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NFL adding IHOP to 2009 sponsor menu

The first new NFL sponsorship signed during the offseason is with … the International House of Pancakes.

The NFL has been casting its net at a variety of casual-dining chains, and the franchised restaurant chain has signed a three-month promotional partnership, from August through October. IHOP will use its NFL rights to push two forthcoming football-themed menu items: NFL Stuffed French Toast and the QB Scramble.

Financial terms of the partnership were not available.

The NFL is IHOP’s biggest sports sponsorship. The 1,400-location chain has been a sponsor of the Harlem Globetrotters since early this year and also has sponsored the WNBA since last season. IHOP is the presenting partner of this season’s WNBA halftime broadcasts on ABC and ESPN2.

Sources said that because the NFL deal is for only three months, it is not exclusive, nor does the deal include a designation beyond official sponsor. IHOP’s parent company, DineEquity, also owns the nearly 2,000-location Applebee’s casual dining chain. While the IHOP rights do not extend to Applebee’s, sources said that IHOP’s newfound NFL rights were making the sister chain explore its own sports sponsorship scenarios.

The deal makes IHOP the first NFL sponsor in the restaurant category since KFC’s brief run during the playoffs early this year. Before KFC, Burger King was a full-fledged NFL sponsor from 2005 to 2007. Now that the NFL is dissecting the category, KFC is expected to make a small return under the umbrella of a “Madden NFL” promo at the start of the season.

IHOP creative agency VitroRobertson shot two separate ads last week in Los Angeles using one of the NFL’s premier receivers, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, and one of the league’s top quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb.

Both ads are set in IHOPs with the athlete in uniform. Fitzgerald’s ad shows off his All-Pro receiving skills with a variety of restaurant items, while McNabb is “sacked” by an overzealous IHOP waitress. The ads are scheduled to start in August. The media schedule could not be determined.

The Drana Group, Milwaukee, reps Fitzgerald for marketing deals. President John Drana said that after Fitzgerald’s strong playoff showing last season, the receiver has also agreed to a large Nike renewal, renewed an EAS contract, shot an ESPN “SportsCenter” spot, will appear on the cover of EA’s “Madden NFL 10” game (with Troy Polamalu ) and is close to a regional banking deal in Arizona.

McNabb, solidifying his endorsement roster after securing a two-year contract extension with the Eagles, also has signed recent renewals with Nike and Verizon Wireless.

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