SBJ/May 28-June 3, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Quaker Oats to enlist NFL’s muscle to tout a healthy breakfast

Terry Lefton
For as many years as we have been talking to NFL league marketers (that’s back when the Internet was a fishing device, son) they’ve been pitching us the idea of the NFL as a fulcrum on which to leverage a healthy/active marketing plan for some product or service, but we haven’t seen many convincing efforts.

Gatorade, a league sponsor since 1983, has a message of athlete fuel, and its current creative pushes its potions as an alternative to the junk food consumed heavily by its audience of teen consumers. Campbell Soup Co., a league sponsor since 1997, also tried to push its Chunky soups as a healthy meal through an affiliation with players and their mothers in Young & Rubicam’s memorable “Mama’s Boys” TV campaign.

NFL team sponsorships with local health care providers, such as the New York Jets with Atlantic Health or the Philadelphia Eagles with NovaCare, can be powerful associations, since athletes are rehabilitating at the very training sites and team headquarters on which those companies have their names as part of their sponsorships. Any footwear marketed in consort with a league is likely to have some sort of health claim. Reebok tried to market gym equipment under the NFL Equipment brand with limited success, as did the Jets with the Bio Force Pro, a “full-body fitness machine” jointly marketed with hall of famer Curtis Martin.

Other than athlete-specific endorsements, the best example we can recall linking the NFL’s version of health and fitness to a consumer product is Dairy Management Inc.’s 9-year-old sponsorship with the league and most of its teams, through which DMI hits schools across the country with player appearances and messages extolling milk’s benefits and the benefits of a healthy diet.

Generally, marketing that links the health and training regimen with the NFL has been in the cause-related sphere, like the league’s 4 1/2-year-old Play 60 anti-childhood-obesity campaign. And while it doesn’t fall as neatly into the “healthy/active” category, the amount of resources the NFL has dedicated to breast cancer awareness over the past several Octobers has been impressive.

The direction we are going with all this healthy/active marketing prattle is that under its most recent NFL sponsorship, Pepsi’s Quaker Oats subsidiary will have access to NFL rights for the first time, and no one is confusing the company’s Quaker man logo with an NFL trademark any time soon. Accordingly, our rhetorical question is whether the unquestioned marketing power of the NFL, which has been used to push beer, colas (diet and otherwise), candy bars, salty snacks, pizza, wings, burgers, fries and beverages including P&G’s Sunny D version of exceptionally faux orange juice, can then be used to attract moms looking to provide a healthy breakfast for their kids?

For the skeptics among you, recall that there was a spot for Dannon’s Oikos yogurt on this year’s Super Bowl, which also included ads from leading salt and sugar purveyors Coke, Doritos, Pepsi and Pizza Hut. And while we aren’t sure it entered into their thinking, we note with some interest that National Oatmeal Month and the NFL playoffs both take place in January.

During NFL draft week in New York City, Quaker employed top pick Andrew Luck to push its new designation as the NFL’s official hot cereal sponsor. Not surprisingly, they’ve been paired with the Play 60 program, and while they are short on specifics as far as future marketing programs, Jennifer Storms, senior vice president of sports marketing at PepsiCo, assures us that Quaker cereals will be part of all the major NFL calendar initiatives, from kickoff to Super Bowl.

“It’s really about making mom the hero and a healthy-start message with a whole-grain breakfast and a healthy lifestyle and inspiring kids,” Storms said. Given that Pepsi-owned Tropicana also has NFL rights, we saw an opportunity for a breakfast club of some sort.

“Every league’s looking at childhood obesity, but none has been able to own the healthy/active ad space they are looking at,” said Merrill Squires, senior vice president and head of sports marketing and partnerships for USA Today Sports Media Group, whose experience in healthy/active marketing includes pairing Lance Armstrong with Michelob Ultra low-carb beer. “It’s relatively easy for endemic sports brands, but most of the consumer packaged-goods brands still haven’t found their way outside of cause programs.”

The NFL was pleased with traffic in its Manhattan pop-up store, though sales were below expectations.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
STORE CLOSING:
While NFL licensing czar Leo Kane said he was happy with the traffic that the pop-up store in midtown Manhattan generated during April, it doesn’t sound like the league is going into bricks and mortar retail again soon.

“We had close to 200,000 visitors and it was a great brand statement and energy for the draft,” Kane said of the store, which was opened for the month of April in observance of the April 26-28 NFL draft, and included a manufacturing line for Wilson footballs. “Sales were just slightly below expectations, but the brand statement we got was huge, and online in April we were up triple digits over each of the past two years, so … But I was just as happy to see what Nike did for us in their [57th Street] store and Modell’s Times Square store windows.

“One of the big learnings might be that we don’t need to be in the retail business, especially 11-8 every day.”

So what about the NYC kickoff for the 2012-13 NFL season? “We made the statement we wanted and now we’re happy to leave the retailing up to professionals,” said Kane, noting the proximity of Lids, Modell’s and other licensed-product retailers to Times Square, site of the 2002 Kickoff concert.

China’s Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry has extended its rights with the Harlem Globetrotters to trading cards and appearances in 60 schools.
GLOBETROTTING:
The Harlem Globetrotters have been touring China since 1991, and that country was recently the site of what the team is calling its largest international marketing deal to date. Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry, a former Globies tour sponsor, has extended its rights to include more than 60 school appearances where it will use athletes and trading cards to push its milk and flavored milk products in schools, where they will also sample the beverages. Mengniu also will be part of the promotional efforts of the Globetrotters’ search for the franchise’s first Chinese player.

Peter LaPointe, Globetrotters senior vice president of partnership marketing and sales, said he hopes to have a Chinese player next year and noted that the Globies opened their first office in China just last year. The team will have between 15 and 25 appearances in China this year.

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



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