SBD/September 9, 2010/NFL Season PreviewPrint All
When the Rams signed No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford to a six-year, $78M deal at the end of July, they brought into the fold arguably the biggest piece of the puzzle for the rebuilding franchise. But despite the excitement around the QB's arrival, you won’t see him in any major marketing efforts anytime soon. Both the Rams and his representatives at CAA are seeking to manage expectations while letting him develop on the field. “He really is the de facto face of the franchise, there's just no doubt about it,” said Rams Exec VP/Sales & Marketing & CMO Bob Reif. “But the key in all this is he asked us to treat him as a rookie, just like every other rookie.” With many new faces this season, the franchise also has de-emphasized individual players in its marketing efforts. But the Rams have not completely ignored their star rookie. “His face is on schedule cards and his face is on the side of our building with graphics that we put up, but along with our other key players -- Steven Jackson, James Laurinaitis, the people that are the future of this team,” Reif said. The Rams also have put Bradford in front of fans and sponsors at meet-and-greets, starting with a crowd of more than 300 stakeholders, sponsors and suiteholders in St. Louis the day after he was drafted. “Because of Sam,” Reif said, “in the month of June this year we did 33 events in the city of St. Louis that engaged the public. In 2009, we did three events. There is so much more opportunity to engage the public and such a high interest in the Rams.”
BOX-OFFICE HIT: The excitement around Bradford’s arrival has translated into increased ticket sales for the Rams, as the team’s new season-ticket sales were up 300% over the year-ago period as of Aug. 26. Renewals also were “a little bit ahead” of the same period last year and trending “slightly ahead” of the league average, according to Reif. In addition, Bradford has helped the Rams extend their reach into Oklahoma, where Sooners fans are eager to continue tracking the progress of the Heisman Trophy winner. Reif noted there was “an Oklahoma presence” for every open practice at training camp, and more than 800 fans drove the more than 500 miles from Oklahoma City to the Edward Jones Dome for the Rams’ Aug. 14 preseason opener against the Vikings. MainGate Inc. President & CEO Dave Moroknek, whose company handles the Rams’ online merchandise sales, said 35% of orders for Bradford-related merchandise are coming from Oklahoma. Rams preseason games aired in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, allowing the team to run ticket sales and marketing spots in those markets. But Reif said NFL regulations prohibit the team from marketing outside their home DMA during the regular season, restricting the team’s efforts to target Bradford’s college fans to the one-month preseason slate.
BRINGING HIM ALONG SLOWLY: Bradford’s representatives at CAA have been careful not to overburden the young QB with marketing commitments before he even plays a down, according to Howard Skall, who leads Bradford’s marketing team at the agency. “What we wanted to do going in was minimize his time with regard to marketing; try to give him some opportunity to make some good revenues in some areas where he could do that; and also try to build some relationships with some real blue chip companies so they could see what he's all about,” Skall said. Bradford recently signed an exclusive multiyear shoe and apparel deal with Nike, and he also has an exclusive memorabilia deal with Peach State Sports. He signed promotional deals with Sprint and Gatorade that began around the Super Bowl in February and ran through early August, and he teamed with Visa for a promotional opportunity around the NFL Rookie Symposium at the end of June. Bradford also signed autograph deals with Topps, Upper Deck, Panini, Press Pass and Sage. “I'm pretty confident he has made more money on trading card signings this year than any other rookie in NFL history, just looking at the numbers and the price point he was at,” said Skall, who has knowledge of such figures, having previously served as VP/Player Marketing for Players Inc. But Skall said that Bradford has declined some opportunities that weren’t the right fit. “We've turned down some stuff in the QSR category and in the clothing category,” he said. “We've really tried to look at brands like Gatorade and Nike that he uses and likes, and that can help, in the case of Gatorade, down the road lead to a potential larger endorsement deal because they now know him.”
The NFL season kicks off tonight with the Super Bowl champion Saints hosting the Vikings on NBC, and THE DAILY today offers part one of our two-part NFL preview issue. The excitement of a new season comes as a possibly ominous cloud hangs over the league -- this could be the last year before the NFL's 23-year stretch of labor peace is broken. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remains confident a new CBA will be reached with the NFLPA, but he admits once the current deal expires in March, things will become more difficult. Former NFL execs Andrew Brandt and Lou Imbriano discuss the labor situation and how teams need to focus on the in-stadium experience, while a panel of current team execs talk about the state of business for their franchises. Also in today's issue is the Jaguars' quest to improve ticket sales and keep the team in Jacksonville; the Jets claiming their appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" helped them sell PSLs; several NFL sponsors and licensees ramping up activation; and Yahoo Sports' annual ranking of the best and worst NFL owners.
The prospect of a work stoppage in '11 is "looming over the NFL" as the '10 season kicks off tonight, "casting a dark shadow and making unpleasant whirring noises," according to George Vecsey of the N.Y. TIMES. The league is "lurching toward economic reality, with its labor contract ending after this season." The most recent valuations from Forbes shows that team values dropped 2% in the past year, a report the NFL is "hardly disagreeing with." NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, "We are facing different economic realities than we have in prior years. For the most part, these new realities reflect a significant increase in costs, including the cost of building, maintaining and operating stadiums." Vecsey noted the league also is "heading toward a season of considerable gamesmanship." The owners recently "agreed that an 18-game schedule would be better than the current 16-game schedule, after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that fans ... resented the scam of paying full prices for four exhibitions." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in response said that he is "not prepared to give up anything, but that two games could be negotiated for salaries, health care and fewer off-season minicamps." Dialogue between Smith and Goodell "will be with us all season" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/5). Smith earlier this week said, "I still feel that a lockout is coming in March" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/8).
LOOK WHO'S TALKING: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez noted Goodell "believes negotiations between the two sides will intensify as the CBA expiration deadline approaches." But unless a "deal can be reached, the running clock on the NFLPA’s web site says a lockout will occur on March 1, 2011" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/6). Goodell said, "Talks are going on. We have a lot of work to get done. There is still sufficient time to do that, but there’s really a window here. This deal is going to be easier to make between now and March. Once we get to March it just becomes more complicated and more difficult. We really need to work hard in the next several months to get something that works." The commissioner also addressed why reaching a deal for a new CBA becomes more difficult in March, noting, "When you have a loss of revenues, there’s less money for us to negotiate over. That’s always a harder situation for anyone to negotiate in. We think that opportunity is now between here and the March period." ESPN's Mike Golic said, "It would be an unbelievable win if they had this thing done by March. I don't expect that to happen. I expect it to go right down to the start of maybe training camp" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/8).
