SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

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  • Allstate signs on with MLS, USSF

    Major League Soccer has signed Allstate Insurance to a four-year deal as the league’s official insurance partner.
    Building on a four-year partnership with the Mexican national soccer team, Allstate’s sponsorship deal with Soccer United Marketing also includes four-year partnerships with the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams as well as a four-year extension with the Mexican national team. Industry sources peg the deal, which was negotiated by IMG, in the eight-figure range.

    “We are casting a wider net,” said Karen Uhler, senior marketing manager at Allstate. “We’ve had a great track record with the Hispanic audience and it’s time to grow our involvement with the sport.”

    ALLSTATE / SUM
    The deal also extends the insurer’s sponsorship of the Mexican national soccer team.
    Under the new deal, Allstate will continue its programs with the Mexican national team and will receive media and branding opportunities at MLS and U.S. national team games, as well as space in the pregame expo at MLS and national team games. Allstate also becomes the presenting sponsor of “Sueño MLS,” the league’s talent contest for teenagers that is featured on the Univision television show “Republica Deportiva.”

    MLS has been without an insurance partner since 2003 when New York Life finished a four-year deal as the league’s official life insurance partner.

    Under the new deal, Allstate has access to MLS marks. However, the company declined to discuss the creative specifics of its marketing. David Wright, vice president of partnership marketing for SUM, said he expects Allstate to have an innovative online presence.

    “[Allstate] is very creative when it comes to digital,” Wright said. “I think [Allstate] recognized the opportunities available in North American soccer, and they want to take an ownership position.”

    Allstate signed a partnership with the Mexican national team in 2007, and in 2008 it launched the Protection Is Our Game campaign around Mexican goalie Memo Ochoa that includes TV spots and an online video game where fans try to score on the goalie.

    The insurer also hosted Futbol Fiesta parties at national team matches in the United States and Mexico, as well as the Sorpresa youth soccer tour with Mexican star Zague.

    Michael Hitchcock, managing partner for the soccer marketing firm Playbook Management International and former general manager for FC Dallas, called the deal a logical progression for Allstate in the soccer market.
    “It makes sense to market to the Hispanic community with soccer because [they] are so passionate and loyal,” Hitchcock said. “[The partnership] is a credit to MLS when you see companies wanting to reach out to young professionals and youth soccer communities, too.”

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  • Heritage draws top sponsors

    Fueled by robust sales to Canadian brands and strong anticipated television ratings in the U.S. and Canada, this week’s NHL Heritage Classic has outsold the Winter Classic in sponsorship.

    “The overall revenue for the Heritage Classic will be smaller [than the Winter Classic], but at a sponsorship level we are tracking just ahead,” said Kyle McMann, the NHL’s vice president of partnership marketing. The NHL declined to release sales figures.

    The game, pitting the Calgary Flames against the Montreal Canadiens at Calgary’s 40,000-seat McMahon Stadium on Sunday, is Canada’s first outdoor NHL game since 2003, when Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium hosted the original Heritage Classic game between the Oilers and Canadiens. The league sold out of 20,000 public tickets on Dec. 9 in five minutes, with the remainder of the seats being held for season-ticket holders and team and league partners.

    The league sold out of its sponsorship inventory for the outdoor game last Wednesday, with four presenting sponsors and nine game partners lined up. Tim Hortons took on title sponsorship of the event in December as part of a multiyear deal as the NHL’s Canadian quick-service restaurant and coffee partner. Through January, the Canadian restaurateur promoted the game at its 3,100 franchises with posters and digital signage. Tim Hortons will broadcast four ads — three 30-second and one 60-second — during the game’s telecast, and the restaurateur is bringing approximately 140 people to the game.

    “The [Heritage Classic] was one of the big drivers behind our partnership with the league,” said Rob Forbes, senior director, regional marketing and national promotions for Tim Hortons. “We have always believed that passion for hockey connects Canadians.”

    With Calgary’s average daytime February temperature at just under 16 degrees, brands are gearing their on-site activation around warmth. Tim Hortons will distribute free coffee, and Canadian Tire is giving out 40,000 heated seat cushions to complement its in-stadium signage and 15- and 30-second ad spots. Electronics maker LG will have a clothes dryer at its 26-foot activation trailer to warm up gloves and hats. Bridgestone will run its traditional slap-shot competition, which awards a set of snow tires to the fastest shot of the day.

    “For our Canadian component, this is a really big deal,” said Phil Pacsi, vice president of consumer marketing at Bridgestone, which is bringing 40 guests and staffers to the event. “We would have loved to have been title sponsor of [the Heritage Classic]. It was a budget issue.”

