SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL’s marketing to-do list includes awards show, gratitude

Terry Lefton
Efforts around fan appreciation, honoring players through a possible awards ceremony prior to the Super Bowl and looking for ways to further exploit the extraordinary amount of offseason interest in the NFL top the league’s marketing agenda, as detailed to us by NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller.

While the league thanked fans in a prior postseason campaign, now it’s looking at a seasonlong bookend appreciation effort. “The idea is to recognize their passion and devotion, especially those that go to our games,” Waller said. “Putting the focus on them and showing they are a lot about what makes the game so extraordinary is where we want to get to with this campaign that stretches across the season.”

The NFL continues to look at a postseason awards show as a long-term goal, something that would likely be packaged with the rights holder for that year’s Super Bowl. Certainly there are many awards given annually by the NFL, but Waller sees an opportunity for something larger.

“The Oscars do a great job of recognizing brilliance within the film industry,’’ he said. “Our thinking here is that perhaps we can do as good a job at recognizing and rewarding all things across the NFL and then find a way to package it.’’

Fueled by the continued success of the NFL draft, an administrative function which continues to draw some of the best sports ratings on cable, the league is also in the formative stages of seeing what else it can do to coalesce fan engagement and passion during the offseason, when interest does not appear to ebb.

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Visa, a longtime USSA sponsor, has tacked on seven more years to the sponsorship.
“We’re exploring to see if there’s a way we can be the ones that launch the fantasy season, as well as the real season,’’ Waller said. “There’s a great deal of ‘new’ added each year — players, programming, talents — there’s an opportunity to really give fans a chance to see what’s coming in a powerful and direct way, and how can we package that?”

MARKETING GLIDE PATH: Visa has extended its sponsorship of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association for an additional seven years, through the 2018 Winter Olympics. While the payment card brand has been a sponsor of the skiing/snowboarding NGB for more than 15 years, a seven-year extension is unprecedented; it has never had a USSA deal of more than three years. However, longtime Olympic sponsor Visa has a penchant for identifying and leveraging emerging Olympic sports, and free skiing, a combination of snowboarding and skiing done in a terrain park, is one of those sports.

“Visa has always been one of our best activators and that should even escalate some,’’ said Andrew Judelson, USSA chief revenue and marketing officer.

The deal includes media and event sponsorship of various USSA competitions, along with an increased presence on USSA’s e-commerce store, which is done by TeamFanShop. While typically USSA revenue has peaked during Olympic years, Judelson said that sales revenue is already ahead double digits from 2010 — the year of the last Winter Olympics.

AGENCY WATCH: We continue to watch with interest agencies circling the NFL constellation, where business prospects are so bright, many in the business are starting to call the lockout and subsequent contracted free agency frenzy the best thing to happen to the league since instant replay.

A few early-season agency nuances you may have missed: Wasserman Media Group gets a payday from consulting on Pepsi’s recent 10-year renewal as one of the league’s largest corporate sponsors, and it had a hand in Nike’s displacement of Reebok with on-field apparel rights. Wasserman is also involved in selling the league’s overseas events, something we anticipate being expanded to two regular-season games a year as soon as next season. Recall that Wasserman also has its hand in the naming rights and remaining corner sales at the stadium formerly known as New Meadowlands, and that’s a healthy chunk of consulting and sales with America’s top sports property.

Meanwhile, the conversion of Marriott from an NFL Network sponsor to a full-fledged corporate sponsor strikes us as being more important in terms of media, value-in-kind and guaranteed business for Marriott than a rights fee. To say the NFL has been courting Marriott for a while is an understatement. Sources tell us that during their research, league marketers unearthed a presentation deck from 1991. Marriott’s Courtyard brand has been advertising on NFL Network, NFL.com and NFL Mobile since the 2008 season. However, we assume a healthy amount of in-kind will be directed against rooms at Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton brand, long a favorite of owners in Super Bowl cities.

What’s significant about the Marriott deal on the agency side is that it is the second NFL corporate patron under the aegis of IMG Consulting, which brought insurer USAA to the NFL’s table for a deal that began this season. In our mind, the most influential sports agency in the NFL orbit is Genesco Sports Enterprises, since it handles league sponsors Pepsi/Frito-Lay, Campbell Soup, Verizon and Motorola. While we continue to hear the Dallas-based agency is looking at adding new capabilities and name-brand sport marketers to the firm’s consulting and activation practices, Genesco chief John Tatum would not comment.

COMINGS & GOINGS: Tom George, Octagon senior vice president of athlete marketing, is leaving after 23 years of combined service to join lottery specialist and Scientific Games subsidiary MDI Entertainment, as vice president of sports marketing. The Alpharetta, Ga., firm has licensing lottery deals for instant games with MLB, NASCAR, the NBA, NHL, and UFC. The NFL leaves it up to its individual clubs, but we remain convinced a Super Bowl lottery is an incremental revenue hit waiting to happen, if it would pass muster of ownership. “As a founding member of Octagon, I have a great deal of respect and pride of ownership in what we have built. There is not another talent management firm I would ever want to work for. I look forward to helping extend the sports presence at Scientific Games,” George said.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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