TWO KINDS OF LOCKOUT: ESPN’s Chris Mortensen noted that a team owner told him this spring that there will be “two lockouts we're looking at.” Mortensen: “The first one's probably going to happen, which is in March. That's the new league year. It's the second one, he said, we have to avoid, that being the start of the season. You look at contingency plans that are being put in place. They're even studying the 1982 season, when they only had nine games because of a strike. …When you start talking about looking at contingencies like the league is means this thing's got serious problems." ESPN's Adam Schefter said the two sides have to "try to get it done by March.” Schefter: “They're trying to sell season ticket renewals, they're trying to sell suites, they're trying to sell sponsorships. If the time comes in the spring where that passes and they don't sell a lot of this, then the NFL owners have taken a financial hit at that time and they're going to be more inclined to press for what they want in return. It's going to increase the chances of the second lockout that nobody wants to see." Mortensen: "There will be games played next year, I just don't know whether it's going to be a full season" ("SportsCenter Special," ESPN, 9/7). Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist Lowell Cohn said, “I'd say it's entirely possible that we would lose games next season. It's happened before and I think it could happen again” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/8).
PLAYERS NOT OPTIMISTIC: NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said, "Fans have reason to be worried. I'm not going to sit here and tell the fans everything is going to be good when I tell my players to prepare for a lockout. The sad thing about it is the fans are the ones who are going to suffer" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/5). Vikings G and player rep Steve Hutchinson said, "I don't think there's any doubt there's going to be a work stoppage. How long? Who knows. It depends on what the owners' motive is. I know the players are united, so we're fully expecting there to be a lockout. We're making plans so that players are prepared for a year without football" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/7).
ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END? In Toronto, Dave Feschuk writes under the header, "NFL Glory Days May Soon Be Over." Even if the league and NFLPA reach a new CBA and a "work stoppage is averted, there's reason to believe that the coming months will mark the end of a golden era of U.S.-based pro football." The NFL is "hurtling toward some perilous terrain" (TORONTO STAR, 9/9). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt writes the "subtext of the coming NFL season is anything but heart-warming." If the Saints winning last season's Super Bowl was "almost enough to make you forget the bottom line, the next 12 months -- and perhaps more -- are going to make it nearly impossible to suspend disbelief" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/9). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote perhaps no situation will define Goodell's "job performance and legacy more than how he navigates the CBA talks with the NFL Players Association to avoid the league’s first work stoppage since 1987." Goodell has to "fix a problem that has been a long time in the making, but is a deeply sore subject between the sides." At the same time, he has to "assuage paying customers who find the whole issue deeply annoying." Giants Chair & Exec VP Steve Tisch: "The fans don’t want to hear about our problems, they just want to see our games" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/8).
LOOKING AT BOTH SIDES: In Boston, Albert Breer wrote the NFL has "proven to be relatively recession-proof through the economic downturn," which is why, "in the eyes of the great majority of the general public, there are no 'good guys' in this fight." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "If I didn’t own a team, I’d be saying the same things. The public doesn’t want to see people who are doing OK on both sides quibbling over things. If I was a fan, that’s how I would feel." He added, "I know the fan base is hurting financially, and that’s why we have to continue to give them real value for their money. The trick of success is adding value to your product, and we’re trying to continuously do that." More Kraft: "I've never seen ownership as united as it is right now, and it's come out even in the way things are written on certain issues. The commissioner, too, is seeing the same things we see as being important. Some of that dissidence you've seen in the past has left the room." He said, "We know we have something special. We're not trying to take advantage of them, or get an edge. We're trying to make it right so we can continue to grow revenue. If one side has an edge, this isn't going to work" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/5).
TWO MORE FOR THE SHOW: In St. Paul, Brian Murphy wrote the proposal to expand the NFL regular season from 16 to 18 games is the "pivotal issue confronting" owners and the NFLPA in labor talks because it "shapes the business model that will drive negotiations." The league and union have "staked positions with ample room for compromise, but the road to consensus is riddled with potholes." Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy: "We feel it's a way to bridge the gap with the players. The biggest issue is the labor situation, and if this can help us bridge the gap and reach an agreement that's good for everybody, it will be a real positive for our fans." Hutchinson said, "I don't think we're opposed to it if it's gone about the right way for the players by increasing everything by one-eighth." He added, "If they want to pay and have an 18-game season, that's fine. You just can't add two games to it, though." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis cautions the NFLPA "against taking a stand" in opposition of schedule expansion. Ganis: "With all due respect to concerns about injuries and stress, this is the wrong place to put down their Maginot Line because more games benefits everyone. More players would have jobs, the union gets bigger and there's more revenue" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/5). Jets DE Jason Taylor said, "You take away two junk games and add two real ones, it would take a physical toll." Jets FB and player rep Tony Richardson added, "That's putting two years on a career like mine. I might not be standing here right now. As players, we have a lot of research and data to gather first" (SI, 9/6 issue).
TO EXPAND OR NOT TO EXPAND: In Orlando, George Diaz wrote an 18-game regular season is a "money grab, a way of squeezing more money out of TV and cable contracts and advertisers." Players "detest the thought of expanding the season because they want to be able to walk upright for the rest of their lives after they retire" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/6). In Pittsburgh, Gene Collier writes, "An 18-game schedule as opposed to a 16-game schedule raises an uncomfortable question: Why? Are not enough people being concussed as it is?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/9). FSN's Petros Papadakis: “We have all of these rules in the NFL to protect guys. … All of a sudden they want to put two more games on the schedule. That's not protecting players. Certainly it's not and the risk of injury will go up exponentially" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 9/8). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "The league is very disingenuous to at one time be looking seriously at concussions ... and then saying, 'Let's just throw in two more games.'" L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "I have felt no groundswell of fan support for 18 games. The fans didn't ask for this. The fans wanted fewer exhibition games, absolutely. But nobody's asking for more games" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/8). However, CBS' Phil Simms said, "It's coming. They really don't care what your opinion is, so it's over. ... It's not a democracy" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 9/8).
