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One wouldn’t be surprised to find athletes at work at one of the countless fields within the Home Depot Center sports complex on a sun-draped morning, even at an hour when most of Southern California is still uncaffeinated.
On a football field just south of Los Angeles, there are lights and pylons and field goal stanchions adorned with a familiar logo — but it’s not one of a team. On the field is a guy throwing a football who looks awfully familiar, along with a whippet of a man running with the effortless gait of a pro as footballs whiz by his head.
Between the two, they have five Super Bowl rings.
The “Performance Testing Center” set up at the Home Depot Center complex.
Photo by:RENE MACURA
Actors in Bridgestone lab coats dominate the scene. They are cast as “engineers” at what’s called the Bridgestone Performance Testing Center. After the cameras roll, Ivar Brogger, an
Central to the ads are “performance footballs” and other tire-tread gear.
Photo by:RENE MACURA
“Bringing tire technology to the world of sports.”
With a PGA Tour deal, naming rights at an NHL arena in Nashville, and title sponsorship of both the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the NHL Winter Classic, Bridgestone now is adding athletes in an effort to reposition a brand that is perceived as a bit stodgy relative to its competition. Awareness is one thing, and sports sponsorships have helped increase that, but performance is another matter, and after five years as a major buyer of sports, Bridgestone is turning to talent to add that vital “performance” attribute.
So, as the engineer, wearing the only tie in sight, speaks earnestly to ESPN on-air talent Michelle Beadle about bringing that “tire technology to the world of sports,” Aikman shows he can still throw the football, and Sanders demonstrates beyond any doubt that his speed and agility have not slowed — at least, not noticeably.
Aikman and Sanders are the first in a week’s worth of athletic talent that will be used in the campaign.
“I told Richards Group to show me the campaign I would never produce because it would be too big and expensive,” said Bridgestone CMO Phil Dobbs, under one of many tents erected on the football field for the shoot. “From my 20 years in packaged-goods marketing, I’ve learned you have to ask for that to see an agency’s best work. We had this affiliation with sports, and there’s an opportunity to connect the dots between performance on the field and tire
Bridgestone has built a name in sports through deals in hockey, golf and elsewhere.
That “connection” is athletes.
It’s a coming out party of sorts for Dobbs, who started as Bridgestone’s CMO in June. Dobbs is no virgin when it comes to Super Bowl ads, though. While with Kraft, he did one with LeBron James for Bubblicious gum and another for Trident.
“It’s not about a Super Bowl spot. First we had to figure out our campaign,” Dobbs said. “But we’ve done enough testing to be confident. There’s a lot of mediocreadvertising out there now. We’ve got to break through.”
Early work on the campaign began in July. Mike Bales, Richards Group creative director, said they tested five different ad concepts with consumers in September. None of the others registered.
“This takeover of the sports world seemed like something a tire company would never do,” Bales said. “That’s what got consumers excited and us excited about doing it.”
The spot is well-cast, with the 6-foot-3 Nash and the 6-foot-11 Duncan riffing well on each other as basketball’s version of Mutt and Jeff.
Photo by:TERRY LEFTON
Like the others, the spot is well-cast, with the 6-foot-3 Nash and the 6-foot-11 Duncan riffing well on each other as basketball’s version of Mutt and Jeff.
“This is how you’re bringing tire technologies to the world of sports?” Beadle says quizzically, under a crush of cameras and lights.
At the end of each take, Nash heads down the court for a layup. He doesn’t miss one during a day’s shoot.
Richards Sports & Entertainment, the sports marketing arm for The Richards Group, handled the talent acquisition.
“We were looking for athletes with enough profile to get the performance message across,” said Dave Cagianello, brand management group head at Richards Sports.
“Then it got down to who was available, and in season, you really can’t get any high-profile active NFLers. Chris Paul was slated for the ad, but opted out because of his duties as a NBA player rep. Nash and Duncan were great and everyone really took to the scripts,” Cagianello said.
