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When Frank Cooper signed on Pepsi as a lead sponsor of Fox’s new “X Factor” talent competition show this year, the beverage and snack food marketer got prime ads, and logo and product placement. Still, that wasn’t enough for Pepsi, which is trying to answer Coca-Cola’s powerful ground-floor sponsorship with “American Idol.’’
It was a question of adding value to what was a heavy investment even for a marketer the size of $60 billion Pepsi. So Pepsi added a connection to the NFL, its most powerful sports property, offering the winning contestant a Super Bowl ad appearance to match the $6 million recording contract from Sony.
“We wanted to get in the fabric of the show by offering the biggest prize that no one else could,” said Cooper, PepsiCo’s chief engagement officer.
Pepsi’s Frank Cooper poses with “The X Factor’s” Simon Cowell. Cooper built a powerful platform through the brand’s ties to the show and the NFL.
“When it’s a question of using a sports or entertainment platform, we ask ourselves which will have the greatest impact on popular culture,” Cooper said. “In this case the answer was sports and entertainment.”
However, it isn’t always an integrated effort. The same marketers that buy sports assets are now selling or buying entertainment.
Platinum Rye CEO Ryan Schinman started his career as a sports agent, and his firm still does deals with names as big as Michael Phelps (Head & Shoulders) on the sports side, and Madonna and Motorola on the entertainment side. However, after 20-plus years in both worlds, Schinman says sports properties and their sponsors are looking to balance sports with entertainment.
“Every sports property is looking for an entertainment overlay, and for their sponsors, if sports are the cake, they want entertainment to be the icing,” Schinman said.
While it’s difficult to match the reach of a large sports property with even the biggest entertainment option, several factors are pushing entertainment to the forefront. For starters, there’s a new willingness from the biggest film stars and musicians to cut marketing deals.
Everyone in America with a marketing title has been hearing “content is king” since the original Internet bubble of the late ’90s. Now the growing influence of social media has increased that content imperative tenfold. At a time when NFL rights deals can go for billions, entertainment content, even proprietary entertainment content, is generally easier and cheaper to acquire than top-flight sports content. Even the biggest Olympic or NFL sponsors can’t pay enough to persuade the International Olympic Committee to stage another Games or the NFL to hold another round of playoffs.
Private concerts for buyers and VIPs, along with an exclusive product window, are a routine part of deals like The
“If a brand has a musical act under contract, it can license their music or likeness in an ad, sponsor a tour, and I can create proprietary content, including new music or a performance,” Schinman said. “There’s a lot you can do to create something unique and powerful that will benefit both the brand of musician and sponsor — that’s very difficult to get done with a sports-only platform.”
Sports losing ground?
What’s hard to determine is whether entertainment is gaining at the expense of sports, especially when most large brands employ a mix.
“Sports and entertainment marketing budgets are impacting each other more than ever,” said former Pro Serv and SFX Sports naming-rights lead executive Russell Wallach, now president of Live Nation Network, which sells sponsorships to the likes of Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and UPS across an amalgam of venues, artists, tours, digital and mobile assets.
“We’re talking to the same decision-makers they are in sports,” Wallach said. “The biggest difference is that most big brands are accustomed to spending on TV, and sports have an incredible television platform, which music just doesn’t have. What music and most entertainment options can provide is tremendous flexibility and powerful social media connections.”
Added Todd Goldstein, president of AEG Global Partnerships: “Music marketing is growing now the way sports marketing was 20 years ago. It’s about more precise targeting. You know the NFL will get you almost every age and demo. If you want to laser in more, we can get you older with an Elton John tour or younger with Justin Bieber.”
Agencies from both the sports and entertainment sides are eyeing the other side. Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, an Evanston, Ill., company that matches celebrities with brands, flipped its name to put entertainment first more than a decade ago because the trend was already clear. While some of the largest individual endorsement deals remain in sports, over the past 15 years, Burns’ business has shifted from 75 percent sports to 85 percent celebrities.
TV personality Mike Rowe has an endorsement portfolio that includes the likes of Ford, Viva paper towels, Lee Jeans and Motorola.
While Pepsi’s media and marketing ties with the “X Factor” are said to total $60 million, most of the largest entertainment deals do not approach the size of the largest sports marketing deals. However, they have drawn the interest of those marketers steeped in sports.