TAKES PRESEASON GAMES TO NON-NFL CITIES: In Dallas, Rick Gosselin wrote it is "criminal" that NFL teams "charge the same ticket price for that final exhibition game" as they do for regular-season contests. Gosselin: "If I were commissioner, I would incorporate a schedule that includes 18 regular-season games and two exhibition games, one at 'home,' one on the 'road.'" But those exhibition games "would not be part of the season-ticket package." They would be played in non-NFL cities, giving fans who "normally don't see NFL football a chance to see it." Teams also should "charge ticket prices in accordance with a night of football that does not matter -- which exhibition games are." Gosselin: "It's time the players and owners showed that the NFL truly is about the fan. It's time the owners and players start making some sacrifices themselves" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/7).
The Saints and Vikings take the field tonight in New Orleans to kick off the '10 NFL season, a year cluttered with more off-field storylines than any other in recent memory. To give readers a unique perspective on the state of the NFL, Assistant Managing Editor Brian Helfrich caught up with two former team execs, Andrew Brandt and Lou Imbriano. Brandt spent nine seasons in the Packers' front office and now serves as President for National Football Post, writing and reporting on the business of football. Likewise, Imbriano spent several years with the Kraft Sports Group, including nine as CMO of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium, before leaving the organization to become President & CEO of TrinityOne Worldwide. The following is part one of a two-part roundtable discussion. The second part, focusing on the NFL's labor issues, will appear tomorrow in THE DAILY.
Q: A USA Today cover story earlier this month addressed one of the NFL’s most pressing problems: fans choosing to stay home. How big of an issue has this become for the league?
Imbriano: Driving fans to stadiums is ultra-important, because when it comes to live sports, owners sell tickets and that’s how they generate revenue. They sell merchandise, they sell concessions, and all that is really important. So making the game entertaining, and making sure that fans have a great experience, should be a priority. I don’t believe there’s a major issue to it other than the economy, which is hurting every entertainment property. If you have to choose between feeding your family and heating your house, and going to a football game, that’s going to be an easy decision. You can get information real time, so there’s no real need to go to the game, especially if your pocketbook is being tapped into.
Brandt: It’s a good thing that the NFL, which may be the most popular sports brand in the country, certainly is not taking its popularity for granted. So many sports are struggling at the gate and struggling to win out over some of the entertainment options people have. Some people think the NFL doesn’t have to worry about that. Of course they do. And they’re taking steps to make sure that’s never a problem. As Lou said, the NFL is trying to make it fan-friendly and family-friendly, interesting beyond even what happens on the field. Everything that goes into the planning is to make sure that it’s an entertainment event. It is in some ways easier to get to the top than it is to stay there.
Imbriano: Andrew hit on a great point. Most sporting events happen multiple times a week; baseball is basically every day. The thing that the NFL has going for it that separates it from the rest of the pack is that it’s once a week. Your team plays once a week, and it really has become more of an event than a game. That’s why teams like the Patriots build other entertainment opportunities, to become a destination beyond just the football game itself.
Q: Without touching on labor quite yet, what is the biggest issue facing Roger Goodell right now?
Brandt: Labor is the most important. But beyond that, and it’s kind of related, you want to continue to believe that in this economic downturn, you can overcome any issues in sponsorship sales, suite sales, declining appetite for public financing of stadiums. There’s nothing that’s recession-proof, including the NFL. It’s continuing to work hard to make sure that the product is never complacent. As much as we all think that football rules the world, there are millions of people who don’t share that assessment. The other thing is the ancillary aspects of labor: player safety, player conduct, etc. All of this swirls into the subject of the moral integrity of the sport. That’s something Commissioner Goodell has been very cognizant of and continues to be.
Imbriano: Roger should be concerned with the philosophical approach of the NFL and how it looks at things. There’re so many aspects of the game that are changing, and so many aspects of society that have changed. He and the minds around him have to start thinking differently. They have to start changing how they operate, and stop looking at it as, “We’ve always done it this way, so this is the right thing to do.” They really have to begin exploring other methods, other options, other ways to address all aspects of the business. With player safety, and how the players handle themselves, NFL officials have to change the way they’re thinking. Sponsorship is another thing; they have to think of sponsorships differently. Sponsorship is not a transactional aspect of the business, and they can’t just be slapping big brands on signs and logos on parts of buildings and uniforms. They have to think about how they’re going to help their partners do business. Being the almighty NFL isn’t good enough anymore.
Q: Does any one franchise stick out for its outreach to fans and making sure the product is still of the utmost importance to consumers?
Brandt: I can only speak from experience with nine years with the Packers, where the fans are the owners. I think reaching out was extremely important, treating decision-making in terms of what is best for the shareholders. As Lou mentioned with Patriot Place, so much of the experience at Lambeau is Lambeau. Obviously the game and the team are important, but so much of the tradition around the stadium appeals to fans. There’s a whole culture with the Green Bay Packer Nation that goes way beyond the eight games played at Lambeau Field. I think that’s important -- it’s certainly not unique to Green Bay -- but having a 30-year waiting list for tickets in the smallest market in professional sports is really something.
Imbriano: Unless you know the day-to-day inner-working of a team, it’s really hard to pinpoint who’s really going to the extreme to make sure they’re doing right by the fans. What I will say is that I believe most teams, even though they want to be great fan-friendly and customer-service entities, sometimes are fooling themselves. Wanting to be that and actually obtaining it takes staffing, hard work, a plan and execution. Part of the problem is that a lot of NFL owners do not want to hire the number of people necessary to make sure that vision comes to life. Here’s where I have to give great credit to the Krafts --and again I know first-hand because I was there. Our staff was larger than any NFL staff at that time, and in order to provide great customer service, you have to hire bodies. Having winning be your marketing plan, and winning be your customer-service plan, is the wrong way to go.
Q: On the flip side, what organization needs to hit the refresh button on how it operates?
Imbriano: I’ll take a stab at this first because I don’t mind pissing people off. There’s three classifications of owners: 1) those who came into the league in the early days and spent little-to-no money to acquire the team; 2) the group of folks that came in a bit later, like the Krafts and Jerry Jones, who are not necessarily billionaires at the time, but bought the franchise and ran it as a business; and 3) the new group coming in, who are billionaires already and just want to own a team. What I notice to be the case is the group of owners like the Raiders and Bengals, folks who’ve had their teams for a long time, they’re less concerned with generating revenue because it’s not as important to them. Because of that, they have smaller staffs and they’re not focused. Cincinnati, there’s a place that makes me nuts, because they’re the first folks jumping up and down about sharing in revenues and they still haven’t gone out to name their stadium. Anybody who hasn’t tried to name their stadium, why would the league allow them to share in revenue from other teams who named their stadiums?