Actor Ivar Brogger (in white coat) and ESPN’s Michelle Beadle help deliver the message.
Photo by:RENE MACURA
“At Bridgestone, we are highly passionate about tire performance,” Brogger says. “We are taking our passion and technology beyond the road and bringing them to the world of sports.”
With a flourish, other engineers pull back cloths shrouding tire-black balls from every sport — including a hockey puck. The joke is that the press corps, filled in by 40 extras, is entirely apathetic.
Even the loquacious Vitale has nothing to say. “Not too much of a smile,” director Erich Joiner of production company Tool tells Vitale, pointing a camera his way. “You can’t believe what you are seeing, so there’s just nothing to say.”
Vitale pulls it off in only a few takes. Like all the “talent” except for Beadle, he has no lines, which allows Bridgestone’s engineers and products to have a larger role.
Subsequent days see Kelly Kulick, the first woman to win a PBA Tour title, and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, take their turns as tire technology testers.
Then it’s a rush to post-production, to get the press conference spot ready to show on NBC’s broadcast on Jan. 2. It’s a 60-second ad that will air three times. “Beauty shots” of tires performing must be added for the spot to be ready for the broadcast — and all that must be finished this week.
After that, Bridgestone and Richards will huddle to determine which of the other four spots are Super Bowl-worthy. The hockey spot is humorous and tested well in front of focus groups in September. Aikman and Sanders might fit well in the Super Bowl. But, essentially, this will be about instinct.
“Of course, the client has final say,” said Bales, during the editing process in Los Angeles. “You’re talking about the ultimate gut call. But we’re all feeling pretty good about this whole thing.”
Geico has signed a three-year renewal with the NHL to extend its U.S. partnership, which began during the 2009-10 season.
“It is a very similar pattern as the previous deal on a much bigger scale for all parties involved,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of integrated sales. “It’s very integrated and continues the new league model of having partners support the league as well as the broadcast partner.”
Financial terms of the deal were not available.
Geico advertisements will air during all nationally broadcast games on NBC and Versus, which will become NBC Sports Network next year. That includes the Jan. 2 Winter Classic, where the insurance giant will also have in-ice branding and activation in the spectator plaza. Geico will debut two spots featuring the Geico caveman during the Winter Classic broadcast that will run during the remainder of the season. It also retains presenting sponsorship of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a position it acquired in 2010-11.
In addition, Geico gains presenting sponsorship of the “Intermission Report” for all games shown on the NHL Network. It also receives additional dasherboards for all nationally televised games during the regular season and playoffs.
Geico retains team deals with 19 of the league’s 23 U.S. teams; it negotiates those deals separately from the league deal.
The company’s total partnership and activation spending with the league and clubs has risen 30 percent from its 2010-11 commitment, according to an industry source.
Wachtel said the NHL does not have plans to increase Geico’s partnership north of the border, as Geico does not do business in Canada. Before signing Geico, the NHL did not have a U.S. partner in the insurance category.
The NHL negotiated the renewal with Scout Sports and Entertainment, launched in 2010 by Horizon Media, which negotiated the original Geico deal. Michael Neuman, managing partner for Scout, said he opened renewal discussions in January but he waited until the NHL completed its 10-year, $1.9 billion national television deal with NBC before proceeding.
“We waited so we could take into consideration what the partner was bringing to the table,” Neuman said. “There is incremental exposure that everyone is going to get throughout the playoffs and an ability to drive a lot more live programming.”
Cyber Monday 2011. Each one of these seems to be pronounced the “largest one ever.”
Still, even beyond the ability of the general media to force-feed a story and retailers’ reflexive need to understate even their best sales days, there seems agreement that things are good.
When the estimates emerge, no matter whose numbers you believe and how many grains of salt you take them with, it was a smash.
ComScore says Cyber Monday sales were up 22 percent to $1.25 billion.
The Cowboys broke off their licensing and merchandising from the NFL some years.
