SBJ/May 27 - June 2, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

NBC-AFL team has exceeded the 100-pitch mark

The Arena Football League's first season with "lifetime" broadcasting partner NBC doesn't begin until next February, but NBC and league officials have been busy.

While the no-rights-fee deal, under which NBC will broadcast a total of 71 regular-season and playoff games next season (compare that with other leagues' network TV exposure), was made public in early March, a team led by NBC's senior vice president of programming, Jon Miller, and AFL Properties President Glen Horine has been making media and sponsorship pitches since early this year. They've made more than 100 presentations, more than a third of those to ad agencies, with the rest to an assortment of big brands, including Gatorade, Anheuser-Busch, Coke, Motorola, Wendy's and Reebok.

Other than selling the AFL's hard-to-reach young male demo, the team has two unique selling propositions in its marketing bag. There's the one-minute commercial pod, necessitated by the AFL's high-scoring game. That would allow potential sponsors to own the "back in a minute break" and, the network hopes, prevent channel surfing. NBC also plans a number of production innovations, including airing the headset communications between coach and quarterback, which could be sponsored by a telecom brand.

Expect six to eight sponsored enhancements a game. NBC is selling media packages that start at around $1 million. The AFL's sponsorship pacts, which package marketing rights in the 20 (including anticipated expansion) AFL and 34 AF2 markets, are priced at around $3 million. Early buyers may get some marketing rights in this year's AFL playoffs.

Even with a projected rating of 1.0 to 2.0, the AFL/NBC combination is hopeful that it will pick up some of the network sports rating points that will be available with the NBA cutting back network games from 33 on NBC this year to 15 on ABC next year.

NEW LINEUP AT MLB: A long-awaited reorganization at Major League Baseball has unified what were disparate sales and marketing groups.

Directors of corporate sales and marketing John Brody and Justin Johnson were both promoted to vice president, in deference to the exponential growth in sponsorships since they were hired. Longtime senior director of advertising Jacqueline Parkes was likewise elevated to vice president, and Tom Brasuell, an events director, was bumped up to vice president of community affairs. Bernadette McDonald goes from director to vice president of broadcasting.

Most intriguingly, all those new VPs would report to a new, and yet unfilled, senior vice president of sales and marketing position. MLB has been without a senior corporate sponsorship executive since Tom Worcester left for Quokka/NBC three years ago; it has been without a senior-level marketer since former vice president of marketing Kathy Francis left last June. Candidates for the new combined position are being solicited from MLB club sponsorship execs, say team sources.

THREE'S A CHARM: A clear sign that licensed athletic apparel is heating up again: The NFL and Reebok, its exclusive on-field apparel licensee, are fashioning an alternate jersey program for the 2002-03 season.

Teams may opt to wear jerseys with a new design, composed of either a different combination of their primary jersey colors or a "classic" design. So far, only Cleveland and Miami are in, but up to 12 teams may participate. The third-jersey program won't begin until after the season's ninth week. Authentic and replica versions are expected at retail.

Yet another alternate jersey scheme, the Throwbacks program, in which teams will wear retro jerseys on Thanksgiving, could create a situation where some NFL clubs would have four official jerseys to chose from.

CASH FOR THE CLASSIC: Milwaukee, the site of this year's MLB All-Star Game, is one of baseball's smallest markets, but MLB has had success in finding local sponsorships for the game and accompanying John Hancock-entitled Fan Fest. In what's thought to be the first MLB sponsorship in the category, Harley Davidson has signed on as a Fan Fest sponsor. The Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer is expected to use the Fan Fest for an exhibition that will commemorate its 100th anniversary.

On board as a game sponsor is Midwest Express Airlines, which, not coincidentally, also holds entitlement to the downtown convention center that will house the Fan Fest July 5-9. The airline deal is a combination of barter and cash and includes ad inventory on mlb.com. Milwaukee's Summerfest music festival is another Fan Fest sponsor.

Local media sponsors include the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and local Fox affiliate WITI, in deference to Fox's exclusive MLB broadcast deal. Meanwhile, the card and collectibles show accompanying the Fan Fest is sold out. MLB is anticipating that around 80,000 people will visit the Fan Fest during its five-day run.

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

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