SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

What lockout? NFL keeps business rolling at draft

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Don’t look for any signs of disaffection among NFL sponsors activating around the NFL draft next week in New York, even with labor negotiations at the forefront.

League officials are doing their best to tout business as usual and say they will have a record amount of marketing support for the draft, which averaged nearly 10 million viewers last year in its debut as prime-time programming on ESPN and the NFL Network.

But be ready for some changes to the traditional programs. To achieve what the league says is a record amount of support from 14 sponsors, a new level of integration was sold — in the form of former players and more fans reading off the picks that teams hope will lead them to future success.

One of the deepest forms of integration is by new league sponsor Anheuser-Busch: It has presenting sponsorship of the entire second round of the draft, which will take place on day two, April 29.

Bud Light will get on-air mentions during the second round of the draft.
During that round, NFL legends will deliver the picks from the podium at Radio City Music Hall, and through ad deals with ESPN and NFL Network, Bud Light will get on-air mentions throughout the round. Those retired NFL players will also make appearances at various A-B on-premises accounts around New York City. Meanwhile, a Facebook-based sweepstakes overlay for what A-B is touting as the “best round ever in prime time” is offering a $10 million first prize for anyone correctly predicting all 32 first-round picks in the proper order, the size of the prize being inversely proportional to the likelihood of any NFL Nostradamus achieving that feat.

NFL corporate sponsor Verizon has a draft sweepstakes in which three winners will get to announce a team’s pick in the third round, which also takes place on the second day of the draft. Points-of-sale, ads on Verizon’s subscription-based NFL Mobile service, and retired player appearances at retail will support the effort.

A-B and the National Dairy Council also are participating in marketing efforts in the draft’s later rounds, which will include additional opportunities for fans to announce team picks.

The NFL has turned the draft into a “prime-time” marketing platform.
EA Sports will again reveal its cover athlete, selected via fan vote, for its top-selling “Madden NFL 12” video game. The winner will be revealed during the first round, and EA will hold a draft day event in Times Square.

Other NFL corporate patrons with national marketing support include Castrol, GMC, Mars, Papa John’s, Pepsi and Visa.

Peter O’Reilly, NFL vice president of fan strategy and marketing, said he did not anticipate any decline in ratings around the draft this year with the current lockout. Over the three days, ESPN is planning a mind-numbing 26 hours of draft programming; NFL Network is planning 36 hours of coverage.

“This is about fans reconnecting with their favorite teams during an important offseason event that’s a celebration of football,” O’Reilly said.

With the NFL last week releasing its preseason schedule, the draft activation is another sign that business is moving forward despite the labor standoff. The league is looking to extend the draft to a three-month marketing platform and has branded it as “the path to prime time” and “welcome to prime time” in various league asset media as far back as December.

“We get calls from sponsors all the time concerned about the ability to leverage their NFL sponsorships this season,” said Bob Dittrich, vice president of Genesco Sports Enterprises, during a National Sports Marketing Network panel in Chicago about the effects of a potential NFL work stoppage. Genesco handles league sponsors Pepsi, Verizon and Motorola. “When you look at the stature of the NFL in the sports landscape, the assumption is that the fans will all be back.”

The NFL Players Association is hosting its own series of events around the draft for prospects, their families, and current and former NFL players in New York, including a dinner on Thursday night, media interviews on Friday, and a fitness and skills clinic on Saturday in Harlem. A number of top prospects, including Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Nick Fairley are expected to attend some of the events, the NFLPA announced last week.

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