SBD/December 15, 2010/Marketing and SponsorshipPrint All
MLB Properties late last week responded to last month's lawsuit from Anheuser-Busch against the league, strongly denying nearly all of the brewer's initial claims and making a set of their own counterclaims. MLB's licensing arm, in its filing with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that contrary to A-B's complaint, there was no binding agreement to renew the long-standing sponsorship deal, rather only a letter of intent to renew from April ‘10 exchanged shortly before A-B announced a new six-year pact with the NFL. That football deal, MLB asserts, violated a pledge it received from A-B President Dave Peacock in which MLB would remain its "top, number one sports property in the U.S.," and in turn, amounts to bad faith negotiation. "Rather than attempt to make good on its commitment to make Major League Baseball its top, number one sports property in the U.S., A-B has instead embarked upon a campaign to attempt to bully MLBP into an agreement." MLBP seeks a dismissal of A-B’s complaint and a declaration that the letter of intent is non-binding. The current deal between MLBP and A-B expires Dec. 31, but the dispute will extend into next year, as a status conference has been scheduled for Jan. 7. The MLBP filing did not acknowledge even some of A-B's more basic assertions in its complaint, such as its standing as a league sponsor for three decades, its investment of "tens of millions of dollars" annually into the sponsorship, and that the baseball deal coincides with the traditional peak beer selling season of summer. To those and numerous other claims, MLBP "denied knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations." MLBP, however, did admit that "beer is sold in ballparks during baseball season" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
A-B RESPONSE: A-B InBev VP/Marketing Keith Levy "brushed off MLB's accusations." He said in a statement, "We intend to continue our sponsorship having reached an agreement with MLB earlier this year -- an agreement we are asking the court to recognize. Major League Baseball remains a top priority for our Budweiser brand and is important to our plans" (NYTIMES.com, 12/14).
Sporting goods and clothing retailers are hustling to obtain merchandise featuring new Phillies P Cliff Lee in time for Christmas, and things "look pretty good" that the new gear will be "available in time to tuck a pinstriped No. 33 jersey under the Christmas tree," according to William Bender of the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS. A Majestic Athletic spokesperson said that the "new Lee jerseys should be available to purchase within a week to three weeks." The company was "awaiting confirmation yesterday that Lee would keep his No. 33 jersey number that he wore" with the Rangers; Roy Halladay wears the No. 34 that Lee sported while with the Phillies in '09. Modell's Sporting Goods Regional Marketing Manager Derrick Morgan said, "We definitely are already working with the vendor to try to get some Lee merchandise in as soon as it's printed." New York Univ. sports management professor Wayne McDonnell: "From a merchandise standpoint, everybody is going to want to scoop up those jerseys." Bender notes Modell's and other outlets "will likely have Lee T-shirts sooner." Fans "who can't wait that long were buying the unofficial Lee-themed shirts that were popping up on the Internet yesterday." The "R2C2" shirt -- a "Star Wars"-themed reference to the pitching lineup of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Lee -- was "available long before sunrise" at Phillies blog Zoo With Roy. Meanwhile, the Phillies "reportedly sold more than 20,000 tickets yesterday" after the news that Lee had agreed to terms with the team (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/15).
WELCOME BACK: In Philadelphia, Suzette Parmley reports the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. is "about to put up ... billboards welcoming Lee's return," and that "at least one of the billboards will be prominent on I-95." One billboard will read like a postcard: "Dear Cliff, You are ... This is ... I promised myself I wouldn't get choked up. Welcome Home. With Love, Philadelphia XOXO." Parmley notes the Lee signs will compete for attention with billboards near I-95 featuring Giants QB Eli Manning and Yankees SS Derek Jeter. Both athletes are "hawking designer watches" -- Manning is a pitchman for Citizen, and Jeter is the face for Movado (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/15).
Sponsorship revenue for the Jan. 1 Capitals-Penguins NHL Winter Classic "has increased 20 percent from 2010 numbers, putting total revenue for the event in the mid-seven-figure range," according to Fred Dreier of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. NHL Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Marketing Keith Wachtel said that the league "sold out of its sponsorship inventory two months prior to the game." He added that sponsorship revenue is "up 250 to 300 times" over the '08 numbers, and that the "halo effect of the event's popularity ... has brought up the rest of the league." Dreier notes Heinz Field "affords greater infrastructure for signage and branding opportunities, as well as a bigger audience than the last two hosts -- Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park." The event's 13 partners "have activation space outside Heinz Field in an area dubbed Spectator Plaza, which will open Dec. 31." Among the activities that will take place, Reebok "will allow fans to shoot a puck into a clothes dryer," an homage to Penguins C Sidney Crosby's "childhood activity" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 12/13 issue).
