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Electronic Arts did not renew its deal with the Arena Football League, leaving the league without a video gaming partner as it prepares for its 2009 season.
In addition, EA Sports passed on an option to buy into the AFL, which was part of a three-year deal that began in 2006, according to the company’s recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
EA Sports produced two AFL video games, but the company did not exercise the option to produce a game last season and let the deal lapse after the 2008 season.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“The AFL is examining all of its options in this rapidly evolving category,” said AFL spokesman Chris McCloskey.
EA Sports rolled out its first AFL game in 2006, just after the start of the league’s 20th anniversary season. Though sales were not disclosed, the game sold well enough for the company to produce another one for the 2007 season.
For the AFL, the deal was seen as a coup, given that EA Sports has deals with the NFL, NBA and other major sports properties.
EA Sports’ decision not to renew comes at a critical period for the league and its owners, who are expected to vote later this month on whether to approve an equity deal with Los Angeles-based Platinum Equity.
Given the economic morass that is the topic du jour at every industry gathering these days, we haven’t heard much about new sponsorship sales of any consequence. That’s especially true from the NFL, but we are sure there’s enough to keep them occupied, especially with a GM renewal facing them at a time when the car manufacturer’s share price is at its lowest in 65 years.
However, news has reached us of an NFL deal for the playoffs that will make Kentucky Fried Chicken the league’s first “official wing sponsor.” KFC is part of Yum! Brands and pours products from fellow NFL corporate sponsor Pepsi. The rights acquired by KFC under the media-heavy deal will be used to push KFC chicken wings as the snack of choice during the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Look for TV and point-of-sale support, along with 32-ounce cups with NFL logos, Super Bowl ticket/trip giveaways via a sweeps overlay, and a bucket of chicken containing a wing count in accordance with the next Super Bowl — 43 or XLIII, depending on your preference.
While other Yum! Brands quick-service restaurants have been active in sports (Taco Bell/MLB and Pizza Hut/NASCAR and the MLS venue in Frisco, Texas), KFC has been largely absent from larger sports sponsorships. The NFL has been targeting a QSR since Burger King left the fold after last season. The category has been an elusive one in recent years. Prior to Burger King signing an NFL deal in 2005, the category was vacant since 1998, when McDonald’s dropped its rights package.
KFC’s NFL playoff sponsorship represents a reversal from the last Super Bowl, when a publicity grab saw the company offer a $260,000 charitable donation in the name of any player that would simulate “wing flapping” during a Super Bowl XLII touchdown celebration. At the time, an NFL spokesman called that stunt “Ambush Marketing 101.” Now league officials are calling KFC something much more palatable: a business partner.
IN THE CARDS: Fathead is extending its Tradeables 5-by-7-inch version of the company’s oversized sports wall graphics into baseball with an MLB line that will hit retail in March. Tradeables was launched with an NFL license earlier this season, but the MLB move is significant since the sport has the lion’s share of the trading card market that has been suffering of late. The party line at Fathead is that Tradeables are not a competitive product with trading cards, but we’re not sure MLB licensees Upper Deck and Topps feel that way. Each pack of Tradeables will have four players and one MLB team logo vinyl Tradeable, and sell for $12.99-$14.99, depending on retailer. Linda Castillon, Fathead vice president of licensing, said the NFL launch exceeded expectations, and that distribution for the MLB product will include sports specialty, drug and mass merchants. Meanwhile, the company has explored the use of Tradeables as a promotional item, including a recent Verizon-sponsored gate premium for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
COMINGS & GOINGS: You may have read previously in this space that Stu Crystal, who has headed licensing at Major League Soccer for nine years, was leaving the soccer league at the end of the year. While we believe that item was valid when it ran here, sources at the top of the league now tell us it is no longer true and that Crystal has now reached agreement to continue as licensing chief at MLS. … David Lafrennie joins the NBA as vice president of marketing communications. He was with Hartford Life for the past seven years. Lafrennie is filling the post created by Matt Bourne’s defection to MLB in May. … Denis Gallagher joins the Philadelphia Eagles from People magazine as the team’s director of corporate partnerships. Gallagher fills the spot vacated by Jeff Long, who has opened The Pattison Sports Group, a sponsorship marketing and sales agency with initial sales clients including CBS’s Atlantic 10 rights, and the new MLS franchise in Philadelphia. … Justin Edelman leaves Edelman PR after nine years to join MSG as vice president of communications, reporting to Barry Watkins.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.