Brandt: I’ll echo some of that, not necessarily calling out names, but you don’t need me or Lou to call out names. You need team owners calling out other team owners. Beyond the labor situation, owners vs. owners is a big issue. There’s a feeling among high-revenue owners, who are not necessarily high-profit owners, that they are contributing more to the overall benefit of the league financially than teams that sit back and collect their 1/32nd check and don’t do things like seek out naming rights. Having sat in a lot of NFL meetings, you see the banter back-and-forth between the teams that do and the team’s that don’t.
Q: Keeping in mind some of these troubled franchises, do you think we’re going to see an NFL team in L.A. before the end of this decade?
Brandt: I started going to NFL meetings in 1999 and I was hearing a lot about it then. It’s hard to say that it’s a reality. Having said that, of course it’s a possibility. You’re always going to think of teams that are looking at other cities that get stadiums through public financing. When you think about Minnesota or San Diego, situations that haven’t had the public financing, and think about where they’ll go if they leave, L.A. always is a natural option.
Imbriano: I agree. This is not an NFL issue; this is an L.A. issue. The leaders in L.A. have to get off their asses and make something happen. I would imagine the politics of where/when/how/who are so intertwined in this aspect that it’s not happening. But L.A. is the No. 2 market in the country. Why wouldn’t you want one or two teams in L.A. if you’re the NFL, because TV is a huge revenue generator.
Please see tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for Part Two of the roundtable discussion.
NFL Alumni Association Exec Dir George Martin has sent a letter to retired players, "telling them the league intends to continue funding pension and disability programs" if the CBA with the NFLPA expires in March. Martin said, "I have discussed this matter with Commissioner (Roger) Goodell on several occasions, and he has always assured me that retired player benefits will be protected, first in the uncapped year, and then if the CBA ... expires." Martin added, "I have seen the statements from NFLPA representatives that retirees will lose their benefits if the agreement expires. I am convinced that is not true, and have again asked Commissioner Goodell for his assurances on this point" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/7).
LOOKING DOWNFIELD: NFL Exec VP/Ventures & Business Eric Grubman yesterday reiterated that season-ticket sales "will be down" 1-2% this year. Grubman: "I wouldn't say we're pleased." He added, "It's hard to draw a pattern across 32 clubs. There are clearly some clubs that are down more than others. It would be a special circumstance for a club to be up. I think in general the trend is flat to down, and clubs that have perennially sold out tickets, they've probably held their own and are flat" (AP, 9/8).
RUNNING A TIGHT SHIP: CNBC's Kate Kelly noted NFL officials have made $50M "in budget cuts" and have "actually imposed this fiscal discipline on the 32 club owners." NFL officials have "asked them to do stress tests on their business to kind of see in various scenarios how their revenue stream would look." Kelly: "Some people aren't crazy about this, and they call the NFL the 'No Fun League' as a result. But it's something that may stay in the league in good stead as they try to navigate the next couple of years" ("Strategy Session," CNBC, 9/7).
DON'T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS: In Phoenix, Paola Boivin writes it is "time the league revisits this head-scratching policy" regarding local TV blackouts. What the NFL "fails to acknowledge is that attending a sporting event is a great way to experience community that people can't find anywhere else." Boivin: "What kind of league is it that punishes fans for not buying tickets?" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/9).
The message NFL execs want to send at the start of the season? It is no longer business as usual. The tight economy has forced more creative thinking and new approaches to selling tickets, premium seating and sponsorships. It has also forced teams and the league to take a hard look at the fan experience and what it will take to keep people coming back. Those are some of the issues discussed as SportsBusiness Journal/Daily held a roundtable discussion on Aug. 23 in our N.Y. offices with Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, Chiefs Exec VP & COO Mark Donovan, Jets Exec VP/Business Operations Matt Higgins, Texans President Jamey Rootes, Giants Senior VP & CMO Mike Stevens and NFL CMO Mark Waller. The majority of the interview runs in this week's SportsBusiness Journal. The following is additional content from the discussion; some responses have been edited for brevity. See tomorrow's issue for part two of the roundtable.
Q: What is the state of your business? How is the marketplace right now in late August 2010 before you go on to your season?
Rootes: Things are good. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for our team in the marketplace. Up to this season we’ve sold out every game and this year has gone better than previous years. Our season-ticket base is well in excess of 64,000. We’re almost sold out of all our games for this year, so from a ticketing perspective things are good. Suites and club seats are strong. We’re about sold through on the suite side except for our single-game inventory that we hold back and we’re marketing that. But the demand has been really good on a single-game basis. Our sponsorship will have growth again this year, so things are good.
Stevens: It’s been a busy year for us. I think you’re probably going to hear the same from Matt because it’s been such a big transformation from the old stadium to the new stadium -- one of those all-consuming life events for any organization. We’re a relatively small organization by NFL standards, so it’s been a multi-year process to build up and prepare from being a tenant in a building -- even though it had our name on it, we were still a tenant nonetheless -- to building a joint venture operating company between the two teams to run our own facility, finance our own facility, sell and manage our own facility. It’s been a real transformation to have internal services and to build up our sales force, build up our capability to manage something of that scale and at the same time build basically a brand new company with another NFL team as a joint venture partner, and then roll it out and take control of our own business for the first time, manage the customer experience, manage everything that happens, all the different touch points that we have as a business with our fanbase, but through that most important asset you have which is your stadium and your game-day experience. On the revenue side, as Jamey talked about, kind of fighting through the recession.
Donovan: It’s all about the stadium this year. The difference being that we’re a renovated stadium. We don’t really talk about renovation. We talk about it being a new stadium. Anybody who has been there, anybody who will be there, will see that it really is a new stadium. … We’re a very small market with a very big stadium. We are definitely being affected by the economy. The highlights for us are, as you should with a new stadium, our suite sales are very, very strong. It’s an interesting picture of the economy because our highest-end suite sales are sold out, our lowest-end suite prices are sold out. We’re doing a lot of innovative things and copying a lot of other teams' practices in what we do with the middle. Club seats have been a struggle for us. Part of that is because we didn’t really have a club before. People haven’t seen our club level, and when they get there we expect that to ramp up. Our hope is that, as the economy turns, they see that experience, and the team plays, and it all falls in line.