GET 'EM WHILE THEY LAST: In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn reported the Winter Classic is "generating a sizable buzz" even though it is still more than two weeks away. VisitPittsburgh VP/Sales & Marketing Craig Davis said, "It's a very hot ticket." Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse added, "The thing about the Winter Classic is that more people seem to be interested in coming to that game than even playoff games. I've gotten more calls from people who don't consider themselves avid hockey fans. ... We had high expectations, and it's already gone beyond high expectations." Capitals Senior VP/Ticket Sales Jim Van Stone said the response "has been absolutely tremendous." Van Stone: "Ever since it was announced in June, people have been absolutely bonkers over it. This is our Super Bowl" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/12).
MLS Chicago Fire President Julian Posada yesterday confirmed that the team is "looking to replace its jersey sponsor after Best Buy declined to renew its $2.5 million-per-year deal," according to Steve Cavendish of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Posada said that Best Buy "signaled its intentions months ago." Posada: "We got a heads up that they were looking at a different direction. A lot of it was just timing. We had no intention of (talking about it) during the season." Cavendish reports the "lost revenue represents, essentially, the team's salary cap payroll." At $7.5M over the last three years, the shirt sponsorship "has covered all but the salaries of designated players Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg." Posada: "It won't break the company by any means, but it's one of those things that's nice to have and the better the partner, the better (for the club)." Cavendish notes a "down economy has affected the value of sponsorships in general and the Fire are prepared to take less" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/15). Fox Sports’ Ives Galarcep yesterday tweeted, “Is there a more under-reported MLS story right now than the fact that the Chicago Fire lost Best Buy as its jersey sponsor?”
The Gator Bowl Association yesterday announced a “one-year title sponsorship deal with Progressive” for the Jan. 1 Michigan-Mississippi State Gator Bowl at EverBank Field, according to Garry Smits of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The deal includes an option for three more years that would “carry the relationship for the full term of the current TV and conference affiliation deal.” The Gator Bowl has been “operating without a title sponsor since the spring, when Konica Minolta declined to renew a deal that had been in place from 2007-2009.” A title sponsorship deal “is important because the added revenue could enable the Gator Bowl to offer more of a payout to the participating teams, which could move the game up in the pecking order in the SEC and the Big Ten.” The Gator Bowl is in the “first year of a four-year deal with those conferences, and with ESPN.” Gator Bowl Association President Rick Catlett: “This is the final piece of the puzzle we were looking to make” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 12/15).
SHOPPING LIST: In Charlotte, Ron Green Jr. reports Belk department stores has signed on to take over “title sponsorship of what is now the Meineke Car Care Bowl” beginning with the '11 game. The Charlotte-based company “had been considering a sports-related title sponsorship for about a year and taking over the nine-year old bowl provided a good fit.” The deal to title the Belk Bowl runs through ’13. Details of the contract were not disclosed, but the game “will be featured in a variety of ways” by Belk (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/15). Driven Brands, parent company of Meineke Car Care Centers, “paid an estimated $1 million annually in its deal.” In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg noted part of the "motivation for switching sponsors came from recent increases in the game’s payout to the two schools.” North Carolina and Pittsburgh -- the participating schools in the ’09 game -- “shared $2 million; this year, it’s $3.4 million.” Bowl officials said that adding Belk “provides a larger sponsor investment,” and that they “hope the alliance with Belk runs longer” than three years (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/14).
Nike yesterday "unveiled a new uniform to be worn" by the Univ. of Oregon in the Jan. 10 BCS Championship game against Auburn Univ., according to Rob Moseley of the Eugene REGISTER-GUARD. The uniform "features a number of advancements in the padding and cleats" and also the "implementation of neon yellow in the color scheme." New elements include the "use of neon yellow, for the 'O' logo on the helmets, the outline of the jersey's numerals and -- most strikingly -- the socks and back of the cleats." Oregon's "up-tempo style has been branded the 'blur' offense by some journalists, and the neon socks and shoes will apparently play off that label." However, the new uniforms are "far from a major departure from Oregon's current uniform," as they "included feathers on the shoulders of the jerseys" and the same style font for the numbers. Oregon "will wear white jerseys and pants for the title game ... and will apparently wear their carbon-fiber helmets again." Nike yesterday also introduced the bowl uniforms for Boise State, Florida and TCU (Eugene REGISTER-GUARD, 12/15). In Portland, Allan Brettman reports the uniforms include Oregon coach Brian Kelly's "Win the Day" slogan "on the top of the socks and an abbreviated 'WTD' stamped on a black stripe that runs down the middle of the carbon fiber-look helmets." While no Nike execs yesterday "wanted to say so, one of their competitive business targets is undoubtedly Under Armour," which is Auburn's equipment supplier (Portland OREGONIAN, 12/15).