There’s also the other side of Cyber Monday, as evidenced by the amenable woman who answered the Dallas Cowboys’ Pro Shop customer service line when I called to ask where the personalized Cowboys jersey was that I’d ordered 15 days earlier. “Oh, that definitely shoulda been shipped by now,’” she said, in a Texas twang so sweet it almost made me forget about the 14 times I had to listen to play-by-play of a Cowboys game-winning field goal while on hold. “We had so many orders on Cyber Monday, most of them didn’t get processed until that Thursday.”
Welcome to SportsBusiness Journal’s biennial voyage across the world of sports e-commerce.
In the decade of ordering sports merchandise online and writing about the experience, we’ve heard almost everything — from a request by Nike that we reship a misaddressed package to it, to the insistence of a Wal-Mart customer service rep that they decide which day of the year it is — not the calendar. However, “business is so good, your order is delayed,” was a refrain we weren’t prepared for, refreshing though it is.
The warehouse floor at Fanatics in Jacksonville has been humming this holiday season.
Photo by:MIKE MADDEN / FANATICS
Over the years, one thing has become clear. It started out being difficult to shop league sites without testing the mettle of GSI Commerce again and again. Now that they have merged with Fanatics.com, a Jacksonville e-commerce provider, it’s even more impossible. Fanatics, formerly Footballfanatics.com, operates 200 e-commerce sites, including all the pro leagues, the U.S. Olympic Committee, 14 college conferences and 20-plus colleges, including Ohio State and Alabama. They also handle media properties, including Fox Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN and Yahoo! Sports. On its busiest days this holiday season, Fanatics was shipping out of its largest warehouses at the incredible rate of six packages a second.
League sites appear to have this customization thing down, good news for this Cyber Monday shopper.
“Both for fans and retailers, customization has become a driving factor and a growing force whether you are talking apparel or hard goods,” said Jim Haskins, NHL group vice president of consumer products licensing.
“It’s allowed retailers to do orders as small as a few pieces and fans to feed their love of sports with something that is unique. So customization has driven a lot of growth — and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Buying the right key words on Google has also become very important. While it seems to have changed by December, on Cyber Monday, “buy NFL jersey” and “buy NFL jerseys” yield far different results, with various companies appearing. But by press time, that had changed and the results using both terms were similar.
KICKING OFF WITH FOOTBALL
The first place to visit was Fanatics’ NFL.com site, where a clock counts down the seconds until the “Cyber Monday” sale ends. Hmmm, the biggest discount I see is a whopping $80 bucks off of Baseline’s $400 NFL bunk bed, but with $165 for shipping? So I move on. Recalling the irony a few years back when the NFL’s site had problems shipping a football before Christmas, I throw one of those in the cart. The ball is supposed to ship in two business days, and there is nice branding from league sponsors Visa and FedEx on the checkout page.
Personalized Bears hoodie from NFL.com: The results are good.
Customization is easy, though it would have been nice to have a choice other than block letters. However, I’m cheered by the 20 percent Cyber Monday discount — a neat $29 bucks. Checkout is easy and I’m told my merchandise will arrive between Dec. 2 and Dec. 7. After payment, I am served an ad for an SI subscription. Isn’t the league now publishing its own magazine? The results are good: The hoodie arrives Dec. 5 and the ball even sooner.
Recalling that the Dallas Cowboys broke off their own licensing and merchandising operation from the NFL’s some years back, I am eager to see whether there is any difference between Fanatics’ NFL.com offerings and those of the Cowboys. The team site has a lot happening; before I can digest a pitch for gift cards, co-branded Marvel T-shirts are splashed across the screen. Ordering a customized jersey is easy, and UPS shipping at $4.99 is reasonable, but unlike any of the Fanatics sites, there’s no immediate and clear indication of how long the order will take when it shows “See product page for more information.” Nothing. I click on a shipping tab and it says two to three weeks for customized on an order placed Nov. 28. This is gonna be close.
Personalized Blackhawks jersey from NHL.com: An impressive arrival time.