    Versus, which controls U.S. broadcast rights, will see the event promoted by NBC as part of the network’s “Hockey Day in America” on most of its television properties, including the “Today” show, Golf Channel and Bravo, as well as on 20 NBC-Universal websites.

    CBC, which oversees Canadian broadcast rights, is shooting the game in 3-D, its second 3-D hockey production to date. The Canadian broadcaster is bringing between 80 and 100 staffers to the game to produce its signature show “Hockey Night in Canada” from Calgary.

    “Canadians love to see big events and they want to see them played on Canadian soil,” said David Masse, senior director of CBC Sports. “Outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs, this will be the most important game of the season for Canadians.”

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  • LPGA brand campaign is first since 2007

    The LPGA will launch a brand campaign this week on Golf Channel with the theme “See why it’s different out here.”

    Natalie Gulbis, In-Kyung Kim, Paula Creamer and other golfers will emphasize their accessibility and their combination of grace and power in four spots that will debut this weekend during Golf Channel’s season-opening broadcast of the Honda LPGA Thailand tournament. Three of the spots are 30 seconds, while another is 15 seconds.

    The ads debut on Golf Channel this week.
    In one ad, Gulbis talks about her affinity for signing autographs, including footage of Gulbis actually signing the forehead of a boy last year. Another tells the story of Kim winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and donating the first-place check to a charity she had visited earlier that week.

    “What we really wanted to do was showcase what’s different about the LPGA and the players,” said Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer. “At the same time, we didn’t want to lose sight of the competitive nature of the players.”

    The four spots represent the LPGA’s first brand campaign since 2007, Podany said. He worked with a new agency, Sacred Cow out of Austin, Texas, to create them.

    Another spot includes Rolex Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz, one of four Spaniards on tour. “Part of the strategy is to highlight the diversity of our players,” Podany said. “We want to allow the U.S. audience to get to know the players and when they do, they’ll find out that they’re compelling and very likable.”

    — Michael Smith

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  • Amazin': Mets still signing deals despite their troubles

    The embattled New York Mets have signed seven sponsorship deals in recent weeks and are pacing ahead of 2010 in ticket sales for the coming season, marking key pieces of business still happening despite the club’s mounting financial and legal problems.

    The Mets since mid-January have signed sponsorship renewals with Rums of Puerto Rico, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Fox News Channel, Hankook Tires and Subway, and a new deal with A-1 Moving, club officials said. Financial terms were not disclosed but Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president for business operations, branded the pacts collectively as significant.

    Season-ticket renewals, meanwhile, are more than twice 2010’s level on a percentage basis, Howard said, despite a second consecutive losing season in 2010. Specific figures were not released, but the club is holding out hope it will surpass last year’s total attendance mark of 2.56 million.

    “We’ll need to see. Team performance is obviously the key factor when you have inventory to sell, and we have inventory to sell,” Howard said. “But the signs in the marketplace are very encouraging. Our new pricing strategy and the hires of [general manager] Sandy Alderson and [manager] Terry Collins have all been well-received.”

    The Mets in November slashed ticket prices by an average of 14 percent for the 2011 season, with season-ticket holders receiving an additional 10 percent price break. The club additionally created a rewards program for season-ticket holders making them eligible for a variety of experiential prizes.

    Since then, club owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz and their business entity, Sterling Equities, have been sued by Irving Picard, a trustee representing victims in the Bernie Madoff-led financial scandal. Picard is seeking in excess of $300 million from Sterling Equities, and perhaps as much as $1 billion, alleging they should have seen warning signs of Madoff’s malfeasance and stopped the Ponzi scheme. Picard additionally claims the Sterling partners were routinely using money from Madoff investments to fund Mets operations.

    Because of that continuing legal battle, and what they described as the “uncertainty” it has created, the Wilpons and Katz last month announced they are seeking minority partners to buy up to 25 percent of the Mets. That step veered sharply from repeated vows from club officials following Madoff’s 2008 arrest that an equity sale would not be necessary.

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  • AmEx, T-Mobile, BBVA lead NBA All-Star Game activators

    Editor's Note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    NBA sponsors are finalizing activation plans around Sunday’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles, offering a mix of special experiences and the ability for fans to be more closely involved in the event.

    Among the new activations, American Express is back as a sponsor after a five-year league absence, and will serve as presenting sponsor of the “All-Star Entertainment Series,” a series of musical performances in and around the weekend. In some of the first activation around its renewed rights deal, AmEx is offering cardholders unique access to various sports and entertainment events, including meet and greets with musicians and NBA legends.

