SBJ/20100329/Marketing/Sponsorship

NFL’s split with Sprint quickly became an ugly divorce

This reporter has been married to the same saintly woman for 30-plus years, so while we don’t know much about separations, we are certain there is no easy way to say “I want a divorce” after a lengthy relationship. We have heard tales of amicable breakups, but Sprint’s recent separation from the NFL was not one of those.

We can’t blame the NFL for taking the bigger bucks and opting for No. 1 cell carrier Verizon Wireless’ considerably larger network. Still, Sprint marketers headed to the Super Bowl last month thinking “we were very, very close” to renewing the league deal they originally signed in 2005. Until word slipped out at the Friday night Commissioner’s Party that Sprint was out. That left its marketers, including Bill Morgan, senior vice president of corporate marketing, scrambling since top personnel, including CEO Dan Hesse, were arriving imminently without knowing that the NFL had hung up on Sprint.

The league dumped Sprint in favor
of bigger bucks offered by
Verizon Wireless.

Perhaps they were misguided to expect a smoother transition, but recall the hundreds of millions that Sprint had spent promoting the NFL in its two separate stints as NFL sponsors, including an ad for its Boost Mobile brand in this year’s Super Bowl. At a minimum, Sprint shouldn’t have left that relationship rooting for an NFL work stoppage. “They [the NFL] did what they did with good justification,” said one senior marketer familiar with the deal. “The way they handled the transition — or at least that portion — was as bad as I have ever seen.”

We note that Sprint’s exclusive negotiating window expired well before the last NFL season started, but we also know that the dynamism of the wireless market cannot be overstated. The NFL’s side of all this? “We enjoyed the Sprint partnership and working with their entire organization,” said Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications.

We will be interested to see where Sprint goes after its NFL league sponsorship. There has been some chatter that Sprint will retain some sort of football presence on its handsets. Recalling that Sprint is title sponsor of NASCAR’s top circuit, the company does not strike us as an ambusher of any sort. Still, it closed last season with around eight NFL team deals, so a locally based NFL content platform is a possibility, or perhaps one based on NFL media buys. Sprint is the incumbent sponsor of CBS’s Sunday NFL halftime show. As one marketer with hands on the wheel advised us, any replacement NFL deal “doesn’t have to be sports or even sponsorship necessarily, just some platform or programming that drives customer acquisition or subscription revenue.”

We hope that one ends more smoothly.

GROWING AUTHORITY: Fox NFL analyst Michael Strahan is rapidly becoming the face of The Sports Authority, the full-line sporting-goods retailer that has 462 stores in 45 states.

The follow-up to the “fish-out-of-water” in-house Sports Authority TV ad that had Strahan hitting baseballs while touting Easton bats is an ad where the former New York Giants defensive end plays lacrosse. The sporting goods retailer will follow up those this year with Strahan in golf, soccer, football and holiday spots.

HERE & THERE: Carmine Parisi, former NFL business development vice president, (NOT the source for the Sprint story above, for all you NFL plumbers) has resurfaced as senior vice president of sales for the Outside Television Network, formerly the Resort Sports Network, which has around 2 million subscribers in more than 100 resorts like Aspen, Colo., and Key West, Fla. The rebranding followed a minority stake investment by Outside magazine publisher Mariah Media and the relaunch is slated for June. Parisi, who was at the NFL for three years, will also sell for Outsidetelevision.com. … Olympic skiing medalist Lindsey Vonn has retained PMK-BNC for media relations. She will work with Executive Vice President Lewis Kay and join a roster that includes Danica Patrick, Serena Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Bill Simmons. IMG continues to handle efforts for Vonn outside of PR.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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