SBJ/October 1 - 7, 2001/This Weeks Issue

Blockbuster, DirecTV carry ball for Pro Bowl

Blockbuster Video and DirecTV have signed on as balloting sponsors for the NFL Pro Bowl. The deal yields a six-week promotion beginning in mid-October that is tied to a $3 million ad buy on ESPN, ABC and CBS NFL telecasts and a $300,000 package on nfl.com, where Blockbuster will also underwrite Pro Bowl balloting.

The Oct. 15-Dec. 2 program kicks off with player appearances at stores in Blockbuster's headquarters in Dallas and seven other NFL cities. A separate sweepstakes overlay offers 10 trips for two to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu for consumers who buy the NFL's Sunday Ticket pay satellite package at Blockbuster. TV ads on "Monday Night Football" and other NFL game telecasts will be tagged with promo mentions.

Additional marketing support includes massive point-of-sale in Blockbuster (not coincidentally now DirecTV's most important retailer), TV on DirecTV itself and in NFL shoulder programming, radio ads on Westwood One's Sunday and Monday night radio broadcasts, and print ads in ESPN The Magazine, DirecTV's monthly programming guide (more than 1 million circulation), the Super Bowl program and the NFL's licensed merchandise catalogs.

Ads on the limited paper ballots being given to NFL teams for in-stadium voting are available for the clubs to sell as part of their local marketing inventory. Sources said DirecTV has committed to paying a $40 bounty for every subscriber signed up through Blockbuster.

In recent years, Pro Bowl balloting has become overwhelmingly online. While the NFL and other leagues always seek retailers with thousands of locations in which to place their all-star programs, retailers are traditionally reluctant to erect any kind of point-of-sale display. Add the difficulty of collecting and returning paper ballots to the mix and you can see why the NFL and other leagues have had problems selling balloting programs to large retailers.

Blockbuster will dodge that problem by having fans vote in electronic kiosks in its 4,500 stores. The entertainment software retailer used those kiosks for voting in its seventh annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, which drew more than 22 million votes this past spring. NFL officials said they will be happy with 6 million votes. Pro Bowl balloting had no sponsor last season and hasn't had a major retailer' support since Radio Shack in 1994.

"As we reposition our all-star game, having powerful sponsors like Blockbuster and DirecTV helps us drive home the message of how unique the Pro Bowl is as an event," said NFL marketing czar John Collins. "There's the game itself, which gets a very decent rating, considering it comes after the Super Bowl, the biggest TV [ratings] number of the year. And where else can you see your favorite players walking around in bathing suits for a whole week?"

The NFL doesn't know exactly when the Pro Bowl will take place. It is normally scheduled for the Sunday following the Super Bowl. But if the NFL is successful in moving the Super Bowl from its Jan. 27 date in New Orleans to Feb. 3, the Pro Bowl would also have to be rescheduled.

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