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NFL, partners push Back to Football

The NFL’s Back to Football marketing campaign is a $50 million effort to brand the start of the season, league owners were told last week, with its initiatives reaching into schools, offices, sponsor companies, broadcasters and retailers.

Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, told the owners that the league intends for Back to Football to supersede the cultural autumn touchstone of back to school.

“Kickoff should be the crescendo, when the nation celebrates our return in the same way they celebrate the Super Bowl,” Waller told the owners at their league meeting in Atlanta, in a rare if not unprecedented occasion when the league allowed reporters into their meeting room.

NBC, which will broadcast the Sept. 9 opener, and its sister channels are theming much of their programming next week around the concept. MSNBC, CNBC and The Weather Channel are scheduled to broadcast from New Orleans, site of the game.

Twenty-one of the league’s sponsors and broadcast partners are committed to internal Back to Football initiatives next week. Papa John’s employees will wear NFL jerseys on Sept. 9, while PepsiCo on Sept. 7 plans to webcast a pep rally at company headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and New York Giants co-owner John Mara scheduled to attend. New NFL sponsor Verizon Wireless is spending $2 million to buy jerseys for its employees to be worn at offices nationwide as part of their involvement.

The NFL plans to choose a winner among its participating partners for the best effort and will give the company a 30-second thank you spot in a future NFL broadcast.

Three national retailers, Kohl’s, Old Navy and Dick’s Sporting Goods, are supporting the campaign with TV ads and in-store NFL gear. The Old Navy campaign is running during preseason game broadcasts, as are NFL-based spots. The NFL received its ad space as part of the league’s TV deals. It is paying for additional print ads that will complement the TV advertising.

In total, the $50 million figure represents the value of the campaign, not what the NFL is spending. That spending figure was not available.

Also as part of the campaign, more than 5,000 schools have signed up for a program called Back to Football Friday. The idea there is that on Sept. 10 — the day after the opening game and before the first weekend of games — schools and offices across the country will have NFL pep rallies and can win prizes for their efforts. There are 1,800 school events planned, in 49 out of the 50 states and in all 32 NFL markets, Waller said.

Responding to a question from Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, Waller said the office signup for the program, run through United Way, had been disappointing to date but the number of schools exceeded plans.

Back to Football targets the 10-week period from late July, when training camp begins, to kickoff weekend. Many of the 32 clubs have incorporated the slogan into their local marketing plans. The NFL also is reaching out to the NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates in the 32 teams’ markets, along with Los Angeles, by sending jerseys to the news and sports anchors with the request to wear them on Back to Football Friday.

As for NBC nationally, its marketing around the Sept. 9 New Orleans-Minnesota game will be extensive, said Mike McCarley, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics vice president of marketing, promotions and communications. It will feature weeklong integration in shows including “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “ America ’s Got Talent,” along with NFL-themed episodes of “Minute to Win It.”

“We want to try and give the NFL as much of a bump at the beginning of the season as we did at the end of the season,” he said.

Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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