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Major League Soccer officials expect Wednesday’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to have the largest sponsor activation and branding campaigns of any event in the league’s 15-year history. All 23 league partners will activate around the game, which will pit MLS’s top players against Manchester United.
“The New York City market is so different because of the scale and size, so a lot of our partners are wanting to extend their presence in the market,” said David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing.
The event’s location in the New York market has boosted interest among sponsors.
Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi have both launched mass-media branding campaigns around this year’s event, with A-B promoting the event on a video board in Times Square and Pepsi advertising the game on the Seventh Avenue subway lines, which stop in Times Square, as well as on the New York-New Jersey PATH trains and the train station at Journal Square in New Jersey. Title sponsor AT&T will brand a hot-air balloon to fly over Red Bull Arena in the days leading up to the event.
MLS scheduled five days of sponsor activation and fan events in New York City, and the events are based around a free soccer-themed expo being held at the 82 Mercer convention building in SoHo. Called the Hub, the expo was to have been open Saturday and Sunday to the public. Visa is promoting the game with All-Star-branded food trucks outside the expo, tequila maker el Jimador is distributing mixed drinks at the expo, and Xbox will display its Kinect product there. The league will also host its semiannual partner summit in SoHo on Tuesday.
MLS partners also organized 21 community events in the lead-up to the game. Allstate Insurance is hosting a viewing party at the South Street Seaport for 5,000 fans, the Home Depot has organized a community building project in Washington Heights today, and Volkswagen was to have hosted a youth soccer clinic at Pier 46 on Sunday. In 2010, MLS held a fan expo surrounding Reliant Stadium in Houston the day of the event, and attracted 9,500 fans.
Partners are also promoting the event at points of sale, and according to Wright, 2,400 retail locations in the New York City metropolitan area will feature branding for the game.
Castrol, which became partners with MLS in 2010, promoted the 2011 game at 3,500 AutoZone stores nationwide with a sweepstakes awarding travel for four to the game. According to Carolyn Eckert, promotions, creative and sponsorship manager for Castrol, the company received 135,000 entries. “We see [the sweepstakes] as a success because the majority of entries came through purchases,” Eckert said.
Eckert said Castrol’s activation at this year’s game shows how far the company’s soccer strategy has progressed in a year. Last year, Castrol had a small tent in the pregame expo. This year Castrol is using the event to launch its Castrol Index website, which uses an algorithm to rate player performance. It is also hosting a national sales meeting at the event and partnering with Volkswagen to promote the game at dealerships in the greater New York City area.
MLS last held its All-Star Game in New York City in 1997 at Giants Stadium. Former MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said that instead of acting as a marketing platform for partners, the event was geared around extending the MLS brand to casual viewers.
After the second consecutive Stanley Cup Final that yielded a bumper crop of hot-market sales, playoff per caps that were up 11 percent, a seven-game championship series that included a Game 7 that was the NHL’s highest-rated telecast since 1974, and a fiscal year in which, by the league’s own calculations, sales of licensed products increased about 15 percent, it was understandable that the mood of the 100-plus NHL licensees gathered on the floor of the Air Canada Centre last week was buoyant. However, for many of the larger licensees, who hold rights across all of North America’s biggest sports, the pending NFL settlement offered yet another reason to be happy.
“Big stores weren’t buying holiday yet, or, if they were, it was much lighter,” said Adam Pennington, owner and CEO at watch licensee Game Time. “Now it’s back to business.”
“I kept being asked if [an NFL work stoppage] would benefit us,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president of marketing, “but uncertainty hurts everyone in this business and those dollars were not going to automatically be coming in our direction.’’
ALL PHOTOS BY TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Boston Bruins championship merchandise is enjoying explosive sales.
KILLER Bs: Heading into the championship, sales of Bruins product was strong, but not overly so, and licensees and retailers were wondering if the championships in Boston were becoming so routine that consumers were getting blasé. However, once Boston took home its sixth Stanley, sales exploded, to the point where league officials now say it will end up being bigger than the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 hot market.
“Even in the finals, retailers were saying it was good but not spectacular,” Jennings said. “Now we’re looking at it as one that will beat Chicago handily, be one of our top five [ever] and something with a long tail.”
“There was definitely a slow build for Bruins merchandise,” said Ken Goldberg, a licensed buyer for New England-based Roster Stores, “but the momentum is still building for us.’’
Jennings’ early forecast is for next year’s sales to jump 5 to 7 percent, but he warned that the cost of raw materials like cotton and increases in costs for gasoline, and therefore shipping, will affect consumers. “Suppliers have been eating those costs for a while,” he said, “but we’re beginning to see those expenses being passed on to consumers. So it will be interesting to see how consumers react.”
Mad Engine was showcasing a new line of NHL apparel, cross-licensed with Disney’s Phineas & Ferb animated characters.
Apparel companies were making lifestyle plays on different consumer demos.
“It’s about finding new consumers and new distribution by getting into retail in places we haven’t been before,” said Jim Haskins, NHL group vice president of consumer products.
Levelwear, another Canadian-based licensee, was one of many firms taking advantage of printing and transfer technology allowing new, different and more indelible images on a variety of fashion/lifestyle licensed products, both apparel and hard goods. Another such example was St. Louis-based Three60 Gear apparel, which, having added an NHL agreement to its MLB and NBA rights, was showing off its line of Under Armour-esque performance T-shirts (for about $35) with “dye sublimation” player images so vivid that comparing them to a regular T-shirt was the equivalent of comparing an HDTV to an analog set. Each shirt has a number through which the buyer can get more information on the particular photo on the shirt, so there’s also a collectible element.
