SBJ/October 8 - 14, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Ford’s sponsorship road diverges from NFL, but it’s still buying ads

Few sports sponsorships are selling, but the NFL is in a classic good news/bad news situation. The bad news: Ford has drop-kicked its 5-year-old NFL corporate sponsorship, a move that seems particularly odd considering that a guy named William Clay Ford owns the Detroit Lions. Adding to the quizzical nature of the decision: The Ford name will be on a stadium opening next year in Detroit that is slated to host Super Bowl XL in 2006.

The good news for the NFL: Ford still sees value enough in the more than 100 million fans who watch the NFL each fall weekend that it is continuing to buy commercial time from the league's broadcasters, and sources say General Motors is negotiating its own NFL car deal, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that former GM marketing chief Phil Guarascio is carrying a card these days that says "NFL" on it.

More bad news: The protracted negotiations on where the Super Bowl would be held this season are holding up the deal. With all the club deals in the auto category, the NFL is selling a deal that centers on Super Bowl rights.

Are we the only ones wondering how a league with ownership that includes the aforementioned Ford and three car dealers — New Orleans' Tom Benson, Minnesota's Red McCombs (who dropped out of law school to be a car salesman) and Miami's Wayne Huizenga — was having problems convincing the National Automobile Dealers Association to move its convention in favor of the Super Bowl?

 MANNING BECOMES A MEMBER: The Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning has bought an equity stake in the NFL Quarterback Club marketing cartel. Manning becomes one of only two active players to hold equity in the QBC. (The other is Randall Cunningham.) Sources put his investment at between $500,000 and $1 million. Other QBC shareholders, all of whom had to vote in Manning, are John Elway, Steve Everett, Troy Aikman, Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, Dan Marino, Bubby Brister, Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and Steve Young.

  TURNABOUT ISN'T FAIR PLAY: Most advertising is looked at with more suspicion, if not trepidation, than ever, yet Coke's new ad from McCann-Erickson with Cal Ripken Jr. and his daughter has been almost universally lauded. Still, not everyone loves it (see Ad Watch column).

Early this year the NFL, which has Coke as a corporate sponsor, forced Pepsi to make changes to an ad that featured actress Kim Cattrall in the locker room of "the Bears," whose uniforms were knockoffs of the Chicago Bears. After NFL pressure, Pepsi and agency BBDO changed a sign in the ad from "Bears Locker Room" to "Utah Bears Locker Room" and added a disclaimer. Now Pepsi marketers are wondering why turnabout isn't fair play.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@amcity.com.

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