SBJ/November 19 - 25, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

New NFL fan-loyalty program could test before season’s end

Looking to build year-round affinity and create an additional marketing vehicle for league sponsors and licensees, the NFL hopes to test-market a fan frequency/loyalty program before the end of the season.

One internal NFL estimate of the revenue opportunity for an NFL fan club goes as high as $50 million. The basic concept is a $20-$40 package for avid fans that could include some acknowledgment of their status as superfans, access to additional league Internet content, gifts and discounts from NFL sponsors. While the fan package is conceived as a league initiative, club modules would be added later.

"There are potentially millions of people who will pay a fee for this, but [the package] has to recognize them and provide them with real value to work the way we want it to," said John Collins, NFL senior vice president of marketing and entertainment programming. The program would also help drive and fund a fan database project that is another key NFL marketing initiative.

Assisting the NFL on the project is Brierley & Partners, which developed renowned frequency/loyalty programs for American Airlines, Neiman Marcus and Blockbuster.

NEW BALLS, PLEASE: Rawlings, the official ball of the NCAA for the last decade or more, is bouncing out of the Final Four after the 2002 tournament. Replacing it in the men's and women's basketball tourneys will be either Wilson (the last NCAA official basketball before Rawlings) or Nike, which has designs on the ball market and the souvenir ball market.

Nike hopes to expand its overall presence at college bookstores in the many big-name campuses where it holds official rights, such as Michigan, Duke and North Carolina. The pending deal with the NCAA comes as Nike is cutting ties with such other sports properties as the NFL and NBA.

Since it is a licensing deal, the ball category is a contract handled directly by the NCAA and not through sponsorship agency Host Communications. Meanwhile, CBS sources report that ad inventory for the 2002 NCAA men's Final Four is 55 percent to 60 percent sold, slightly ahead of last year's pace. The new Host/NCAA sponsorship packages are expected on the street by January and will include media across all Viacom properties, along with the usual Host print and radio inventory.

MLB GIVING AGENCY THE SLIP: While the off-season will be filled with such noisy distractions as the renewal of the collective-bargaining agreement and contraction, look for Major League Baseball to slip quietly out of its relationship with FCB as its ad agency of record. Concerned about costs, MLB is looking to take commercial production in-house to MLB Productions. A new agency is likely to be hired and assist on strategic marketing and branding issues.

McCann Erickson, perhaps not coincidentally the agency for MasterCard, one of MLB's biggest and most active sponsors, appears to have the inside track for that assignment. FCB won the MLB business late in the 2000 season and followed with the tag line "Connect with it," which helped launch the 2001 season and the Internet efforts of MLB Advanced Media.

BYE-BYE, SPORTSCAPSULE: Sportscapsule quietly shut its doors Oct. 15, laying off about 40 employees while closing offices in New York and Los Angeles. Sportscapsule created custom video highlight reels (sportscapsules) on CDs, videotapes and the Web for amateur athletes, and through a deal with ESPN used that sports network's talent as the voice-overs on the reels.

In September, Sportscapsule was negotiating for ESPN to take a larger stake in the company, along with additional financing from Citi. The funding, however, dried up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedies. Sportscapsule was founded by Michael Paolucci, co-founder of Internet ad firm 24/7 Media.

HOOPING IT UP: The NBA is close to signing a revenue-sharing agreement with Host Communications that would make the Hoop It Up three-on-three basketball tournament one of the league's primary grassroots programs.

"We're going to make it our Punt, Pass and Kick," said Adam Silver, president/chief operating officer of NBA Entertainment, referring to the NFL's longtime skills competition.

As such, it would receive marketing support across NBA marketing platforms, and league sponsors would get first crack at the program. An early manifestation of the new Hoop It Up will see trios composed of an NBA legend, an active WNBA player and a current NBA player teaming for an event during the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Philadelphia that will replace the 2 Ball competition.

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

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