The day after — on “Cyber Tuesday” (some sites have taken to calling it “Cyber Week”) — it appears there are no customizable Kentucky basketball jerseys left in America. Amazon: No. Nike.com: No. UK’s online shop: No. None of the top 10 sites indexed by a Google search have any.
I could buy a customized Kentucky CANINE jersey for $34 from doggonesports.com. Fansedge.com wins me over with some contextual advertising. Next to the jersey I cannot have, it shows a 27-by-37-inch Kentucky banner that can be personalized. It’s available and would likely get more use from the woman I am buying it for than a jersey. It costs $40 with shipping and discount, but I am warned it will take 10 to 15 business days. Ten days later, I click on an email from Fansedge telling me I can “quickly track the status of the order” by hitting a link. I click and get a product description — but nothing about when I will get it. Going old school, I call the toll-free number and I’m told by a helpful man that I may want to pay for expedited shipping. I try to have faith.
One of the best logos in sports is the Chicago Blackhawks’ colorful Indian crest, and that takes me to NHL.com, a site that is colorful. Immediately, an NHL-logoed toggle coat falls into the “never-seen-a-logo-on that-before” category. Now that I have the GSI interface down, this is easy. So, it’s $125 for the jersey, but $55 to customize? That’s steep, but I go ahead. I am told plainly to expect delivery between Dec. 9 and Dec. 16. It arrives Dec. 9 — impressive.
NBA.com is offering a 25 percent “Cyber Monday” discount. Curiously, unlike the other Fanatics sites, which automatically offer a discount, you must enter a code at checkout. At the top of the price list on this site are Tiffany-style team-logoed lamps for $529. As I search, I get hungry, and see a $40 logoed tin of 54 bite-size chocolate cookies, which comes out to 74 cents a bite!
Personalized Cavaliers jersey from NBA.com: Maybe the best value of the lot, and delivered on time.
You can judge a team’s success by how many different jerseys are sold bearing its name plate. In the replica category alone, there are an astounding 22 Los Angeles Lakers jerseys offered for sale — and that’s before customization. The Pistons have only four. I throw in a personalized Cavaliers jersey — with the “Cyber Monday” discount, this may be the best value of the lot. Delivery is promised for a week to 10 days and it arrives eight days later — wow, Fanatics has customization down.
MLB’s “Cyber Monday” offer is “Buy one, 50% off the second.” A problem for someone seeking a single customized item, but then it comes to me — I work with someone with twin boys! A site search for a youth customized jersey turns up nothing, but a call to a service rep finds a pair of Majestic Mets youth replica jerseys with a substantial discount. VF’s Majestic has always outperformed, once shipping me a personalized jersey in three days. So I am only a little surprised when the jerseys, said to be delivered by Dec. 13, arrive a week early. However, some negative points and a razz from the green lobby: same order, same day, shipped in separate packages.
Lids.com’s site showcases MLB cap maker New Era’s success as a longtime league rights holder. Witness 100 colors of fitted 59Fifty Yankees caps, including brown and “Cardinal Red.” Unless you live in St. Louis, that’s just cruel.
Lids’ customization capabilities are easily the best we encountered. MLB caps can be customized in an endless array of colors and fonts. The site warns that the custom production deadline is very tight, but also advises that for an additional $10.50, it can expedite production. That’s an easy decision and probably a decent profit center — this whole process seems likes a model everyone in the business should adopt. The cap is promised by Dec. 13 and arrives that day. I am pleased enough to go back to try to make another custom order two weeks before Christmas, but can’t find the option. Through customer service instant messaging, I am told that Lids, like the Cowboys, is another victim of the buoyant holiday shopping season.
“Our [customized] business was blowing out so much we had to shut it off the first week of December,” said Steve Wentzell, director of e-commerce for Lids. “Customization is between 5 percent and 10 percent of our e-commerce sales, and we’ll be expanding that with more apparel.”