    T-Mobile is sponsoring a “magenta carpet” event in accordance to its brand dress, which will be seen on NBA TV and the TNT All-Star pregame show on Sunday. The event will feature each all-star and a celebrity cast worthy of the game’s proximity to Hollywood. “The celebrity aspect of the weekend is a common theme, given the game’s location, and it is something many of our partners were looking for,” said Emilio Collins, senior vice president of global marketing partnerships. T-Mobile also is doing a retail promotion that includes appearances of NBA legends and ticket giveaways, and will title-sponsor the Rookie Challenge.

    New sponsor BBVA will serve as title sponsor for the celebrity game on Friday night and will be running a significant hospitality program for its European executives and clients.

    With expanded rights, Kia, an NBA partner since 2008, is now presenting sponsor of the All-Star Game MVP Award and the game broadcast. The All-Star Saturday Night broadcast will again be presented by State Farm.
    There are a number of programs designed to offer fans more inclusion — and say — in the game. They include Taco Bell’s program that allows fans to vote for who participates in the All-Star Skills Challenge that the restaurant title sponsors. Kia supports a promotion that allows fans to account for 25 percent of the game’s MVP vote, while T-Mobile again attached its name to fan balloting. Sprite returns to allow fan input to the Slam Dunk contest results.

    “We’ve been working to make fans feel they are more a part of the whole All-Star process,” Collins said.
    The league will continue its Day of Service on Friday during All-Star Weekend. Sponsors including BBVA, Kia, State Farm and Haier are supporting.

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  • Unilever newest NCAA partner; State Farm out

    Unilever is in and State Farm is out of the NCAA’s corporate partner program in a flurry of activity a month before the start of its basketball tournament.

    While Unilever provides the NCAA another giant consumer packaged goods company capable of giving the Final Four a strong promotional push, the loss of State Farm comes as a shock, given the company’s deep investment in college sports.

    The NCAA also is on the verge of bringing back General Motors, this time as a corporate partner. GM previously had been a corporate champion, the NCAA’s highest level of sponsorship, before breaking off the deal in 2009.

    GM killed the Pontiac brand that year and later entered bankruptcy protection, but has re-emerged as a significant sports spender with a big Super Bowl buy for Chevrolet, title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship event at Doral for Cadillac, and soon an NCAA deal. GM is expected to feature the Buick brand in its NCAA marketing.
    As part of their new 14-year, $11 billion broadcast agreement with the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports are running the corporate partner program, with IMG aiding on the sales side. They had no comment on the movement among the partners.

    State Farm had been an NCAA partner since 2005, giving it a national platform around the Final Four to go with its 90 individual school deals and title sponsorship of ESPN’s college basketball “GameDay” show on Saturdays throughout the season. Todd Fischer, State Farm’s manager of national sponsorships, didn’t go into details of the decision to part with the NCAA.

    “We made a strategic business decision not to renew,” Fischer said. “It was nothing specific. You’re constantly trying to put together the best mix to go to market with and we’re very proud of our programs and partnerships over the years. We certainly have no regrets.”

    State Farm is the first partner to exit the NCAA’s program since the governing body struck its new deal with Turner and CBS, but the company, which also left its NFL deal two seasons ago, is expected to continue advertising around the tournament and college sports in general, Fischer said. In fact, one industry source familiar with State Farm’s plans said, “You won’t notice any difference, except you won’t see the blue disk,” a reference to the NCAA’s blue logo.

    Sources added that State Farm walked away because of rate increases by Turner and CBS. Those increases were tied to the expanded coverage of the NCAA’s basketball tournament.

    Whereas CBS televised early-round tournament games regionally in the past, each tournament game will now be televised nationally on CBS or one of Turner’s three networks: TBS, TNT and truTV. Ultimately, sources said, State Farm didn’t find the activation opportunities commensurate with what it was being asked to pay.

    Specific financial figures of the corporate partner deal were not available, but they typically range from the mid-to-high seven figures. Those deals are rich in TV media around the tournament and digitally on March Madness on Demand.

    The NCAA has been working in recent years to increase the activation opportunities around the tournament. IMG was brought on board two years ago to run the ancillary events at the Final Four and has rebranded Bracket Town as the primary fan destination during the event.

    Bracket Town, typically located in a downtown convention center, is the primary activation site for corporate champions and partners during the Final Four. Last year, it added the Thursday night slam dunk and 3-point contests run by Chicago agency Intersport.