Octagon CEO Rick Dudley notes that while the company already has an athletes and personalities division, the First Call celebrity endorsement division, and Hollywood public relations shop Rogers & Cowan under its aegis, entertainment marketing remains an area ripe for acquisition. Dudley estimated Octagon’s mixture of sports to entertainment business at around 80/20, probably growing to 70/30. Five years ago it was 95 percent sports.
To some extent, the ephemeral nature of entertainment works against it being marketing friendly, at least relative to sports. Movies, plays, concert tours, TV shows, many are like the circus — here and gone. Large marketers, such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble, have marketing agendas planned 18 to 24 months in advance. In recent years, large sports properties have started to match those efforts with long-term marketing calendars of their own. In entertainment, not so much — at least not yet.
“How do you put together a marketing calendar with the required lead time in the entertainment space?” Dudley said. “That’s the biggest challenge. In sports, you know the schedule.”
Echoed Peter Murray, a former NFL marketer, now a senior vice president at William Morris Endeavor: “Sports
Since brands often plan their marketing campaigns 18 to 24 months in advance, sports provide well-defined calendars that tailor well to their needs.
Then there’s the matter of seasonality. Given their scheduling, sports can offer definitive seasonality. The NFL’s dominance during the two most important times of the retail calendar — back-to-school and holiday shopping — is an integral, but often overlooked reason for its commercial success. However, entertainment figures are almost never out of season and the number of events can be astounding. Such is the case with Feld Entertainment’s 5,000 global events annually for its collection of properties, including Disney On Ice, Monster Jam and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“The size of our offerings is often surprising to people we’re selling to, and I’m calling on lots of the same brands that I used to,” said Jason Bitsoff, a former sponsorship marketer with the Houston Rockets and Nashville Predators, who is now vice president and general manager of sponsorship and strategic alliances at Feld Entertainment.
So you have the malleability of the entertainment world countered by the comfort level and relative ease of sports deals.
“It’s a more structured world, so sports deals are generally easier,” said Mark Zablow, senior director of marketing at Platinum Rye. “The other side is that there are generally fewer opportunities in entertainment for a competitor to buy a piece of what you are trying to stake out as your own.”
Live Nation’s Wallach also has instituted structural changes. “I learned growing up in sports that sports properties do a great job managing relationships with their clients,’’ he said. “So we’ve built a huge account management/marketing group, which is generally unusual on the entertainment side.”
How akin the two worlds are or can be in marketing terms depends on who you talk to.
“At the core of sports and entertainment marketing, you are trying to connect to fans of live events and show that a particular brand is a ‘fan of the fans,’” said Chris Monaco, vice president of Octagon music and entertainment, which activates entertainment on behalf of many of its largest sports clients, including MasterCard. “But it isn’t a zero-sum game. We see the overall [sports and entertainment] pie getting bigger; we’re not seeing addition by subtraction.”
While Subway has some entertainment efforts, usually they involve putting some of its athlete endorsers under an entertainment spotlight, like Blake Griffin in a “Funny Or Die” video.
“From a creative perspective, if we’re doing something with a healthy message, athletes will always work,” said Subway CMO Tony Pace. “Looking at one versus the other in terms of a large investment, there just aren’t the same kinds of tent poles in entertainment there are in sports. Within reason, we always know what our audience will be within our sports [media] buys. For a lot of larger brands, there is just more comfort with sports, because there isn’t as much variability.”
Not that entertainment isn’t changing. Financial pressure on the recording industry has made it more marketing friendly than ever, and a business once dominated by record labels is being redefined.
“Labels have lost their clout and to some extent, their reason for being,” said Joe Killian, senior vice president of music and entertainment at Momentum Worldwide. “The reason you needed a label before was you needed a studio to record in and distribution capabilities. Now every musician has both on his Mac.”
Accordingly, there are some profoundly different marketing programs that see fans consuming music in entirely new ways for the benefits of sponsors. American Express cleverly extended its heritage program of affording cardholders early access to entertainment tickets with its “Unstaged” live video streaming of concerts that pairs bands with top directors. David Lynch directed Duran Duran’s live stream, Spike Lee directed John Legend, and Terry Gilliam directed a concert with Arcade Fire.
AmEx cardholders could pick a camera angle unavailable to others, while all viewers could vote for the encore. During the Arcade Fire concert, card members were able to send in their photos of the suburbs that were shown onstage during the song of the same name. Since big-time sports are unscripted and rights are far more complex, it’s hard to imagine something like that happening in sports.