Bidwill: Our season-ticket base has been affected by the economy, the same with the suites and everything else, but we’ve continued to innovate and find ways to keep the stadium sold out. We’ve got 44 games that we’ve played there and kept it sold out. It looks like we’ll continue that through the whole season. … Phoenix is one of probably half a dozen communities around the country that is sort of the epicenter for the real estate and financial market challenges, so it’s really affected us over the last two years. We’ve lost about 300,000 jobs in Arizona, which is an enormous amount against our working population. Many of those folks have been fans and sponsors have shrunk, so we’ve had to become more innovative in terms of what we’re doing with our sponsors. We’ve had to look at ticket pricing. Much like in Kansas City, probably many of the clubs, our highest price and our best locations seem to go quickly as well as our low price. Then it’s always that middle price that you really try to add value to and make things more valuable to the consumer and to the fan.
Waller: Our main focus at the moment is trying to help and support these guys in what they’re doing, particularly at the front end of the business. If you look at things like in-stadium experience -- that’s clearly a key to ticket sales -- so we’re trying hard to lend our help and support to things like deploying RedZone in stadiums, helping build some of the technology access points. That’s a key league-wide feature. … At the sponsorship level, I think the guys are happy with the Verizon deal. That’s a huge deal for us. I think there’s a great excitement around the way that Coors is going to execute this year, even though A-B are going to come in afterwards. I think that again has been a good deal all around, and I think we found a good solution on the banking category. We wrestled hard with that one and I think we came up with a deal with Barclays which is good at the league level, but allows the clubs to do what they need to do at a local level.
Higgins: We are heading toward sellout. Fortunately, we made the decision we needed to make a couple of months ago and lowered our prices. We had a kind of Jesus meeting and said, “At these prices, are we going to sell out? Marketing can only do so much. The sales guys can only do so much.” We said we’ll sell out in a couple of years if this trend line continues with these tickets, so we re-priced 18,000 and we’re going to be sold out by opening day. We don’t have any blackout risk. We’ve taken care of that issue. Club seats are a little more difficult.
Q: All your business partners are asking about labor, so I’m interested in what you are telling them. What can you tell them? What are you doing with them?
Waller: I think the question has been incredibly clear and I think ownership has been incredibly clear. The goal is to play football. That’s what we’re all working for; that’s what the players are working for; that’s what the league is working for; that’s what all of us want. It’s hard to imagine with all of that effort and focus that we don’t get it solved. That’s the conversation. That’s the conversation we have with every single supplier whether it’s a sponsor, a broadcast partner, a club, a player. That’s the goal. Generally speaking, if you look back at our track record, we have a history as clubs and a league of delivering our goals.
Q: Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross bought the formerly named Kangaroo TV. The league somewhat got behind this initiative and gave him a platform at the annual meeting and there was the announcement that he hoped to have over half the teams using Fan Vision. Are any of your teams planning to use Fan Vision this year?
Higgins: We’re giving it to club seat holders to further differentiate the experience from the rest of the bowl, so we’re giving out one for every two seats.
Bidwill: We’re doing something very similar. We’re focusing on the club seats, getting them extended. We’re into our fifth season, so the sooner you get those folks extended, we’re adding it as part of the benefit package in terms of folks with three or more years, it’s really going to enhance what we can do across the board. It can enhance that in-stadium experience and make it better for the fans who are there, being part of the 12th man. I think this is going to be a real positive for us, and I think it’s a piece of technology that will be here for several years. There’s probably going to be something five years down the line that’s much different that we’ll all be putting bets on, although we don’t bet in our league.
Rootes: Risks, take risks.
Bidwill: In any case, Fan Vision is something I think our fans are going to like a lot, especially when we’re looking at things like the RedZone and everything else that you can add as a new platform.
Q: How many of them are you actually using?
Bidwill: Several thousand for the clubs, and then they’re going to be on sale for the other fans.
Higgins: Steve (Ross) was very passionate and made a convincing case to use it, and we were all locked in at first because we wanted to be the clever team that came up with a solution. We explored it and wanted to create it, but the truth is the technology doesn’t exist there to push out video. It is the right solution for the time being. Something else will probably emerge down the road, but right now it’s really the only way to get video replays in the hand. The device is sort of cumbersome, but I think the experience will be worth it.
Q: Mark, how many teams are actually going to use Fan Vision?
Waller: I don’t know. Our job is not to scorecard. Our job is to provide the infrastructure and the options and teams will either go: “Yes, that’s a good idea. We’ll buy into it." Or go: “No, actually we’ve got a different idea that we’re looking into and we’ll buy into that.” So I don’t know what the number is. But where is the revenue going to come from? It’s going to come from innovating around the game-day experience. It’s going to come from the offseason. We have 180 million fans and come February we turn the product off. Not many businesses do that. They find a way to say, “Hey, what are we going to do for those 180 million fans for the other six months of the year when we’re not playing football?” It’s going to come from youth. You guys are, I think you said, setting up a kids’ area in your stadium. We’re looking at a deal with Nickelodeon to bring an animated idea, which in itself is kind of small, but if it’s successful it will be huge.
I think Jamey hit on it. Our job has to be to get ideas out there and test them. Some will be brilliant, some will fail, and hopefully if we put enough out there we’ll constantly be raising the bar. I think we didn’t give Steve a platform of support. What we gave Steve was the opportunity to tell his 31 co-owners about a fan service idea that he feels very strongly about. I don’t know how many have ended up taking it, but those who have taken it I’m sure will push it very hard, and those that haven’t will find an alternative.
Bidwill: I think the fans are going to like it a lot, but like anything new you’ve got to work through some of the issues, technology issues, infrastructure issues and the timing of getting this product out.
Higgins: I don’t think any team has solved this issue. When you create an app or any kind of service platform that’s meant for everybody to be using at the same time, the user experience is so bad that you defeat their expectations and you do more harm than good.
Please see tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for Part Two of the roundtable discussion.
Jets coach Rex Ryan and his staff "have altered the way people look at the Jets and given the team an unexpected marketing boost as they move into the New Meadowlands Stadium," and the team indicated that some fans have cited the Jets' appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks" as the "reason for finally buying those devilish personal seat licenses," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. The final episode of this year's series aired last night, and Jets Exec VP/Business Operations Matthew Higgins said the show "has been intoxicating." Higgins: "When you're engaged in it, you want to be part of it and one of the ways is to buy a PSL. ... I'd like to take credit that 'Hard Knocks' was part of brilliant marketing strategy, but it's just a natural expression of our collective DNA." Sandomir noted the first four episodes of the series "averaged 870,500 viewers in their original runs on Wednesday nights, up from 566,000 last year" when the series featured the Bengals. The Jets' fourth episode on September 1 "hit a first-run peak of 947,000 viewers." Meanwhile, the "promotional dividends produced by 'Hard Knocks' have not been countered by a disastrous injury," as the "worst that happened was Ryan's mother (and Tony Dungy) expressing consternation about the coach's profanity" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/9). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Scott Cacciola writes under the header, "'Hard Knocks' Hit A Homer." The series was a "spectacle that raised the Jets' already high profile," and was "nothing short of captivating television." The production "required the cooperation of the team," and Jets CB Drew Coleman said, "We enjoyed them being around. They kind of were like family after a while." But Jets RB Danny Woodhead "didn't watch the show." Woodhead: "I don't want to say I have better things to do, but ... I mean, I know what goes on at practice, and I watch the film of practice, so there's no great mystery" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/9).
