPN, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Reebok, Seattle Seahawks, Vulcan Ventures, Walt Disney
  • Redskins Merchandise Sales Up Before Late-Season Playoff Run

    Portis Jersey Sales Up
    124% During Season
    Sales of Redskins merchandise at “outlets not owned by the [team] shot up significantly this season,” according to Josh Drobnyk of the WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL. The team declined to discuss figures at their own retail operations. But SportScan Info indicated that sales at other outlets “jumped 15[%] percent in 2005 and were up 60[%] in the first two weeks of this year.” Reebok VP/Team Properties Eddie White said that because the Redskins “got off to a 5-6 start, any sales boost from the playoff run won’t show up until the company gets its sales report next month.” Sales of the team’s on-field apparel “lagged in the early part of the season,” down 10% from ’04. The best-selling item through December 20 was RB Clinton Portis’ No. 26 jersey, for which sales rose 124% this season. Drobnyk adds that sales of Redskins merchandise at Modell’s Sporting Goods’ 13 DC-area locations “jumped 25[%] in November and December and had doubled through the first two weeks of this year” (WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/20 issue).

    Print | Tags: Reebok, Washington Redskins
  • Marketplace Round-Up

    Kevin Smith, a spokesperson for General Motors’ Cadillac division, and Ford spokesperson Marcey Evans said that their companies “haven’t pared back any of their Super Bowl activities in light of” their recent losses and layoffs. Evans: “We just think that it’s extremely important to continue to show our support for the city of Detroit and help the city show the best it has to offer to the world.” Smith: “We don’t see our current financial situation as a reason to not utilize this world stage that we paid to play on” (AP, 1/26).

    PONY UP: U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman has chosen Polo to outfit the team this fall (GOLFWEEK, 1/28 issue).

    Gordon Looking To Increase
    Endorsement Portfolio
    BIG BEN: In Westchester, Mike Dougherty wrote Bulls G Ben Gordon has nearly $1M in endorsement income and is “expanding his portfolio this season despite a marketplace that’s less inclined to use sports figures to increase brand awareness.” Gordon recently appeared with Serena Williams and Falcons QB Michael Vick in national Nike spots, is “the centerpiece of a campaign” for Comcast’s VOD service and has done promotional work for Walgreens and Nissan. Gordon also has a deal with McDonald’s (Westchester JOURNAL NEWS, 1/25).

    SON RISE: In Charlotte, David Poole reports Matt Martin, the 14-year-old son of NASCAR driver Mark Martin, will be sponsored by Coca-Cola for his ’06 entries in the American Speed Association late model Southern series and the FASCAR pro truck and sportsman series (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/26).

    Print | Tags: Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bulls, Coca-Cola, General Motors, NASCAR, Nike, Nissan
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