SBJ/June 13-19, 2011/Franchises

Jets maintain sponsor dialogue

Team meets with anxious marketers as NFL labor talks continue

With the lockout clouding all things in NFL marketing circles, some teams chose to postpone their partner summits until next year. Not so for the New York Jets, somewhat perturbed by the lockout’s impact on their ability to capitalize from a second consecutive AFC Championship game appearance. The Jets’ success last season helped push gross revenue up 32 percent, increase sponsorship revenue by 50 percent, and propel team merchandise sales into the league’s top 10.

Nonetheless, Matt Higgins, executive vice president of business, said the team felt a real need to share plans, such as they are, and to do some hand holding. “We’ve got partners contributing hundreds of millions of dollars in one place and there’s got to be positives about gathering them together and sharing where we are with them,” he said.

JOSE REY / NEW YORK JETS
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson makes the rounds at the team’s partner summit.
Higgins and other Jets officials echoed the sentiments of NFL team personnel across the league when they said the only way they could cope was by preparing for business as usual. “Our focus is to be ready, so when we get the green light we can sprint,” said Marc Riccio, the Jets’ vice president for corporate sales and marketing, noting that the team had just signed off on a relatively expensive direct-mail ticket piece.

To some degree, the amount of sponsor anxiety is dependent on the category. Those with retail programs planned were undeniably more nervous than those without. Even so, some of the former were proceeding like it was just a “regular season.” The afternoon before the Jets summit, Pepsi did a shoot with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in Manhattan for some point-of-sale ads, while Gatorade did the same with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

“We’re planning like there will be a full season, regardless,” said Mark Rooks, director of sports marketing at Pepsi, a sponsor of the NFL and the Jets. “The NFL is our biggest property, so we have to be ready to go for whenever, and, if it’s necessary, we can move programs and support to the [NFL] International Series, Thanksgiving Weekend, or the playoffs.”

Woody Thompson, Octagon executive vice president, posed a question resonating across the league’s corporate patrons when he asked, “Is there any legitimate reason why a sponsor would be at retail with any kind of NFL display if they aren’t playing?”

One of four new promo spots from Jets cable partner SportsNet New York has Jets imagery and footage. Marie DeParis, SNY vice president for marketing and business development, said that spot will join the rotation soon, regardless of the lockout’s status. “We’re all in a waiting game,’’ she said, “so it’s all about adjusting quickly.”

Added Alex Gomez, vice president at Van Wagner Sports, which consults New Meadowlands “corner partners” Pepsi and Met Life, “There’s so much money at stake, we all believe there will be an NFL season. To me, the much more serious question is the labor problem facing the NBA.”
 
NEW, NEW MEADOWLANDS: Thad Sheely, the Jets’ executive vice president for finance and stadium development, detailed $5 million in capital improvements scheduled to be completed for the second year of football at the Jets’ and Giants’ $1.7 billion home field. Some of the needs were discovered by online surveys, fan intercept, and by “secret shoppers” in the building. They include things as vital as a more robust data network, to the more banal, like bird netting. They also include 40 percent more men’s rooms in the upper deck, an area in which end zone fans will also get canopies for protection during rain and snow. Sheely said the Jets are also working on game-day mobile applications, like one through which consumers might be zapped e-coupons when approaching a particular sponsored section or concession area. Payment via cell phone is also on the drawing boards, he said.

SOCIAL SECURITY:  Every consumer marketer nowadays is being pressured to deliver marketing programs that use social media, so naturally sessions dealing with that topic were the most well-attended during the summit. Jets marketers noted that a weekly Facebook photo submission contest sponsored by Motorola yielded about 20 million impressions and is expected to be replicated by many Motorola-sponsored NFL teams this season. As for what’s next in the fast-shifting social media world, Higgins said he’s closely watching Tumblr, a site that enables simple, short-form blogging. Also generating discussion were “social serendipity’’ sites, like Yobongo, which use GPS technology to aggregate proximate strangers with similar interests, for example, at an NFL venue.
 
JOSE REY / NEW YORK JETS
The Jets sold 6,000 cases of their branded Cabernet Sauvignon, but league rules will make it difficult, if not impossible, to extend the product line.
NEW LINES: The Jets continue to push the envelope on new business. Having sold 6,000 cases of Jets Uncorked Cabernet Sauvignon since last June with vintner Marco DiGiulio and lifestyle marketing agency Wine By Design, they might be considering extensions. However, league rules now specify that team wines may only be made for commemorative occasions, and since Anheuser-Busch’s new sponsorship rights in the beer category came at a price that surprised even league marketers, any attempts to expand marketing of a competitive product like wine would be looked at unkindly. At the team level, the Jets were able to combine a revenue share with a new sponsorship of a wine bar at New Meadowlands Stadium. Assuming they can find another reason to celebrate, the team would like to add a white varietal, like a Chardonnay, and perhaps a red blend, said Jeff Fernandez, Jets senior director of new business development. Other teams are also looking into creating gridiron vintages. Ready for Minnesota Vikings Merlot?

Before quaffing, fans might be interested in Bio Force Pro, a new “full-body fitness machine” being jointly marketed by the Jets with Curtis Martin, the team’s all-time leading rusher, and Fitness Quest International. While he doesn’t have quite as lofty expectations, Higgins took note of the $1.2 billion in sales of Total Gym machines, endorsed by Chuck Norris. A soft launch earlier saw pricing for Bio Force Pro reduced from $1,299 to $899. While it won’t be marketed as a Jets machine, the Jets plan on using  their media assets to back the product in about a month, with long-form infomercials from agency Script to Screen — featuring ESPN talent Merril Hoge — slated for late August or early September. The Jets also plan to demo the product at home games.

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