SBD/March 21, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Samsung Close To Returning To NFL As League Sponsor In Deal Worth More Than $60M

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Samsung is close to returning to the NFL as a league sponsor in a deal that would put the manufacturer's brand on NFL coaches' headsets in an agreement worth more than $60M a year. The deal would also pave the way for tablets to appear on NFL sidelines for the first time. Chargers Owner Dean Spanos, who chairs the league's business ventures committee, acknowledged that the NFL is in talks with Samsung, along with current league sponsor Bose and Microsoft. Another source suggested the sideline technology rights could be split among several brands, though that seems unlikely since the league’s TV rights deals restrict the number of brands visible on the sidelines. NFL owners at the league’s annual meeting in Arizona this week voted to give league staff the authority to select a brand and close the deal. Speaking outside the meetings, Spanos said, "In the next 30 days, I would hope to have direction." He would not say if there was a leader to land the deal. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, who is also on the business ventures committee, confirmed that talks were advanced but also declined to say if any company was a front runner. However, other sources close to the league said the deal was Samsung's to lose. The NFL was without a headset sponsor last season, when 13-year incumbent Motorola walked away from its NFL rights package after terms for a renewal that would have included tablet rights exceeded $50M per year. NFL Exec VP/Media Steve Bornstein is leading the talks for the league. Samsung CMO Todd Pendleton is driving the deal for Samsung. "NFL (coaches) headsets are some of the most valuable real estate in sports, because of the NFL’s attraction as a TV property," said Repucom CEO Paul Smith, adding that Motorola received $70M in TV exposure during its last season on NFL headsets in '11.

ABLE TO MARKET HDTV'S WITH NFL MARKS: The deal would also give Samsung the ability to market HDTVs using NFL marks -- rights it previously held from '05-10. An NFL sidelines deal for the company would give it a platform on which to attack Apple’s leading market share in smartphones, much in the way Samsung used NFL rights to close gaps in market share and brand perception among HDTV brands. Whether the new deal would permit Samsung tablets or its smartphones, which are essentially small tablets, was unclear. Through last season, the NFL forbid cell phones and tablets on its sidelines. Also uncertain was whether Samsung TVs would get branding during officials replays. Noting that product integration within the game is now an imperative for every large sports sponsorship, former AT&T Exec Dir of Sponsorships Tim McGhee said the deal will be a game changer on and off the field. “This will be the first time I can recall where a sponsor’s product can actually impact the way the game is played, or at least coached," said McGhee, who now heads the consultancy MSP Sports. “Much like when Sprint originally signed with NASCAR, it is going to increase the value of this category dramatically for every other league.”

LOOKING AT NFL FOR A WHILE: Samsung’s other large sports properties include a TOP IOC sponsorship and a FIFA World Cup deal. Samsung has been looking at a big NFL deal for some time. Aside from buying a spot in the last Super Bowl, Samsung was in talks over the past several years for naming rights at the home field of the Giants/Jets, the Cowboys, and more recently, the yet-to-completed new home field of the 49ers.
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