Consequently, even technology sponsors like wireless, one of the largest sponsor categories, continues to use something as last century as text-to-win as a preferred way to leverage sports sponsorship investments.
Build your own
Sometimes it gets down to building versus buying in entertainment, just as it does in sports.
Verizon’s work building and sponsoring the “How Sweet the Sound” gospel music competition helped build an affinity between the brand and African-American consumers.
“There’s still so much room on the entertainment side, and that can and should benefit the brand involved,” Marrs said.
Finding a path through the byzantine maze of entertainment marketing options isn’t easy, so as Pepsi’s Cooper advises, “Get yourself some expertise quickly, because in entertainment perhaps more than sports it is difficult to know exactly who owns what.”
Probably because they own the bricks and mortar, venue owners like AEG have cut some of the larger marketing deals within music. MetroPCS cut its sponsorship of the current Enrique Iglesias tour with AEG rather than with the performer directly.
“It might have cost a little more, but we have a high level of confidence with the AEG guys when it comes to marketing needs,” said Kern Egan, principal at Richards Sports & Entertainment, which did the deal for MetroPCs.
If entertainment, especially live music, is like sports 20 years ago, how much entertainment will resemble sports in another few decades is a question every marketer is asking.
“My professional background is music and entertainment,” said Momentum’s Killian, “but from my limited experience with sports marketing, I’ve found most of the managers there have gone to university and have law degrees. That’s not so in the music business, at least not yet. As that becomes true, you’ll see it become more like sports from a marketing perspective; it’s already happening.”
Twenty years ago, a young executive producer named Barry Josephson worked on a movie called “The Last Boy Scout.” In that movie, starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans, one of the characters is a football player who, armed with a gun, shoots three defenders as he carries the ball into the end zone — and then takes his own life.
Contrast that with Josephson’s role as executive producer on the Fox TV drama “Bones,” where one of the lead characters, FBI agent Seeley Booth, has a Philadelphia Flyers bobblehead and a replica Stanley Cup on his desk, along with framed hockey pictures on his walls.
In one memorable episode, Booth, played by David Boreanaz, gets knocked unconscious and plays a game of one-on-one hockey with retired left wing Luc Robitaille as part of a dream sequence.
The NHL’s relationship with the producers of NBC’s “30 Rock” has made team gear a common sight on the comedy series.
“When your subject matter is very positive for a league, or a script doesn’t have anything controversial in it, then it’s very easy to work with a league,” said Josephson, whose next sports-related project is a family film about a boy encountering the ghosts of Lou Gehrig and other legendary New York Yankees. “When you do a movie or a television show where the subject matter isn’t exactly something they approve of, you will get turned down.”
Leagues and franchises routinely hear pitches to bring the verisimilitude of sports-related themes, props and, as the Robitaille example shows, even the occasional cameo, to movies and TV shows.
Each of the major leagues has at least one, if not several, executives working on vetting and making pitches to be included in shows and movies. Key motivators for the leagues include the chance to reach a mass audience, win favor among prospective new fans, and earn pop-culture cachet.
On the other side, actors, producers, writers and directors believe sports teams can establish a scene or character, lend authenticity and liven things up, particularly through a scene involving a familiar player or stadium.
Bringing the two sides together still requires negotiation. Having a game on as part of the background in a scene or putting a character in a team T-shirt or jersey usually involves a league’s licensing, creative and production groups, while scenes involving shooting on location at a team venue or with an extensive theme of a particular sport require even more approvals and involvement.
With the exception of NASCAR, all of the leagues spend the bulk of their time responding to entertainment queries rather than making many pitches of their own.
Zane Stoddard, NASCAR managing director of entertainment marketing, said only 5 percent of the integrated projects involving the racing league come from requests by studios and producers. NASCAR generates the rest, with Stoddard working from the league’s Los Angeles entertainment office to foster interest among entertainment executives, directors, writers and producers (he held a similar position at the NBA; the league later closed its entertainment office in California).
“The entertainment community is very receptive to working with NASCAR, but most of that transpires from proactively
Recent and upcoming examples include a racing-themed episode of ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels,” an appearance on the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss” (CMO Steve Phelps), and scripted series such as Fox’s “Breaking In” (Jimmie Johnson) and A&E’s “The Glades” (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, among others).