DUCK SOUP: YAHOO SPORTS' Matt Hinton wrote under the header, "Oregon's BCS Uniforms Are Here, And They Are Relatively Sensible." The unis are "somewhat constrained by the Ducks' status as the designated 'away' team in Glendale, Ariz.., forcing them into road whites" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/14). ESPN's Jesse Palmer said he liked the helmet Oregon will wear but the "gun metal black" is his "favorite for the helmet." ESPN's Ed Cunningham asked, "How do they have that much money for uniforms?" But Cunningham quickly, and sarcastically, said, "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to bring that up" ("College Football Live," ESPN, 12/14).
Vikings QB Brett Favre's decision to sell an autographed football commemorating his streak of 297 consecutive regular-season games started on his website for $499.99 just minutes after he was deemed inactive for Monday night's game "cheapens" the streak and lets fans know it "really was about Brett Favre the entire time," according to ESPN.com's J.A. Adande. The football includes the number "297" and the weeks the streak started and ended. Adande said, "This whole streak, this whole season, was just an opportunity to sell merchandise on his website." Favre also appeared at the postgame press conference wearing a camouflage No. 4 hat, and Adande said, "It just lets you know that he wasn't thinking Vikings at that time. He's thinking Brett Favre." Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, "What Favre is doing is tacky. You don't market yourself like that. You wait until the season is over at least ... then you do it." ESPN.com's Bomani Jones: "Of course it was tacky. Brett Favre does tacky" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/14). In Florida, David Moulton wrote, "You are prostituting yourself and making a mockery of your 297 consecutive games 'streak' all for $150,000? ... This is greedy, tacky and selfish." Moulton: "You didn't even wait until the season was over! Heck, you didn't wait til the game was over. For goodness sakes you didn't wait for the game to start!" (NAPLES NEWS, 12/14). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz: "If there's a retailing equivalent of not waiting until the body gets cold, here it is. ... When did Favre start manufacturing these -- when he was helped off the field against Buffalo last week?" (AJC.com, 12/13). But Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "Athletes have a very short time where they can capitalize on these kinds of things. ... People aren't going to remember the merchandising five years from now" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/14).
In London, Mark Ogden reports Manchester United Owner the Glazer family believes that it can "banish concerns" over the club's $827M (all figures U.S.) debt by "securing a world-record kit deal worth close" to $707M before its agreement with Nike expires in '15. ManU's $476M contract with Nike, which began in '02, is currently worth about $39M a year to the club "because of progressive increments." There are "no plans to lay the ground work on a new deal until at least 2012," but the Glazers believe that the recent seven-and-a-half-year, $425.5M kit deal between Nike and the French Football Federation "has set the benchmark for United when they come to seek out a new long-term agreement" (London TELEGRAPH, 12/15).
GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL: Eagles QB Michael Vick has signed an endorsement deal for Woodbury Nissan in New Jersey, and ESPN's "SportsNation" asked viewers whether they would hire Vick as a spokesperson for their company. ESPN's Colin Cowherd said, "He’s the most popular athlete (in Philadelphia). He can sell cars. By the way, he's a story of redemption." But ESPN's Michelle Beadle said, "If I hire someone to represent my company they're also representing me and I don’t believe Michael Vick represents me at all. … What he did is beyond screwing up, it's reprehensible." Respondents to the question were split evenly 50%-50% ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 12/14).
STAYING FIT ON THE ROAD: The AP reported New Balance has entered into a partnership with Westin Hotels & Resorts under which the company will "provide athletic shoes, clothing and fitness programs for free." The program was "recently launched at 10 Westin properties and will begin rolling out to all Westin hotels in 2011." New Balance also is "providing in-room fitness and equipment-free workouts for guests" (AP, 12/14).
INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY: NASCAR's maintenance fluid partner, Phyzix Synthetics, yesterday announced the launch of a virtual training website where automotive installers will have direct access to automotive training 24/7. The site, Phyzixuniversity.com, will feature NASCAR talent Ray Dunlap and Shannon Wiseman, as well as industry veteran Jeff Cowan of Jeff Cowan's Pro Talk. Course categories include Phyzix Pit Crew, Earn Your Ride and Hall of Fame (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).