HST Synthetics set up a display of its logoed hot tub covers, which sell for $550.
horn, operated by a puck-shaped remote control and priced at $45. Fan Fever already has extensions of the goal light, with a keychain version ($8 MSRP) and a string of goal chain holiday lights ($23). “It’s enough fun for hockey fans that we think it can be a great gift or impulse item,” said Fan Fever’s Eric Stoneman, adding that the inspiration came during the 2010 playoffs, when he had a red light bulb in his basement that had to be turned on manually each time the Hawks scored on their way to a championship. … Pangea Brands, the company behind the ProToast licensed toaster, is looking for a nostalgia play with a sports licensed version of Shrinky Dinks, the kids craft set in which flexible sheets become hard plastic when heated and can then be used to make key chains and costume jewelry. They’ll be priced at $15 for a pack of a dozen “dinks.”
“This is a mature business,” he said, “so the quickest way for us to get that next level of $100 million is by acquisition.”
ANC is renowned for its basket stanchion signage, used by clients such as Starter.
“Ideally, we want growing companies that can continue to grow, as well as complement ANC,” Cifarelli said.
FOOTBALL ON THE MENU: With the NFL labor logjam showing signs of breaking as of early last week, more marketers are mounting ad campaigns leveraging football ties, both official and unofficial. NFL sponsor Verizon last week was filming ads in and around Los Angeles, including football scenes filmed inside the Rose Bowl for the NFL Mobile wireless application. As was the case last year, quarterbacks Drew Brees (Saints) and Mark Sanchez (Jets) shot ads for the NFL’s official wireless carrier. While we’d heard for some time that Verizon was seeking to add Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers to its roster of QBs, instead, a defensive player joined the mix: linebacker Clay Matthews, Rodgers’ Green Bay teammate, who sacks Sanchez and does his signature muscle flex in one ad. Houston defensive end Mario Williams and NFL Network honcho Rich Eisen also make appearances in the spots. Another NFL sponsor, Phillips-Van Heusen, was shooting with NFL HOFer trio Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. We hear, however, that the apparel company’s ties to the Pro Football Hall of Fame have waned.
Casual dining chain Applebee’s, one of many dining and drinking establishments relieved to be planning for a fall that will include Sunday football, is using ESPN uber-talent Chris Berman for the third consecutive year. This year’s TV campaign with Boomer was shot this month at an Applebee’s in Garfield, N.J. To underscore the message that the chain is also a destination for Saturday football viewing parties, ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer has joined the campaign. Meanwhile, fellow ESPNer Mark Schlereth joins the fun, with a deal under which his “Stinkin Good Green Chile” will be featured at all 26 Applebee’s in Colorado, where he lives. Mark Zimmerman at Headline Media Management, N.Y., handles for Berman and Schlereth. Palmer is handled by Playbook Inc.
COMINGS AND GOINGS: Former ESPN director of advertising Alex Kaminsky is now CMO at Team Type 1, an Atlanta-based cycling team sponsored by pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, in which six of its 20 members have diabetes. … Former NFL executive vice president of marketing Howard Handler departs MSG, where he held the same title, after 22 months. … John DeWaal becomes director of marketing at hat retailer Hat World/Lids.com, which will soon open its thousandth store. DeWaal, who was vice president of brand communication at New Era Cap until 2009, said he will relocate to Indianapolis, where Lids is headquartered.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.
Despite signing fewer X Games partners than a year ago, ESPN has increased sponsorship revenue around the event and signed Red Bull as its first beverage partner in four years.
The property signed four official partners and 11 sponsors across its multimedia, TV, print and digital platforms for X Games 17, which begins this week in Los Angeles. Those numbers are down from five official partners and 27 total sponsors in 2010.
Mobil is among 15 sponsors signed for the event, which begins this week in Los Angeles.
Johnson said the Summer X Games sales efforts benefited from ESPN’s decision to discuss the event during its upfront presentation in May. The network used the upfront to announce a new global X Games initiative that will see it expand to six international events and visit three new markets in 2013.
That announcement played a critical role in the X Games signing Red Bull as its first beverage partner in four years. The international potential of the property and the resources ESPN was putting against its expansion appealed to the energy drink company, Johnson said.
The signing is a significant achievement for the sales team at ESPN. The X Games had been without a beverage sponsor since 2007, when its longtime partner in the category, Mountain Dew, dropped the property to sponsor the Winter Dew Tour. Energy drink companies like Red Bull historically favored signing action sports athletes rather than properties in order to get exposure.
In addition to Red Bull, ESPN signed Ford, U.S. Navy and BF Goodrich as official partners. Each are returning: Ford and US Navy from the 2010 Summer X Games and BF Goodrich from the 2011 Winter X Games. They will receive on-site activation rights and television, digital and print advertising.
The X Games’ other significant signings included Apple, which bought TV spots, and Nike, which bought print advertising. Both are first-time summer sponsors.
This week’s X Games will be the first to be concentrated in downtown Los Angeles since 2003. Every event will be held near the Staples Center, and the partner activation village will be located adjacent to all the competition venues for the first time since it moved to Los Angeles in 2003.
ESPN will host a summit this Friday on its vision for international expansion of X Games. More than 100 guests representing prospective sponsors are expected to attend.
Johnson said the company is still defining how it will sell its marquee X Games events — the summer and winter competitions in Los Angeles and Aspen, Colo. — with its international competitions in France and three new markets. He added that some of those details will be revealed this week.
“Our goal is to get global sponsors involved in particular categories and create opportunities to sell locally based on whatever regions of the world we’re in,” Johnson said. “We’re going to open up the model with Global X in terms of opening up the possibilities of developing and sharing content.”