FITTING FINALE: In N.Y., Steve Serby writes last night's "compelling finale" was the "Darrelle Revis Show, the agony and the ecstasy of the holdout who held the [Jets'] summer hostage" (N.Y. POST, 9/9). In Newark, Jenny Vrentas notes "no cameras were present for the South Florida lunch meeting" Saturday between Ryan, Jets Owner Woody Johnson, Revis and his mother and uncle, but viewers did see Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum "talk to Ryan about making the trip" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/9). ESPN N.Y.'s Rich Cimini wrote the finale "doesn't break any new ground in the Revis saga, but it puts pictures and words to events already reported." Ryan's "well-chronicled tirade at Darrelle Revis' agents ... was every bit as juicy as it was portrayed in media accounts" (ESPNNEWYORK.com, 9/8).
HOW IT PLAYED OUT: Prior to signing Revis, Tannenbaum told Johnson that Revis' camp "remain convinced that we will either fold after week two or we'll trade him next year." Johnson said, "They don't know me very well." Johnson then spoke to the camera alone, "I've been at this for 11 years so I've been through a lot of players. This has gone on longer than most." Back in the offices, Tannenbaum told Johnson, "Their response is, 'Next year, you'll be fed up with it.'" Johnson: "I'm fed up with it now. Why would I be any more fed up with it next year?" After Revis signed a four-year, $46M deal, Ryan said, "That was three days of hell ... but we got it done" ("Hard Knocks," HBO, 9/8). However, ESPN N.Y.'s Cimini notes, "It was disappointing they didn't show more footage from the final, tense moments of the Revis negotiation. It would've been nice to see the final phone call between the Jets and Revis' agents. It's almost like they ran out of time at the end, trying to squeeze in too much" (ESPNNEWYORK.com, 9/9).
CREATIVE LICENSE? In N.Y., Manish Mehta reported there was "perhaps a bit of creative editing by NFL Films during the clip that showed third-string fullback Jason Davis opting out of his reps." Moments after the scene, Davis tweeted, "I didn't turn the rep down that's when I hurt my ankle! Damn Hardknocks thanx a lot." If Davis' account is true, it is "probably not the first time," as Jets CB Antonio Cromartie previously "suggested similar HBO hijinks when he was asked to recite the name of his children twice" (NYDAILY NEWS.com, 9/8).
REX IN EFFECT: On Long Island, Neil Best writes the series "mostly was the Rex Ryan show from the start, and it remained Ryan's show to the end" (NEWSDAY, 9/9). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said of Ryan's frequent use of profanity on the show, "Obviously, at times you are going to get language that is not appropriate for all ages and it's something that I guess we are not proud of, but it is the reality of camps. That is why that show is so popular. In fact, one of the things that's interesting is that show is most popular with the casual fan that really doesn't get the opportunity to see what happens in football and it's intriguing to them" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/8). The N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's Nicholas Dawidoff profiles Ryan, writing, "All summer, Ryan continued to kick every hornet's nest he saw, and when his bravado went national on HBO's training-camp documentary 'Hard Knocks,' even good-natured sorts like ... Tony Dungy and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady turned vespine." Ryan's "comeuppance is now ardently wished for in those American communities in possession of couches or barstools, but there's a lot more to him than big and talk." Dawidoff: "In the wary, standardized world of the NFL, the unrestrained Ryan may be the best football coach this side of the Patriots' Bill Belichick. Without question, Ryan is the man players across the NFL most want to play for" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 9/12 issue).
The Jaguars have sold 14,000 new season tickets, up 44% over last year and the "highest this year in the NFL," according to Kimberly Morrison of the JACKSONVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL. The number of new season-ticket accounts also marks the "highest sales since the team's inaugural season" of '95. Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver said that the team is "close to selling out the first three games of the season," and that Sunday's home opener against the Broncos "will be televised" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 9/7). Single-game tickets for the Broncos game are "sold out and the blackout has been lifted." Ticket prices for the game are "through the roof, and while some agree it's partially due to" Broncos QB Tim Tebow returning to his hometown, people are also "attributing it to some brilliant marketing on the part of the Jaguars this past year" (NEWS4JAX.com, 9/7). Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio: "The numbers that have come in are staggering, really. For us to sell in this economic climate almost 15,000 seats, season tickets, that's strong. ... This community has answered the call. A strong call went out, and we're a part of this community. We're engaged out in this community and for them to step up like that, believe me, it gave our entire building a lift" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/9). The AP's Mark Long noted the Jaguars in '09 had seven games that did not sell out, and the team has "done plenty to increase ticket sales." The Jaguars froze ticket prices for the "third straight season, offered financing plans and created several incentive packages." The civic group Touchdown Jacksonville "stepped in and began a ticket-selling campaign to generate buzz and end speculation about potential relocation," and Weaver brought NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in last month "in hopes of making a final push." However, Goodell "hinted that fans need to do more to keep the team in town" (AP, 9/8).
ORLANDO MAGIC? Jaguars Senior VP/Communications & Media Dan Edwards said if the NFL regular season is extended to 18 games, the team might play "out-of-market games, with Orlando a potential location." In Orlando, Richard Bilbao notes playing some games in the city "could help the Jaguars overcome a struggling attendance issue they faced last year." While Orlando "doesn't have an NFL-caliber stadium," the city "does have two facilities that host college football matchups and other large-scale events" -- UCF's Bright House Stadium and the Florida Citrus Bowl (ORLANDO BUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/3 issue).