In delivering games, Kmart won the race by beating its promised delivery date by nearly a week.
Let’s ask some of the biggest retailers to ship something simple: an EA “Madden NFL” game. Wal-Mart’s site is always bright and easily navigated. Their price of $49.96 for the game is nicely complemented by the $1.96 shipping charge. So, Dec. 7 is the promised delivery date, and I receive an email Nov. 30 telling me it has shipped. Unfortunately, it does not arrive until 13 days later! I can’t believe I paid even $1.96 for shipping.
BestBuy.com’s search function is not wonderful and you have to work too hard to find prices. They are sold out of Madden, so let’s see how quickly they can get Activision’s “NASCAR The Game 2011” around the track.
Free shipping, a promise of Dec. 7 delivery — and it crosses the finish line on that day.
Kmart is not a store or site I frequent, but after Target.com is sold out of the Madden game, that’s the next stop. Kmart’s $59.99 price tag is an affront to online shopping, but it is in stock, so for that plus a $4.99 shipping charge, there is a promised delivery between Dec. 6 and Dec. 8. It wins the big-box retail race, hitting the doorstep three days after it’s ordered and nearly a full week before promised delivery.
Negative green points for shipping in a box big enough to fit five games.
So, on to individual athlete sites to see how they are doing. I chose Derek Jeter, the man who moves more merchandise than any other MLB player.
The voice of Bob Sheppard announcing Jeter’s name greets visitors, but that’s not the only thing that’s familiar.
Here’s the dirt: This Fenway Park memento from Steiner Sports arrived in three days.
AND THE VERDICT …?
As one might expect, every vendor we tested has advanced their capabilities since the last time we undertook this exercise. A few conclusions: As the market leader, it should be no surprise that Fanatics has its act together. However, even for an e-commerce mentality that says the less paper, the better, we’re surprised that almost no one markets “inside” the box anymore. Are we so accustomed to virtual shipping that the value of an enclosed coupon or catalog has vanished?
With the exception of Lids, packaging was utilitarian, bordering on ugly. There’s an opportunity to step it up there. And isn’t that something customers have a right to expect when buying pricier customized goods? Emails after the order are now epidemic, but tracking still isn’t as simple as it should be, though the quality of customer agents responding to phone appears to have improved exponentially. As cyber sales continue to expand, we can only hope that trend ports over to the virtual side.
Despite missing two games this season to injuries, Foster was still No. 8 in NFL rushing yardage heading into this past weekend’s games.
Arian Foster’s journey from undrafted free agent to the NFL’s leading rusher has given him endorsement opportunities.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
All those impressive running numbers aside, on these pages there’s one statistic that renders Foster incomparable: The NFL’s rushing leader of a year ago earns more off the field than on it, a claim we don’t believe can be made by another NFL player.
As an exclusive-rights free agent, Foster is earning the relatively small proscribed salary of $525,000 this season — the consequence of a senior collegiate year when he was injuredand subsequently not drafted by any NFL team. Off the field, he’s pulling in more than $750,000 annually from a pastiche of deals.
“Arian’s a unique talent in so many ways,” said Jay Wisse, vice president, sports and entertainment properties, at French West Vaughan, a Raleigh-based entertainment PR and marketing shop that recently expanded into sports marketing. “A lot of guys in his position would have held out, but money is not his biggest motivation.”
Wisse is a former marketer for the San Antonio Spurs, the International Hockey League and the Carolina Hurricanes TV Network.
Foster isn’t yet at the center of any huge national ad campaigns, but most of those are reserved for quarterbacks, anyway. He does have a weekly radio show with Houston’s KGOW-AM, part of the Yahoo! Sports Radio Network. He has local deals with Verizon, through which he appears on a handful of Hispanic radio broadcasts, and with Joe Myers Ford, which uses Foster in radio ads.
