SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Events and Attractions

Super Bowl: Different city, better vibe

Visitors to Indianapolis during Super Bowl week found February temperatures in the mid 50s — some 25 degrees above the norm. However, the relatively balmy weather wasn’t the only anomaly from the NFL
championship held a year earlier. Dallas and Super Bowl XLV will be remembered for the displaced fans who were sold seats that were not built by game day, an inhospitable mixture of ice and snow and an equally frigid feeling among the league’s business partners that the impending lockout would devalue their costly NFL rights if the 2011 season were scrubbed.

At Super Bowl XLVI, all that concern turned to enthusiasm even before the record crowds at the NFL Experience fan fest and an enthralling game that attracted a record TV audience. After a Super Bowl of ice and skepticism in Dallas, the dichotomy in Indianapolis was striking. Now the biggest question among those paying handsomely for NFL rights to drive their business was how high they can stack the bonfire.

“To have your first year start out with all that ambiguity because of the lockout had us jumping through hoops,” said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch, which signed the largest NFL sponsorship deal ever last March and was leveraging its new Super Bowl rights with the downtown Bud Light Hotel party venue, Super Bowl XLVI-logoed aluminum bottles and its normal heavy load of commercial spots during the game telecast. “When I look at how our marketing team executed in light of all that ambiguity, we are really happy. The NFL playoffs were as entertaining as any I can remember, and Bud Light brand health and metrics are the highest we’ve ever measured.”

There was also a sense of relief that economic growth is back after some years of concern.

Subway CMO Tony Pace said the mood was just as bright at the recent NATPE media convention in Miami. Of course, until Sunday, the Super Bowl is just another trade show, right? “People have seen things picking up business-wise, they are looking for that uptick to continue and there are all kinds of deals being done after some years of nothing but caution,” said Pace, whose company was the title sponsor of CBS’s NFL postgame show this season. “Add 10 years of labor peace, an entertaining season, and that’s why you see a lot of happy people here.’’

More than one marketer offered the theory that the threat of losing the NFL actually fueled increased interest for a sports property that already has a lock on American TV viewership.

“You could easily argue that the threat of losing what for many fans is an absolute passion — and then the joy of finding they weren’t going to lose it — stimulated more demand,” said Sam Riber, whose Riber Sports Marketing, acquired last summer by Team Epic, was executing Super Bowl programs in Indy for various P&G brands and Barclays for its NFL Extra Points credit cards.


Labor uncertainty caused Gillette to drop plans for its usual NFL-themed TV ad, while Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice opted out entirely from NFL marketing programs until next season. Nonetheless, Greg Via, Gillette Global Director of Sports Marketing, noted that Gillette still did an NFL team-logoed Fusion ProGlide razor program and said sales were on target. “We lost some early season support but it all turned out OK,” said Via, outside of P&G’s temporary offices within Union Station. “You went from bad weather and an abundance of uncertainty in Dallas to 10 years of labor peace and great weather in a city where you can walk everywhere. Of course everyone’s happy.’’

“Expectations were not especially high after Dallas, but Indianapolis surpassed everything,’’ said Rick Singer, vice president of client executive marketing at NFL corporate sponsor IBM.

Even some of those most dependent on players for their business said they weren’t hurt as badly as they expected.

“The lockout ended up costing us more momentum than dollars,” said Mark Warsop, CEO at Panini America, which added three NFL card releases after the lockout. “At the moment, everybody is talking about [Andrew] Luck. This time last year, everyone was talking about a lockout, not Cam Newton. Because of that we lost a lot of momentum.”

A-B’s Chibe made one final point: “On an overall basis, this was undoubtedly a good season for us in our first year,” he said. “But the thing I would say to any sponsor is imagine what kind of season it could have been if you really knew when it was going to start.”

The NFL House served as a lodge-themed refuge within Union Station.
Photo by: SPORTSMARK
BUILDING THE HOUSE
: Hospitality experiences and outposts for corporate sponsors are not new, but for properties they are. NFL House, the new 16,000-square-foot hospitality venue built by the league and agency SportsMark for league business partners in Indianapolis played to generally positive reviews, though some complained it was never packed with people enjoying its mix of food, beverages, games, player appearances, celebrity bartenders and cooking demonstrations by TV chefs.

The cost to licensees, sponsors and media
partners was $400 per day or $1,050 for Thursday through Saturday, with around 1,000 passes sold. Noting that Thursday and Friday night were sold out before the holidays, and the rest completely sold later, SportsMark’s Keith Bruce said those complaining that the space wasn’t filled missed the point. “This was designed as a refuge — a place you could hold business meetings by day and entertain by night,” he said.

League officials said the numbers were in line with their projections, ranging from 500 guests a day to nearly 900 on Saturday. NFL House was built within historic Union Station and had the feel of a mountain lodge, complete with fireplace and couches. It was open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Bruce said other properties, including the Indy 500, NBA and NCAA, were eyeing the space.

DOWN STREAM: While nothing is finalized, the NFL is hoping its Sunday afternoon broadcasters begin to stream their games live. Because NFL games are regionalized and overlap, it’s more difficult for CBS and Fox to stream its games than NBC, ESPN or NFL Network, which only have to worry about one game a week.

“I’d love to see us continue to work with CBS and Fox and get them into the market with their streaming rights,” said Hans Schroeder, NFL senior vice president of media strategy and development.