    Corporate champions AT&T, Coca-Cola and Capital One also have sponsored outdoor concerts during Final Four weekend. Those champion deals typically range into the eight figures annually.

    “The activation opportunities have expanded year over year and sponsors’ activation has become a more important element to the NCAA,” said Matt Pensinger, managing director of the Chicago office for marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide. Pensinger worked with the NCAA on improving activation opportunities when he was an executive at Relay Worldwide.

    “The challenge for the companies remains finding activation outside of that window of the Final Four,” he said. “As the dollars continue to go up, there becomes a more dynamic tension in that relationship.”

    The NCAA’s corporate partners include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, The Hartford, Infiniti, LG, Lowe’s, Kraft, Hershey, Unilever and UPS. Kraft markets the Planters brand, while Hershey puts Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out front.

    Unilever’s agreement is expected to stretch across its men’s and women’s personal care brands, sources say, including Dove For Men+Care products. The Mindshare ESP division of GroupM negotiated the Unilever deal but had no comment.

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  • TaylorMade plans driver's debut

  • Under Armour leads off as MLB footwear supplier this month

    Under Armour is pushing its first products to market based on a deal signed last year naming it MLB’s official performance footwear supplier.

    Cleats with MLB’s silhouetted batter logo should be at retail this month, and Under Armour will support with point-of-sale, print and digital ads featuring lead baseball endorsers Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, appearing in publications including ESPN The Magazine, Little League Magazine and the Eastbay catalog.

    Matt Mirchin, senior vice president of sports marketing, said Under Armour will have about 100 MLB players under contract this season, including former No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper of the Nationals.

    “We always look brand first when we do anything, but associating with leagues like MLB just adds that Good Housekeeping seal,” Mirchin said. “There’s a great opportunity for us in baseball, but we think consumers are already seeing us as more than a football brand.”

    While Under Armour built its equity on an edgy, not-your-father’s-Nike brand positioning, MLB is its second league deal, having acquired NFL rights, and it signed NFL icon Tom Brady late last year. Nike’s success as a brand has always been based on its ability to remain relevant to its core youth consumer, even while growing to a $20 billion company. It’s a common marketing dilemma, growing the brand without alienating core customers, and it will be interesting to see whether Under Armour can replicate Nike’s success.

    “It’s a double-edged sword for Under Armour,” said Ed O’Hara, chairman at SME Branding, which has worked for Nike. “They want to grow, and league affiliations help there. But you don’t want to throw away what you have as far as cool and edgy.”

    Making Under Armour a licensee means MLB has all three major athletic footwear/apparel brands as rights holders. Nike has underlayer rights, additional apparel and headwear rights, and the ability to use MLB intellectual property, including uniformed players, in ads. Reebok has the rights to do off-field MLB-branded athletic footwear. Allen Edmonds also holds an MLB license for men’s leather shoes.

    “Getting all these companies using our rights and using them profitably was something I’d have told you wasn’t possible five years ago,” said MLB licensing chief Howard Smith. “By now, we’ve achieved a good balance, so we’ve got three competing brands marketing our game.”

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  • Marriott signs deal with USA Hockey

    Marriott Hotels has continued its efforts with Olympic sponsorship, signing a four-year partnership with USA Hockey.

    The deal, which sources valued in the mid-six figures, is Marriott’s second with a national governing body. It signed a three-year agreement last year with USA Swimming.

    The USA Hockey and USA Swimming agreements give the international hotel chain limited Olympic ties at a time when its competitor, Hilton Hotels, is the official hotel partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee. In the past, competitors in a category have signed deals with NGBs and promoted them during the Olympics in a way that undermined the value of the USOC’s official partner.

    The agreement with USA Hockey will see Marriott hold webinars with some of the NGB’s 585,000 members. It also will have representatives who serve as direct liaisons with USA Hockey’s 34 regional and 50 state representatives who oversee hockey tournaments and events. Those liaisons will assist USA Hockey volunteers with securing better hotel rates at Marriott hotels during their events.

    “This can be a good help to [the volunteers] as they balance their volunteer workload with trying to save money,” said Lee Meyer, USA Hockey’s senior director of marketing. “For Marriott, it’s a perfect in with people who organize tournaments or schedule team travel.”

    The partnership with Marriott gives USA Hockey its first official hotel partner since 2006. It previously partnered with Hilton before the Torino Games.

    The partnership is the second one USA Hockey has signed in the last two months. It added RBC as its official financial services and banking partner in December. The two deals combine to increase USA Hockey’s total sponsorship revenue by 10 percent in 2011.

    IMG represented Marriott in the negotiations.

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