In San Diego, Kevin Acee reports approximately 13,000 tickets remain for the Chargers' home opener at Qualcomm Stadium against the Jaguars on Sept. 19, "including nearly 11,000 non-premium seats that count toward determining whether a game is blacked out." That is "almost twice as many as anyone can remember the Chargers having less than two weeks before a game," and even "more tickets remain" for the second home game, on Oct. 3 against the Cardinals. The Chargers "do have the option of buying unsold tickets," but Acee reports that option has "not been exercised by the team before and will likely not in the future" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/9).
BLANK CHECK: Falcons Owner Arthur Blank discussed '10 ticket sales and said, "We had fairly good renewals this year. They were not as high as in the past, but they were fairly good. What we are excited about is that we had about 10,000 fans step up and buy new season packages from us. In this situation, we try to be very thoughtful about our ticket prices. About 27 percent of our tickets were held flat. About 15 percent went down." The Falcons have publicly expressed their desire to either build a new stadium or renovate Georgia Dome, and Blank said, "We continue to work with the Congress Center about some options that are on their campus. We've got an excellent working relationship with them" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 9/9).
HAVE YOU DRIVEN A FORD LATELY? In Detroit, Bill Shea noted while the Lions do not disclose specifics on ticket sales, they said that season-ticket sales at Ford Field are up 10% over last year, "with a rush of sales expected before the season begins." Four of the Lions' eight regular-season home games last year were blacked out, but the team "cut prices on 19,000 seats this year" and believes it will "cut the blackouts in half in 2010." Lions VP/Business Operations Bob Raymond added that suite rentals for all 10 home games "are on par with 2009" (CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS, 9/6 issue).
BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE: The Bills as of Monday had sold 43,925 season tickets, the "fifth-highest total" since '95 but down 20.5% from last year, when the team "topped the 55,000 mark in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history." The Bills "increased their ticket prices this year for the first time since 2008," though their tickets are "still the third-least expensive among the NFL's 32 teams." The Bills are sold out for Sunday's home opener against the Dolphins and the Nov. 28 game against the Steelers (BUFFALO NEWS, 9/7).
BOYS WILL BE BOYS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's David Biderman reports Nielsen this summer "developed a system for ranking the popularity of NFL teams based on each team's local and national TV rankings, how often they're mentioned on the Internet and how many visitors they attract to their official websites." The Cowboys top the report, the Nielsen Sports Media Exposure Index, which is the company's "first attempt to classify pro-football teams in this manner." The following shows the five most- and least-popular NFL teams, according to Nielsen (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/9).
Visa is kicking off its 15th season as an NFL sponsor with "new marketing plans, including greater emphasis on local teams," according to Tanya Irwin of MARKETING DAILY. Visa has become the "exclusive payment services sponsor" of the Jaguars, Vikings, Colts and Titans -- adding to its roster of NFL clients that already includes the Falcons, Ravens, Bills, Panthers, Browns, Broncos, Patriots, Saints and 49ers. Beyond the local sponsorships, an "integrated marketing campaign will feature national promotion and advertising, new team relationships, exclusive Visa signature offers for cardholders and Visa halftime reports on Fox NFL broadcasts." As part of its enhanced efforts, Visa will "award one football fan with a trip to the Super Bowl for the rest of their life." The company beginning this month and continuing throughout the season will "promote the sweepstakes with digital advertisements that will appear on popular football Web sites such as NFL.com." In addition, Visa next month will introduce the "Fans Forever" campaign featuring "national TV spots and social media." Visa will present the halftime report on Fox game broadcasts for the seventh straight season, and the company for the sixth consecutive year has "teamed up with the NFL and NFL players to help high school and college students take control of their financial future via 'Financial Football,' a free money management video game" (MARKETING DAILY, 9/9).
QUOTH THE RAVEN: Old Spice today is launching an ad campaign featuring Ravens LB Ray Lewis, the Procter & Gamble brand's first campaign tied to its NFL sponsorship. A commercial titled "Raven" will debut, accompanied by more TV spots, Web activation, print ads and promotional activities throughout the NFL season. ESPN.com has a tie-in with the campaign, inviting users to yell into their computer microphones for 10 seconds to earn a 30-day free trial to ESPN Insider (THE DAILY). Lewis in the spot says, "I don't play fantasy football. I play for-real football." He then climbs onto a "robotic raven" and they go "soaring through the galaxy" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/8). CNBC's Darren Rovell wrote on his Twitter account it is "1 of the worst spots I've ever seen" (TWITTER.com, 9/9).
BETTER INGREDIENTS: Papa John's President & co-CEO Jude Thompson appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" yesterday to discuss the company's three-year sponsorship of the NFL, which materialized after Papa John's signed on as the official pizza of Super Bowl XLIV. Thompson said, "It was a very successful campaign. We had a few years of being associated with knowing that football and pizza went together naturally, and then when we did the Super Bowl sponsorship last year -- our first -- it was a record day. We sold over 900,000 pizzas." Thompson noted Papa John's has "refocused" its marketing strategy, adding, "The print and things like that are not as effective as some of the social media and then also the NFL, but we have increased our spending a little bit" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 9/8).
LICENSE TO THRILL: NFL outfitter Reebok is partnering with A Pea in the Pod maternity brand to offer an NFL-licensed maternity collection, with ABC's Elisabeth Hasselbeck to serve as the face of the line. The collection will be available starting tomorrow. Meanwhile, Wilson Golf yesterday announced the expansion of its NFL-licensed bags and balls to include all 32 teams. The sporting goods maker's long-standing relationship with the league includes serving as its official football provider since '41 (THE DAILY).
Quick Hit Inc. yesterday launched its NFL-licensed '10 version of "Quick Hit Football," the first public release of the browser-based video game following the licensing deal the company signed with the league in June. The addition of league and team marks, team names, uniforms and other intellectual property to the game for its second year of operation also comes with several other major changes, including the addition of a subscription-based revenue model, and a new animation system. "Quick Hit Football" will remain free to play, but an optional premium-level version of the game that includes bonus assets and the new depth-oriented animation will be sold at $6 per month, $30 per half year or $48 for a full year. That full-year price was designed in part to remain less than the cost of the game's established console-based rival, "Madden NFL." The subscription model adds to existing revenue lines from advertising and virtual goods. The company has also signed a new group of five player spokespersons for use in the game and for marketing, repeating a plan from last year in which it stayed just below the six-player threshold used by the NFLPA for group-licensing purposes. Joining the previously announced Patriots WR Randy Moss this year are Redskins QB Donovan McNabb and DL Albert Haynesworth, Titans RB Chris Johnson and Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware. Quick Hit is additionally nearing several major distribution deals to add to its existing profile on quickhit.com, an existing partnership with games portal Addicting Games, and a planned rollout next week on NFL.com. Also in the works is a Facebook-based version of the football game. The game last year attracted more than 1 million players, and Quick Hit Founder & CEO Jeff Anderson said, "We feel like we're now poised for some very significant growth." Anderson: "The game itself is now so much better, but we've also set it up where people will be able to find it many more places and really tailor the kind of experience they want to have."
