SBJ/February 11 - 17, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

NFL execs, owners consider radically changing sponsorship structure

The NFL has 15 corporate sponsorship renewals to complete, including the beer category, shared by Anheuser-Busch and Miller, and Coke. While the dynamics of the suds and soda categories are always fodder for discussion, a much more basic subject was sparking the buzz in New Orleans among sponsors: a complete re-examination of the league/teams' sponsorship dynamic that could see the NFL go to a less-is-more philosophy by eliminating many categories and giving rights back to its clubs.

What seems to be a rethinking of the league's priorities for corporate sponsorship was sparked by clubs' demands for control over big-ticket categories and by the expiration of the NFL Trust (which cedes NFL clubs' marketing rights to the league) after the 2003 season. Team owners were huddling with NFL brass in New Orleans and beginning to draw up blueprints for what could be a radical reconstruction, including potentially giving categories as large as beer and soda back to the clubs.

Sources said the league is not looking to exit the sponsorship biz altogether. There is even some enthusiasm for paring the NFL sponsorship roster and making the remaining rights packages deeper and more comprehensive. Even if the league cuts its sponsor roster from 30 to 10, as some were suggesting in New Orleans, "There's still a real desire to create more value within what's left," said a party familiar with the proceedings.

A less-is-more philosophy would make it easier for the league to shift to a program that peddles only the NFL shield and Super Bowl marks — a possible scenario after the NFL Trust expires.

SHOCK THE MONKEY: The most amusing sponsorship controversy of the week involved Jonah, the monkey that starred in E-Trade's ads during the first quarter of the Super Bowl. E-Trade desperately wanted Jonah to appear at a news conference with halftime show stars U2. Predictably, the NFL nixed the monkey business, but the controversy raged at the highest levels of both the league and E-Trade. Undaunted, E-Trade pushed its monkey around New Orleans. TV appearances included a spot on the local CBS affiliate's morning show and a pregame spot on Fox.

One of my favorite moments of Super Bowl week was when Joe Montana mocked Terry Bradshaw's appearance in a campaign for MCI WorldCom's 10-10-220 long-distance service by handing him a dollar after being introduced at Cadillac's news conference. "You'll have to give that to my ex-wife," Bradshaw shot back.

EAGLES FLY SOLO: With Clear Channel (née SFX) out of the stadium naming-rights business and Envision selling the name to the Philadelphia Phillies' ballpark being built across Pattison Avenue from the Eagles' new stadium, who have the NFC East champs hired to sell naming rights? Themselves.

Maybe that's not a bad idea. Over four months or so, the Eagles sold out of suites in the new stadium (see story, page 5). As for the prospect of competing with the Phillies for naming-rights dollars?

"If your objective is national branding, then the NFL is where you should be," said Len Komoroski, the Eagles' senior vice president of business operations.

The naming-rights package, certainly the largest one now available, includes training camp, community-based programs, hospitality, local radio and TV, and five weekly TV shows, which will probably increase to six next season. As for a price tag, given the market, "It's a fluid process right now," Komoroski said. Figure Comcast, which owns the 76ers and Flyers but not naming rights to the 5-year-old arena in which they play, to make a big push for one of the new Philly stadiums.

SUPER SHOPPING: At Foot Locker's mammoth NFL Experience store, impulse buys got the most display space: Reebok's Super Bowl "hot market" sneaker, which incorporated logos of the Rams and Patriots, and the commemorative Super Bowl bears and bobblehead dolls from Team Beans.

Proof that when a formula works, marketers will beat it until it's dead? How about a bobblehead T-shirt from VF? Or the 4-foot-tall representation of Team Beans' regulation-size Beanie-esque Super Bowl Bear? The price of the bear multiplied as well, from $18 to $200.

Elsewhere on the licensing front, Reebok will pick up many NFLers, what with Adidas exiting as an NFL licensee. A deal with Peyton Manning is the first of many; Reebok may double its NFL roster to about 400 by next season.

COMINGS AND GOINGS: Keith Daly to executive vice president at basketball sneaker and apparel brand And 1. He was senior vice president/general merchandise manager at Foot Action. ... Marc Altieri to Hill & Knowlton, Irvine, Calif., as an executive in the firm's sports marketing group. He was with DirecTV and will continue on that account in his new job.

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

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