SBJ/20100913/This Weeks Issue

For NFL sponsors, a pregame pep talk

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and
PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi
speak to an overflow crowd of PepsiCo

The sculpture collection at PepsiCo’s headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., has long been a source of corporate pride and is one of the hidden treasures of Westchester County. But on a recent, sweltering late-summer afternoon, things were decidedly different around the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens.

Complementing the works by Calder, Miró and Rodin were four, 5-foot-tall inflatable representations of players from the New York Jets and Giants. Inside the corporate building, a sculpture loosely based on the human body was dressed in a Brandon Jacobs Giants jersey. Across the lobby was a new addition to the collection, though not one that will necessarily join the exhibition permanently: a life-sized football player, fashioned entirely from Pepsi and Diet Pepsi cans.

Two days before the NFL started its season in New Orleans, Pepsi was doing its part to support the NFL’s new Back to Football platform, with kickoff rallies matching those at around a dozen headquarters of the league’s corporate sponsors.

In Purchase, the presence of NFL dignitaries including Commissioner Roger Goodell and hall of famers Emmitt Smith and Harry Carson was enough to produce an overflow crowd five rows deep in the corporate amphitheater. Other Pepsi units, like Gatorade in Chicago, an NFL sponsor for the last 27 years, and Frito-Lay, in Plano, Texas, were holding their own events while tying in electronically.

“I’ve seen a quote from [NFL CMO] Mark Waller about the need for more NFL women’s apparel, where he said their jerseys fit women like a sack of potatoes,” said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, to a crowd waving foam fingers and NFL flags. “But here,” she laughed, “we like potatoes,” referring to the company’s highly profitable Frito-Lay salty snacks unit.

Big-name lineup (from left): John Mara,
Woody Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Harry
Carson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Goodell

Across the landscape of corporate America last week, NFL business partners staged something akin to high school pep rallies to celebrate the start of the 2010 season (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 30-Sept. 5). Pennants and T-shirts were distributed, jerseys of favorite teams were donned, footballs were tossed, and teams and brands were cheered — all in an effort to celebrate NFL Kickoff.

Goodell joined Giants and Jets owners John Mara and Woody Johnson, along with Carson, Smith, and Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson to rally an appreciative crowd of employees. The goal? “What we are trying to do is bring back the season with the emotion that is football,” said Goodell, who subsequently offered to get Nooyi a better-fitting jersey of her choice. “We use football to build your business, sure, but we also want to help build your [corporate] culture.”

To that end, NFL Tailgate events were held at Barclaycard locations in Delaware, Maine and Colorado last week, with raffles and prizes to the best-dressed fans. Inside EA Sports’ headquarters in Redwood, Calif., free Papa John’s pizza and Pepsi in the lobby were accompanied by additional NFL raffle prizes. At Papa John’s headquarters in Louisville, Ky., and at other NFL sponsor sites, employees were encouraged to wear NFL jerseys on Back to Football Friday. Papa John’s added its own Town Hall Pep Rally along with tailgating and its own version of a training camp.

Rights holders bought into the Back to Football platform as well, even outside of sports programming. CBS’s “The Early Show” and NBC’s “Today” took turns doing their own NFL-themed shows.

ABOVE: PepsiCo’s Nooyi celebrated the return
of football with Giants owner Mara (left) and
former Cowboys star Smith.

BELOW: The collection of NFL players,
owners and executives drew a spirited crowd
at PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase, N.Y.

For the sponsor companies, the efforts also had a competitive significance. The sponsor registering the highest percentage of headquarters-employee support via Web registration and deemed to show the most NFL pride last week will be rewarded with Super Bowl tickets and a prize at the heart of the NFL’s business model — national commercial recognition. The most creative sponsor, as determined by photo submissions of employees expressing their NFL loyalties and decided by the league, will be rewarded with a 30-second thank-you promo filmed by NFL Films that will be shown during a game before the end of the season.

“Our goal was to get more activation than ever to start the season, and I believe we have done that,” said Peter O’Reilly the NFL’s vice president of fan strategy, marketing and media. “Adding the corporate challenge element is a way for sponsors to add value, because they can use the NFL to get their whole organizations energized.”

After fielding questions ranging from the origins of the Gatorade coaches’ victory shower, the appropriateness of a Super Bowl in New York City and what two issues keep the commissioner awake at night (“I wish there were just two,” he said), 70 minutes into the Pepsi rally, the most important issue facing the NFL was finally broached: labor.

“We’ve got to get it done,” said Goodell, when asked how confident he was that there would be no work stoppage. “I always believe that we will reach an agreement that works for everybody.”

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