Only the NFL employs an outside agency, William Morris Endeavor, to comb through initial requests. Should a pitch pass that initial test, eight to 10 key department heads and staffers consider the proposal, led by Tracy Perlman, the league’s vice president of entertainment marketing and promotions.
“We like it when the NFL is central to the story line,” Perlman said. “You wouldn’t really notice it’s there, but you would notice it’s there. Think about ‘Transformers.’ Anthony Anderson is in a Redskins jersey in half of the movie. Things like that that are automatic because everybody’s a football fan. We want to make sure that it’s not forced, that it makes sense.”
TV series, particularly prime-time shows, offer a juicy target, too. Perlman points to extensive NFL participation in NBC’s reality weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser” and on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” as examples.
This season, Drew Brees and Tony Gonzalez are among the current NFL players making “Biggest Loser” appearances. The show offers a family audience, airs on a partner network (NBC is home to “Sunday Night Football”) and offers a theme dovetailing with the league’s Play 60 campaign to promote healthier lifestyles.
Executives at each of the leagues acknowledge the challenge of determining the value of cameos and other involvement in movies and shows, but they say there is little doubt that it’s worth something.
At the NBA, the league office tracks box office performance, ratings and audience size, but “that’s really not that material to us in terms of deciding whether to proceed,” said David Denenberg, senior vice president of legal and business affairs. “We only view it as a positive if it aligns with our marketing messages.”
In some cases, it’s easier to measure. When the NFL participated in an episode of “Deal or No Deal,” it staged a simultaneous auction of items at NFL.com. Traffic on the site increased 264 percent during the episode, a clear sign of impact, Perlman said.
Susan Cohig, senior vice president of integrated marketing at the NHL, has worked on such projects for the past decade, but said interest has increased in the past three to four years.
So it’s less of a surprise to see Jim Carrey donning a Sidney Crosby jersey and skating through his apartment in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” In December, Judd Apatow’s “This is 40” will feature appearances by four Flyers: James van Riemsdyk, Ian Laperriere, Matt Carle and Scott Hartnell. In both cases, Cohig and others at the NHL worked with producers on logistics and authenticity.
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart has appeared on the A&E series “The Glades” and has promoted the show trackside.
“Oftentimes, we’ll get a request and say, ‘Is there more we could be doing with this?’” Cohig said. “If it means integrating players, depending on what the script is, [we ask] how we can potentially get more engagement.” That, she said, explains why hockey has become a running theme on NBC’s “30 Rock” in recent years, with prominent roles for the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. What started with a specific request — for a Rangers goalie mask to be used in a scene — morphed into bigger elements as “30 Rock” staffers built rapport with the NHL.
Examples of NBA participation include Adam Sandler’s upcoming comedy “Jack and Jill” and inclusion in shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Modern Family” and “Entourage.” Last year, the NBA played a large role in a pair of romantic comedies: “Life as We Know It” (Josh Duhamel’s character works as a technical director on Atlanta Hawks broadcasts) and “Just Wright” (Common stars as a New Jersey Nets star while Queen Latifah is a fan of the team who wears team gear).
Major League Baseball hit the mother lode with the recent release of Brad Pitt’s “Moneyball,” based on the Michael Lewis best-seller about the Oakland A’s and general manager Billy Beane. Filming in ballparks, ensuring historical accuracy, providing clips and consulting on everything from wardrobes to scripts meant baseball staffers spent two years working on the movie.
Archival footage and historical consulting from MLB also figured prominently in recent documentaries, including “The Tenth Inning” by Ken Burns on PBS and HBO’s “The Curious Case of Curt Flood.”
“Something we’ve experienced and been told repeatedly by not just people at the studios but even writers, directors, all sorts of filmmakers, is that baseball has a particular value in helping establish things like setting, the era,” said Nick Trotta, MLB senior manager of library licensing. “Even a little about the characters. If somebody’s watching a Cubs game, that might mean something slightly different about them than if they’re watching a White Sox game.”
Leagues track what shows and movies they participate in, but not the acceptance rates. MLB, for example, receives 150 pitches per year, Trotta estimates. NASCAR has participated in 50 integrated scripts in the past two years.
One thing is clear: The appetite remains high for sports in movies and TV.
“I always try to make things look real, the way a kid or a young adult — or any adult — would have their sports,” said Josephson, the “Bones” executive producer who also serves on the NHL advisory board. “I always like to have that.”
Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.