Meanwhile, home viewers will notice several changes to the broadcast experience after the new media extensions signed last year. Steve Bornstein, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, specifically cited the prime-time game on Thanksgiving moving to NBC from NFL Network starting next year. “Thanksgiving is going to be a very different experience,” he said.

Schroeder pointed out the upcoming launch of a Spanish-language NFL RedZone. “It is a really compelling way to watch our game, particularly for fans that are just getting interested,” he said.

Both Bornstein and Schroeder say the launches should not affect TV viewership, which is at an all-time high. “We launched RedZone two years ago,” Schroeder said. “Yet ratings have grown with all partners over that time period. That suggests that everything we’re doing is incremental.”

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: With new TV deals kicking in for the start of 2014, sponsors were curious to see how and if their packages will change as they come up for renewal. Keith Turner, NFL senior vice president of media sales and sponsorship, said deeper integration with NFL shoulder programming, like the NFL Honors awards show that debuted the night before the Super Bowl, is a general direction in which the league is heading.

“We keep getting challenged by our partners to come up with new and different assets, and Honors was a touchdown,” Turner said.

The offseason to-do list for the NFL sales team includes pending renewals with IBM, a sponsor since 2003, and Motorola, a 13-year incumbent whose renewal will likely be complicated by both the possible integration of tablets into the league, and Google’s pending acquisition of Moto. Turner said that new categories being pursued include health care, timepiece and airlines, where the league has been without a sponsor since Southwest Airlines left in 2007.

FMI’s 25,000-square-foot NFL Shop did big business inside the NFL Experience.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
LICENSE TO SELL
: One couldn’t help but notice that sales of licensed merchandise were booming in Indy. FMI’s huge NFL Shop within the NFL Experience was rocking on most days, buoyed by expanded hours and attendance in excess of 200,000. Long lines to even get into the store were customary, and once in, the 25,000-square-foot store included shops within shops from licensees including Wild Sales, Mitchell & Ness, Cutter & Buck, G III and Junk Food. A separate women’s boutique featured a cross section of licensed goods for women, along with a DJ and a free massage for weary shoppers. The store also was opened to the public, as opposed to just those buying NFL Experience tickets.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

FMI President and CEO Milt Arenson said sales were “by far” the best since his firm took over managing the NFL Experience store five years ago and that while in-stadium merchandise sales couldn’t stand up to last year’s haul at the 30-plus percent larger Cowboys Stadium, “for a building the size of Lucas Oil, it stood up to any we’ve done.”

Even with traditional retail so strong, Arenson was most excited about an app that allowed users to choose from over 150 items and pick them up at the NFL Experience store. In the stadium, suite holders could have those same items delivered. Technology was also evident at the NFL Experience store, where FMI was producing customized name and number caps, jerseys and fleece product in less than 15 minutes.

Lids went big and made a 23,000-square-foot statement in its hometown.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Elsewhere downtown, Lids, usually accustomed to a small retail footprint, was busting out with a temporary 23,000-square-foot store on the second floor of a deserted Nordstrom that included a video game station, football toss, and a “man cave” display and sculptures fashioned from caps. “This wasn’t a cheap date for us, but we’re making a brand statement in our hometown,” said John DeWaal, director of marketing at Lids.

As a backdrop to all the licensing success, there was the story of Reebok exiting after a decade as the NFL’s master apparel licensee and Nike entering. By all accounts this last year was one of Reebok’s best, but the question of how the Adidas/Reebok Sports Licensed Division will make up for the loss of the NFL is a good one.

“The formula changed,” said Reebok President Uli Becker, inside the company’s hospitality suite at the downtown Hilton. “Under the old deal, we had it as a profitable business. Now, it is more of a marketing expenditure and we could not justify keeping it at that price.”

Nike’s five-year deal begins April 1.

HATS OFF: Another new licensee starting April 1 is New Era, the longtime on-field MLB rights holder, which will market the caps that appear on NFL sidelines. Three different models for the draft will drop April 2, after which there will be an offseason “training cap” built with performance fabrics. The sideline caps will hit retail in August. Trying to break the notion that it is a baseball-only company, New Era will support with an integrated marketing campaign centering on the “New Era Laboratory of Capology” to demonstrate that it’s now building caps specifically intended for the gridiron.

“We’re going to make our mark and cement our relationship within the NFL in consumers’ minds as quickly as we can,” said Braden Dahl, who’s directing New Era’s NFL business.

MONEYBALL: The NFL expects to have its strategic investment fund operating by the spring. Owners approved $32 million in startup funding in December for what will be the first league-run venture capital fund, which the NFL will use to invest in early-stage businesses. The league is creating an advisory committee composed of owners and outsiders, with plans to hire more people internally to run the fund and partner with venture capital firms. All that planning should be done by the end of March in time for the owners meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

UPS AND DOWNS: The Atlanta Falcons will raise average ticket prices 4 percent to $75.10 this year. Owner Arthur Blank cited the team’s on-field success for the price hike, saying, “We produced an outstanding product the last four years, back-to-back-to-back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the history of our franchise.” The team would like a new stadium to replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome, but Blank declined to answer questions about negotiations with local officials, citing the need to hold those conversations private.

Meanwhile, the Falcons’ neighbor to the south, the Jacksonville Jaguars, will do the opposite and reduce ticket prices, though new owner Shahid Khan did not provide specifics. He did offer one new detail: In certain sections, adults will be able bring children for half price, an effort to build the next generation of Jaguars fans.
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