SBJ/June 9 - 15, 2003/This Weeks Issue

NFL boosts promo spending for Tokyo game

The NFL is planning its largest promotion ever surrounding the American Bowl in Tokyo, the first game of the preseason. The league and the Tokyo Dome plan to spend close to $1 million advertising the event and host a major tailgate party prior to kickoff.

The new initiatives are part of an effort by the league to recruit newer fans in Japan rather than rely on the hard-core faithful there.

The face of the campaign is a story in itself. Bob Sapp is no relation to Warren Sapp, the boisterous defensive lineman who stars for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will play the New York Jets on Aug. 2 in Tokyo. Bob Sapp, who played two games for the Minnesota Vikings in 1997, is today a martial-arts star in Japan, where he is nicknamed "the Beast."

Ex-NFLer Bob Sapp, now a martial-arts star in Japan, is featured in American Bowl ads.

The Beast will grace subways, bus stops and print ads throughout Japan and will appear personally to promote the game, the only NFL game outside the United States. Later this month he will tour Tokyo with cheerleaders, a procession dubbed "Beauty and the Beast."

"It is the first time we have not used [current] players as part of our promotional campaign," said Gordon Smeaton, vice president of NFL International. "We think we will reach a different audience."

The league is working hard to build football interest in Japan, where more than 10 percent of the country's 85 million TV households tuned in to watch the Super Bowl this year, Smeaton said. The game will start at 6 p.m. local time (5 a.m. Eastern) instead of in the late morning, as in previous years.

The NFL even unveiled the concept of the tailgate party last month at a press conference, and will host the festivity starting three hours before the game. The party will feature largely American-style food.

The ad campaign was developed by Tokyo-based agency Hakuhodo.

The NFL has been playing the American Bowl since 1986, and this year will mark the 12th time in Japan.

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