SBJ/December 17 - 23, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

NFL ads designed to put fans into playoff mode

For years, the NFL's players and coaches have told us that the postseason is a different animal. Just how different it is from regular-season play will be at the center of the NFL's next ad campaign, a collaboration from Young & Rubicam and NFL Films.

Breaking the last weekend of the NFL regular season will be a handful of playoff-themed spots in which current and retired players and coaches answer queries about why playoff football is special. Sample questions from the campaign, filmed in a stark, black-and-white, documentary style: "If I'm a rookie, tell me how to get mentally ready for my first playoff game," and "What's something every fan thinks they know about the playoffs that isn't true?"

The answers will be pieced together from among the 20 or so NFL personalities being filmed for the campaign, including Kurt Warner, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Bill Cowher, Steve Mariucci, Dan Marino and Brett Favre. The ads will run in and out of NFL games on the league's TV networks and incorporate messages for specific playoff tilts.

Extra footage will be used for "In Their Own Words: Playoffs," a one-hour TV special to be aired early next year, most likely on ESPN. Aside from pushing viewership, the campaign is another effort by the NFL to establish separate, unique marketing platforms for its sponsors and licensees, so look for possible retail and licensing extension.

"Everyone knows the Super Bowl is special," said John Collins, NFL senior vice president of marketing and entertainment programming. "We're trying to get that level of excitement throughout the postseason by establishing the playoffs as a brand in their own right."

WEIGHTY DEAL: Octagon, which has been selling the Gravity Games since their inception, hopes to buy part of the alt-sports fest from Primedia. While the deal is in its formative stages, sources said it will probably be a joint venture. What NBC's role will be under a new ownership structure is unclear. The Peacock Network is committed to televising the Gravity Games for an additional two years via a revenue-sharing agreement. Taking equity in the Gravity Games would establish further credibility for Octagon, already the leading agency in the growing alternative-sports segment.

THEY'RE BAAAAACK: Longtime followers of NFL front-office goings-on will recognize the names behind a new wrestling league that hopes to give the WWF some competition: one-time NFL Properties President John Flood and Ludwell Denny, who headed trading-card brand Pro Set.

"With only one player [WWF] left, there's room for an alternative," Flood said. Thus, the Tampa-based XWF, which, much like the defunct WCW, is a PG family play to the WWF's R/X presentation. Already in the can are 10 hours of TV programming, which Flood hopes to sell in a seven-figure deal as a cable or syndicated property. Plans are for the circuit to kick off in the Midwest in late December with nine shows. A total of 150 are planned. Name wrestlers include Hulk Hogan; the XWF commissioner is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

Once the distribution problem is solved, Flood plans to head sponsorship sales. Flood and Denny were central figures in a trading-card scandal that led to Flood's departure from NFL Properties in 1994 and was a catalyst to reforms that created what today is a more unified structure between the NFL and its marketing unit.

SEATS AND TREATS: E-Trade, sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show for the second straight year, will also get its name on seat cushions at the NFL's championship game for the second consecutive year. About 75,000 cushions will be placed on the already-padded seats of the Louisiana Superdome for Super Bowl XXXVI. Inside the cushions will be the typical assortment of sponsor goodies, plus "TD," a Super Bowl plush bear. Unlike a similar 2001 World Series promo, the NFL's patriotic-colored ersatz Beanie Baby will be given to fans sans advertising. A companion bear will be available at retail. Meeting Street Promotions in Westport, Conn., handles Super Bowl cushions for the fifth straight year. The red-white-and-blue bears are from Team Beans, headed by former Apex chief Michael Lewis.

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

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