NBC Sports has produced three new promotional commercials that will run this weekend. The net on Sunday will debut a spot it co-produced with DirecTV that promotes an upcoming “Sunday Night Football” game on NBC and DirecTV’s “Sunday Ticket.” The spot, which was shot in July, stars Eli and Peyton Manning, who will be opposing each other in the Week 2 “SNF" game between the Giants and Colts. The spot opens with the brothers sitting on a couch watching an NFL game. Eli says, “This is why I love playing on Sunday night.” Peyton: “Yeah. We get to hang out. Watch all the afternoon games on DirecTV.” NBC will run the spot on all its NBC properties in the run-up to the Sept. 19 game. The two companies developed the concept and produced the spot together. It is not part of DirecTV’s upfront buy with NBC. “NBC is a really big partner for us,” said DirecTV Senior VP/Advertising & Communications Jon Gieselman. “This is a good example of how two companies can work together to come up with a concept that benefits both of us.” NBC also will debut two commercials tonight. A spot shot last week stars Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, Redskins Owner Dan Snyder and Papa John’s Pizza Founder John Schattner eating pizza in Cowboys Stadium, with the creative “Sunday Night is Papa John’s Night.” Papa John’s is a partner with both teams. The Cowboys and Redskins play each other Sunday night on NBC. The other spot was filmed last month and stars "Meet The Press" host David Gregory and Redskins QB Donovan McNabb. Gregory says, “If it’s Sunday, it’s ‘Meet the Press.’” McNabb: “And if it’s Sunday night, it’s football night.”
SI.com's Richard Deitsch offers his annual "broadcasters guide" to the upcoming NFL season, where he noted each network partner "increased its numbers during the regular season" in '09. CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said, "Looking at the TV landscape, if you had to pick out one property that you would place some money in terms of stability and consistency of ratings year after year, you would pick the NFL." But Deitsch asked, "What about the people who bring you the league you love?" CBS "traditionally preaches understated game coverage and pathologically avoids major shake-ups in talent," as the network "employs no sideline reporters and keeps the focus on the nuts and bolts of the game." The biggest change is Ian Eagle replacing Dick Enberg as the play-by-play announcer for the third broadcast team. ESPN's NFL talent "has not changed from last year," and "neither has the enthusiasm from ESPN executives for all things" Jon Gruden, as the "MNF" analyst enters his second season in the booth. Fox' "major tweak this season comes with the hiring" of former NFL VP/Officiating Mike Pereira as a rules analyst. Pereira will "work from a control room at the Fox Network Center in Los Angeles with access to every game on the schedule." Network execs also are "high on" former NFL coach Jim Mora Jr. as a game analyst. Viewers of NBC's "Football Night In America" should look for analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison to "start leading more conversations." Meanwhile, Deitsch wrote NFL Network's hiring of Joe Theismann as a game analyst was "as uninspiring as it was unoriginal." It also is a "canard for anyone at the NFL Network to assert that Theismann bashing originates with critics," as viewers "have consistently and clearly ... asserted that they do not enjoy listening to Theismann on game coverage" (SI.com, 9/8).
RULING THE AIRWAVES: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes Pereira "will appear on-air for Fox as the first former NFL official to serve as a network analyst." After appearing on the network's pregame show in L.A., Pereira "will do what he used to in the NFL's New York offices, where he oversaw the league's officiating: hover over TV monitors showing live games." Pereira will "go directly on-air ... with live rule explanations for viewers," and he "might pop up on various games as needed." Pereira: "We'll try to do video, but audio is quicker to get into. ... I'll roam the monitors. If you have some time, then I'd go on camera. But to quickly cite a rule, we'll just go with audio" (USA TODAY, 9/9). In a special to FOXSPORTS.com, Pereira wrote the network "has done research as to what fans want from their telecasts," and results indicate that fans "want the announcers and analysts to know the rules." Pereira: "I can't offer much about 'cover two' but I sure as heck can talk about why a runner being ruled out of bounds is not reviewable in replay" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/8).
CHANGE OF PACE: USA TODAY's Weir & Leahy report NBC Sports confirmed that Keith Olbermann "would not return to the network's 'Football Night in America' highlights show on Sundays." The decision, originally reported in August by blog Sports By Brooks, was "motivated by the news division's preference" that Olbermann "devote more time to his primary job as host of 'Countdown' each weeknight" on MSNBC (USA TODAY, 9/9).
YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver ranked the Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Patriots' Robert Kraft No. 1 in his annual NFL owner rankings. Kraft also ranked first last year, and he "has done nothing to surrender his perennial perch at the top." Silver wrote he had "little hesitation in putting Jones and Kraft together" at the No. 1 spot. Silver: "Each man has every attribute I look for in an owner, and their foresight and leadership could prove pivotal following the 2010 season, as a potentially messy labor showdown with the NFL Players Association commences" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/2-9/3).
McDonald's, Walmart, Bank of America and Ford are the brands of choice in their respective categories among avid NFL fans, according to data from Scarborough Sports Marketing. Fifty-two percent of avid fans surveyed from February '09 through March '10 had eaten breakfast, lunch or dinner in the previous 30 days at a McDonald's, tops among all QSRs. The NFL enters the '10 season without a primary sponsor in the QSR category, but does list Papa John's as its official pizza. Papa John's ranked 18th among all QSRs in Scarborough's study. In the department/retail store category, which is also vacant for the NFL, 59.7% of fans said they shopped at a Walmart during a 30-day period, while 37% said they shopped at a Target. Among primary banks, Bank of America ranked first among avid NFL fans. The company is being replaced this season by Barclays as the league's official credit card. Ford, which has strongly hinted that it will stay out of Super Bowl XLV advertising, ranked as the top choice for car models among avid NFL fans. NFL sponsor GM, which has said that it will return to advertising in the Super Bowl after a two-year absence, had four of its models rank in the top 10 among avid fans. Listed below are the top 10 responses from avid NFL fans for the categories of QSR, department/retail store, primary bank and vehicle owned/leased (Scarborough Sports Marketing).