SBJ/August 27-September 2, 2012/Events and Attractions

NFL Kickoff: Super Bowl ‘tuneup’ in NYC

From a decade ago, when NFL Kickoff began in New York City as more of a tribute to 9/11 than a celebration of football, the event has grown exponentially, in step with the league’s swelling profits, popularity and influence across pop culture.

So it comes as no surprise that this year’s runway to the league’s opening tilt has mushroomed from a game-day concert in Times Square to more than a week’s worth of events across Manhattan encompassing all of the league’s businesses and many of its commercial partners.

It’s not quite a Super Bowl week, but it’s getting closer. And for an organization facing the challenge of soon presenting the first Super Bowl played in cold weather and in the nation’s largest market, that’s not coincidental.

“To some degree, this is a tuneup,” said NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller. “Certainly we’re working hard to make it a longer run-up to our opener. We’ve worked closer with [New York] city officials and done this as a single plan, which will be good learning for when we manage the size, scale and complexity of a Super Bowl here [in 2014]. We’ve started with a competency in sports and music events, and added things like fashion, health and fantasy elements, which should help us expand our fan base.”

The league is also pointing to massive promotional support as evidence of the growth of the event. It said it has attracted nearly $50 million worth of promotional media to support Kickoff, including tune-in spots with broadcast rights holders, a 14-page section in USA Today, and poster pullouts in Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. Promotion of the season-opening game next week will be visible via various ads across the city — from street pole banners to transit ads, including a wrap of the Times Square Shuttle — and a sponsor activation zone in Times Square.

Bud Light is presenting sponsor of NFL Kickoff, while other sponsors include Bridgestone, GMC, Lenovo, Pepsi, Snickers, Verizon, Visa and Papa John’s.

The league also has worked to extend the promotional window of Kickoff. There now are Kickoff events for weeks leading up to the opener, which this year is Sept. 5 and matches the defending champion New York Giants against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.

Last week, there was a fantasy draft event sponsored by DirecTV at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. This week, on Thursday, there will be a four-mile run within Central Park, sponsored by Nike and staged in conjunction with New York Road Runners, in which NFL legends are expected to join. That night, the Giants are holding an event for their season-ticket holders at MetLife Stadium in which they’ll be invited to sit on the field and watch the debut of NFL Films/America’s Game feature documentary on the Giants’ Super Bowl season last year.

Championship scarves by Forever Collectibles will be given to fans attending the NFL’s Giants-Cowboys opener.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
For the opening game, fans at MetLife will get scarves from licensee Forever Collectibles commemorating the championship.

“You’ve seen a trend across the league of [NFL] teams making an effort to thank season-ticket holders in new ways,” said Giants CMO Mike Stevens. “From a league perspective, this is third Kickoff I’ve been involved with. The team/ league cooperation is far better and it has really become a really significant national event.”

New York City also hosted NFL Kickoff in 2008, when the Giants played Washington.

An expanded presence for NFL consumer products in and around Kickoff is anchored by a “retail row” concept on 34th Street in which the many licensed-product retailers will feature Kickoff-themed windows and in-store displays. Participating retailers include Aeropostale, Foot Locker, Kmart, Lids, Macy’s, Modell’s, Party City and Old Navy, which will stage a super fan tailgate party Saturday afternoon.

To commemorate its return as a NFL uniform licensee, Nike is combining football and fashion by sponsoring the Back to Football Photo Day, in which fashionable fans selected from each NFL market will participate in a fashion shoot in New York City’s West Side.

“We’re trying to take the wearing of NFL gear to another level and involve fashion as a tribute to Fashion Week,” said NFL consumer products chief Leo Kane. Fashion Week begins the same week as Kickoff.

Licensees slated to air new TV ads for their NFL products during Kickoff week include EA, Wal-Mart, ’47 Brand, and Old Navy.

On Sept. 4, there will be a two-day Play 60 Youth Festival at Chelsea Waterfront Park, while a sponsor activation zone opens that day in Times Square and runs through the opening game the next night. NFL sponsor Pepsi will host a Kickoff Eve function Sept. 4 at The Hard Rock Café in Times Square.

Similar to the NFL Draft Week or Super Bowl, the league and NFLPA will feature a number of retired NFL players throughout events, with more than 30 former players participating. NFL sponsors will again compete amongst themselves to stage the best Back to Football rally at their corporate headquarters, with the winner receiving a $10,000 charitable contribution and a full-page ad in SportsBusiness Journal.

The Wednesday night Kickoff Live concert with Mariah Carey and No Doubt will be held on a temporary stage in Rockefeller Plaza, just above the ice rink. It will be televised by NFL Network and NBC leading up to the game.

Outside of New York, activations at the club level are expanding, with some following the Kickoff model and others incorporating Back to Football messaging in marketing platforms, events and social media.

“We’re working to add this sort of depth to more of our calendar events,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL vice president of fan strategy and marketing. “Specific to New York, there was a need to have separate events spread out, in order to break through.”

Of course, the same will be true during Super Bowl XLVIII.
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