Foster’s thrice-daily workouts are orchestrated by his older brother Abdul, who went to Florida A&M on a track scholarship; they’ve been packaged as a forthcoming iPhone fitness app. Fuse Science, the maker of nutritional, medical and dietary supplements that recently signed Tiger Woods, also has Foster under contract. There have been smaller deals with EA and wristbands.net and an arrangement through which Foster signed 700 jerseys for the Texas Lottery, a Texans sponsor, as well.
It’s expected the Texans will have to step up during the offseason and relieve Foster of the dubious distinction of being the NFL’s most underpaid player. While we expect Foster’s ancillary income will continue to mushroom, we are fairly certain that by next season his off-field earnings will no longer eclipse his NFL salary.
Priority Sports handles Foster’s on-field contract.
EAGLE SCOUT: We know any number of media agencies that profess to have sports marketing expertise but almost no sports agencies that claim to be media buyers. A year in, Horizon Media’s Scout Sports and Entertainment is proving that the much-discussed, rarely achieved model of a media agency with real sports marketing expertise can work.
“They are giving us a higher level of knowledge in sports marketing versus your average media buyers and planners,” said George Galinsky, vice president of marketing communications at Mohegan Sun, which became a Horizon and Scout client in February. “The bottom line is that they are saving us time and getting us more for our money because of their knowledge base and because they are good negotiators.”
The casino has sponsorships with the New York Yankees, Patriot Place, the Boston Bruins and TD Garden.
Conversely, Geico has a relationship with Horizon that dates back 18 years, but the expressed sentiment is the same. “We’re getting expertise now across sports we just weren’t getting before,” said Bill Brower, Geico’s director of advertising. “We’re getting better valuations, so when someone asks me what a sign is really worth, we have a solid idea. And when it comes to something like … our NHL [sponsorship] renewal, they were able to tear it up, rebuild it and get us a better package than we had.”
Michael Neuman, who has headed the “agency within an agency” since November 2010, said Scout has grown in size from himself and a lone employee to 10 full-time employees and an additional eight that it shares with Horizon.
Revenue has grown fivefold from early projections, and outside of servicing Horizon clients like Corona, Capital One and History Channel/A&E, Scout has secured new business from the likes of Basketball City, New York City Bike Share and Cotton Inc. and has lent some expertise on new business pitches.
“We have really moved the ball as far as what we can do for our clients in sports,” said Bill Koenigsberg, Horizon founder, president and CEO. “From analytics to integration and expertise across sports, we’re just a lot deeper. And when you have your hand in $400 million in sports [sponsorships and media] annually, that should be an offering because we have that great vantage point. Now we do, and revenues have grown because of it.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boxing promoter Top Rank will add AT&T to its sponsorship roster next year, expanding the presence of a brand that in recent years has affixed its name to many of Top Rank’s bigger fights, but never as a committed package.
AT&T has sponsored individual Top Rank events, such as Pacquiao-Mosley in Las Vegas.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Top Rank and AT&T agreed on 10 fighters whose bouts would be acceptable: Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Yuriorkis Gamboa, Timothy Bradley, Mike Jones, Juan Manuel Lopez and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Sponsorship includes logo placement on the ring mat and, when applicable, in the broadcast, as well as arena and local activation rights, to use video and images in advertising and promotional materials and fight tickets.
Top Rank would not disclose financial terms of the deal. The promoter has shopped similar packages for about $1 million in previous years. Pacquiao’s profile and associated value to sponsors has increased markedly in the last year.
“Because we have this scheduling issue in boxing, where we don’t know who will fight when, it’s important that we be creative in the way we structure these deals,” said Lucia McKelvey, executive vice president of business development and marketing at Top Rank. “They’re flexible enough to pick out fights that are interesting to them and then run with them. They can pick their spots, and yet they’ll have the continuity that will make what they already were doing more effective.”
AT&T will use the sponsorship, struck through its multicultural marketing group, primarily to promote its wireless products to Hispanics. It also will promote its U-verse digital service. Unlike AT&T’s deal with Golden Boy Promotions, the package does not include exclusive live content for U-verse.