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WNBA tips off season with McDonald’s in fold

The WNBA will tip off its 2008 season Saturday with a new marketing deal with McDonald’s that puts the golden arches on the front of all team jerseys during the league’s opening week.

It’s the first time that a company logo other than the uniform manufacturer has appeared on a WNBA, NBA or NBA Development League uniform during the regular season.

Terms of the deal also call for McDonald’s to be the presenting sponsor for the WNBA’s tip-off week through May 24 and includes a seasonlong television media buy.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed but McDonald’s paid a rights fee along with a national media buy, league officials said.

For the WNBA, the deal marks the return of McDonald’s, which was a WNBA original marketing partner in 1997 and partnered with the league again in 2005 and 2006.

The company bowed out last year, but is returning in part to get league support in promoting the launch of its “Southern style” chicken items, as it is trying to get customers to try their expanded chicken menu.

Also included in the deal are player appearances in 10 WNBA markets on Thursday, when McDonald’s will give out millions of free samples of its new chicken products as part of a national sampling day promotion.

McDonald’s restaurants in WNBA markets will also have point-of-sale WNBA ticket promotions.

McDonald’s also promoted its new product launch using the Elliott Sadler No. 19 car painted with a McDonald’s theme at the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway on Sunday. McDonald’s also promoted its launch with a media buy during the race on Fox.

Activation for the tip-off sponsorship includes a McDonald’s logo to be sewn on the front of all uniforms in the 14-team WNBA during its opening week from Saturday through May 24 and for each team’s home opener, the last one set for June 6.

McDonald’s will also have a floor logo near the scorer’s table, courtside seat logos, rotational signage and logos on the stanchion pads during three nationally televised WNBA games during the league’s opening week. Two of the games will be broadcast on ABC and the third game will be on ESPN2. Teams can still cut their own local fast food deals.

WNBA partner Discover Card had a jersey patch on WNBA uniforms during last year’s All-Star Game. Discover also has an on-court company logo and floor signage displayed in all WNBA arenas.

“[The McDonald’s deal] has national elements as well as local and player elements, which makes this a very integrated marketing effort,” said Donna Orender, president of the WNBA. “Incorporating inclusive use of uniform and floor signage is probably a great way to build our business.”

John Lewicki, director of sports partnerships and alliances for McDonald’s USA, said: “We look at relevant ways for a new launch and it works to both of our benefits. [The jersey patch] is one of those things that with the help of the WNBA helps create a unique tie.”

The league also added IHOP, Pitney Bowes and Kia as league marketing partners. League officials said there is no conflict between McDonald’s and IHOP because IHOP is purely a media deal.

The McDonald’s sponsorship comes as the WNBA opens its 2008 season with a new national advertising campaign with the “Expect Great” tag line. The campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, features three players: Cheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock, Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever, and heralded rookie Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks. The theme of the campaign features the strength and skill of the WNBA players. The campaign runs counter to previous advertising efforts aimed a women.

The WNBA’s new “Expect Great” ad
campaign features Candace Parker (above),
Cheryl Ford (below) and Tamika Catchings.

“Our research showed that 79 percent of women list a male as the person who most influences the interests of sports in homes,” said Hilary Shaev, vice president of marketing for the NBA. “The creative mostly targets men who may have misconceptions about the league and our goal is to break down biases and excite more fans.”

The three 30-second spots will run on ESPN and ABC during the NBA playoffs and Finals. The ads will also run within the WNBA television inventory.

League officials are banking on the new ad campaign to drive interest in the WNBA after the 2007 season brought a 1.7 percent increase in average attendance. Last year the WNBA averaged 7,742 fans a game, up from 7,610 from the 2006 season, which was the lowest attendance in the league history. Television ratings in 2007 remained flat on ESPN2 and dropped on ABC.

To date this year, full-season-ticket sales are up 5 percent with nine teams pacing ahead of last year, though league officials did not disclose specific season-ticket sales totals.

The Los Angeles Sparks have sold five times the number of season tickets to date compared with last year, as the team is promoting the arrival of Parker, the league’s highly touted top draft pick, and the return of veteran Lisa Leslie, the WNBA’s career scoring leader who spent last season on maternity leave.

“We have two things going for us,” said Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman. “One is Candace Parker and the other is the return of Lisa Leslie. We have the best player coming out of college and the best veteran player and that doesn’t always happen.”

Joining the WNBA this year as the league’s 14th franchise is the expansion Atlanta Dream. The team is the seventh WNBA franchise with ownership outside the NBA, joining the Sparks, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm, Houston Comets and Washington Mystics.

The WNBA enters its season with a new, eight-year TV deal with ESPN/ABC that will air a total of 35 regular-season and playoff games each season through 2016. It is the same number of games under the previous deal with ABC and ESPN.

The league also signed a new, six-year collective-bargaining agreement in January with the WNBA Players Association.

“The scale of our business is growing,” Orender said. “All of the key business drivers are moving in the right direction and are at levels that we haven’t had at this time year-to-date. We came out of our 11th season last year with a good deal of momentum and our goal is to build on it.”

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