The recession’s stranglehold on marketing budgets has forced even the largest sports properties to create new sponsorship inventory. Liquor, lottery and practice jersey patches are now permitted targets in the NFL, though from what we have heard from the clubs, only the ability to market with state lotteries has yielded significant new revenue.
While advertising logos on NFL practice uniforms were trumpeted as a panacea for NFL marketers desperate for new sponsorship revenue, with training camps opening this week, we think it is fair to say they have proved to be a mixed bag. Since they were only authorized in late March, and the league required that the 3x4 patches be submitted for approval by July 1, some club marketers are holding off.
“A billboard on practice jerseys could be great inventory for the right partner,” said Kevin Rochlitz, Baltimore Ravens vice president of national sales and partnerships, “but we just needed more time, so we’re shelving it until next season.”
Echoed Kansas City Chiefs Executive Vice President and COO Mark Donovan, “We didn’t find the right deal and we didn’t want to rush into anything, so we’re waiting.”
Denis Gallagher, Philadelphia Eagles director of corporate sales, agreed, saying, “It’s great to have something new to sell, but they [practice uniform ad patches] are a tough thing to quantify yet, since we’re not sure how much [TV] exposure they will get.” The Eagles are another team that won’t have a uniform patch this season.
On the other hand, the St. Louis Rams were able to induce incumbent airline sponsor American Airlines to step up several levels by including the practice jersey patch as part of a new pact. American signed a three-year deal under which they will get all of the team’s charter business while tripling their marketing spend with the Rams, said CMO Bob Reif.
The airline gets use of the Rams’ e-mail and text-messaging marketing programs, fixed and electronic stadium signage, and other team-controlled media. At the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, American will have gate agents and other ground personnel decked out in Rams apparel every Sunday during the NFL season and will decorate some airport vehicles with a Rams paint scheme.
The Chicago Bears’ largest and most significant offseason deal was with NorthShore University HealthSystem, now the team’s first official health care provider. Still, Chris Hibbs, senior director of sales and marketing, said the jersey patch was only a portion of the three-year deal, not the deal itself, which also includes team-controlled media, LED signage and a community outreach program.
Elsewhere around the league, the Indianapolis Colts signed Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, which also has naming rights to the team’s training facility, to sponsor a jersey patch. Other teams have seen fit to include the practice patches as part of the deals they have with companies for sponsorship of their practice facilities, as well, such as the New York Giants and Timex, and the New York Jets and Atlantic Health.
The Tennessee Titans get the pioneer award regarding this particular piece of sponsorship inventory, having worn the logo of official health care provider Baptist Sports Medicine on their practice togs for several years.
A few intriguing details from the league’s new practice-jersey guidelines: The patches cannot include sales messages or advertising slogans; there is no licensing angle, since practice jerseys may not be sold with sponsor logos attached; and practice jersey patches may not be sold to competitors of league on-field rights holders, like Reebok, Gatorade, Motorola, Wilson and Riddell.
The inevitable question is whether all of this will lead to logos on NFL game uniforms. Our inevitable answer: They are already there, in the form of a Reebok vector. For us, the difference between a vector worn on a uniform, and say, the Golden Arches, is simply one of geometry. However, the NFL’s television rights holders will have to get in on the action if that NASCAR-esque path is one the NFL chooses to follow, as they may want a piece of the sales action or resulting revenue.
The league has authorized practice jersey advertising for the next three seasons.
NOT-SO-LONESOME COWBOY: While the team is without a playoff victory since 1996, any Dallas Cowboys quarterback will always have more than his share of marketing opportunities. Such is the case for Tony Romo. In June, Romo shot his first television ad for the Starter sportswear line that’s exclusive at Wal-Mart stores. The ad should break in August. Romo also recently did a photo shoot for Pepsi point-of-sale displays. Cowboys fans, or even those inclined to criticize Romo and the Boys, will have the opportunity to “hang” Romo later this year, as the QB will be the featured athlete in Hallmark’s annual holiday ornament offering.
R.J. Gonser at CAA Sports represents Romo for marketing.
SUBWAY TO THE GAME: Just before the MLB All-Star break, Subway filmed another TV ad pairing lead spokesman Jared Fogle with Ryan Howard, the QSR’s lead MLB endorser. We are told Subway wanted to shoot the ad at the Phillies’ home, Citizens Bank Park, but had to settle on nearby Campbell’s Field, home of the minor league Camden Riversharks.
The spot is expected to break during ESPN’s coverage of the Little League World Series in August, in which Subway has considerable air time as a result of its sponsorship of Little League baseball.
In the Philadelphia market, local Subways will be selling a “Ryan Howard meal,” with fellow sponsor Powerade, in August.
Casey Close at CAA Sports represents Howard.
COMINGS & GOINGS: Mitch Poll joins the U.S. Olympic Committee in New York as managing director, business segments. Translated, that means Poll will sell and service USOC sponsorships and sponsors, working for CMO Lisa Baird. Like Baird, Poll is a former NFLer. He spent around a decade there before taking the league buyout in February. … Meg Meurer Brossy joins interactive TV agency BrightLine iTV as senior vice president of business development, based in New York. The former Philip Morris sports marketer has also been CMO at 24/7 Media and managing director of new business development for the League of American Theatres and Producers.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.