SBJ/July 15-21, 2013/In Depth

Why leagues connect to entertainment world

The relationship between sports and entertainment has never been closer. Professional sports leagues and governing bodies are approaching this intersection in a vastly different manner than in years past.

Previously, a major music star would perform the national anthem at the Super Bowl or NBA All-Star Game, but
now a variety of star musicians can be found performing at various events held by many of the sports leagues and governing bodies. Sports league trademarks, clips, themes and athletes used to appear periodically on television shows and in film; now, dedicated strategic efforts by sports leagues identify opportunities for this seamless integration. But, why?

“For NASCAR, our entertainment extensions are born out of necessity,” said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR’s vice president of entertainment marketing, who held a similar position at the NBA prior to joining NASCAR. “There’s less of an affinity for NASCAR with certain demographics we’d like to reach. So, we have to be more proactive.”

Thus, NASCAR created a five-year action plan with the focus on reaching three target audiences: youth, Gen Y and multicultural. The plan has three main points of focus:

Driver integration: NASCAR places drivers into existing programs and events. By way of example, Brad
NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski (center) poses with the cast of “Sullivan & Son.”
Photo by: NASCAR
Keselowski recently shot an episode of “Sullivan & Son” that will air this month on TBS. As well, they placed Danica Patrick on Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards held this past March.

Original projects: NASCAR is actively working with Hollywood to partner with top producers on the creation of scripted dramas as well as unscripted series. This fall, “Flat Out,” an unscripted series co-produced by NASCAR Productions and Michael Eisner’s digital content studio, Vuguru, will premiere on AOL’s On Network. NASCAR also this year developed a Spanish-language digital soap opera for Univision.com that features a female race car driver caught in a love triangle with a pair of racing brothers.

Event experiences at the track: They brought star rappers T.I. and 50 Cent to the Daytona 500 and will have the cast of the film “Grown Ups 2” at an upcoming event.

One of the ways the NHL looks to leverage entertainment is to attach A-List stars to send a message about the importance and relevance of the event, according to Charles Coplin, the league’s executive vice president of content, who joined the NHL after overseeing six Super Bowl halftime shows for the NFL. At the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa, Canadian-born hip-hop star Drake, a big hockey fan, performed for the NHL at the sport’s premiere showcase in his home country. At the NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia, Patti LaBelle and The Roots
Actor Vince Vaughn presents an award at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Photo by: Getty Images
took center stage, and at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, Vince Vaughn and other Hollywood stars brought new glitter to the event.

The NFL has a different philosophical approach to its strategy in the entertainment space. Despite the league’s stature, boasting ratings far beyond the closest competitor, Tracy Perlman, vice president of entertainment programming for the NFL, explains: “We don’t expect you to come to us … we want to be part of your culture.”

The NFL hosts two annual entertainment summits in New York and Los Angeles during the summer prior to writing season, in order to meet with producers to share the league’s current initiatives to see if there are potential tie-in opportunities.

Some examples of the NFL’s strategic integration plans include the NFL Fantasy Football referenced on “The Office,” the Colts’ guest role in “Parks and Rec,” the Cleveland Browns’ appearance on “How I Met Your Mother,” and NFL players featured on “The Biggest Loser” promoting the NFL’s Play 60 fitness platform. With a national public concern over bullying, the NFL has positioned four players on the upcoming show “Characters Unite” on USA Network, where the players will go to the schools and help to resolve bullying issues.

With respect to the big screen, Perlman says that the NFL is very selective and will only support and participate in
projects that are consistent with the league’s principles. She says that in “Silver Linings Playbook,” the NFL did not have a very active role, noting that the league was not the story line, but served as a unifier. “In that film, the Philadelphia Eagles brought the family together, which is consistent with our goal of bringing family and friends together.” However, with “Draft Day,” the NFL is fully engaged in many aspects of the film, including providing the production access to NFL-controlled venues to shoot the film, featuring Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL staff and fully integrating NFL sponsors (see related story).

While the other leagues appear to have less of an active strategic push for player integration into television shows, the NFL and NASCAR have strong, dedicated efforts. And while the NFL wants to be everywhere we are, NASCAR’s efforts are more targeted, with their process anchored by (a) whether a show has the ability to reach any of their primary demographic targets and (b) whether there is an organic way of integrating a driver into the show in a creatively credible manner.

How long does the process take to get players (or drivers) into existing shows? The process can take anywhere from one to two months from identification of show, pitch, securing the player and story development, according to each of the league contacts.

One might wonder whether leagues and governing bodies are actually seeing any measurable benefit. According to NASCAR’s Stoddard, the sport has seen a 20 percent increase in Hispanic viewership for Cup races, pointing to the Univision series as a success story and major factor for the increase. As well, NASCAR’s analytics have shown an overall increase in consumption from audiences that had not previously experienced the NASCAR product.

Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s senior vice president of integrated sales, adds that the star power not only translates to higher ratings (noting ratings spikes during in-game performances), but also provides NHL partners a more valuable product to activate against due to the enhanced profile of the event.

Perlman notes that while certain relationships generate direct revenue, this revenue is not the driver for participation. For the NFL, the goal is to increase brand awareness and extensions to reach fans 365 days a year.
That being said, the leagues and governing bodies are able to secure revenue via different sources, depending upon their role in the television shows and films. Whether being a producer, the production services unit or licensing trademarks or copyrighted clips, they are garnering revenue.

Stay tuned. Your favorite league, team or player is coming to a show near you.

Derrick Heggans (derrick@roseparkproductions.com) is the CEO of Rose Park Productions (www.roseparkproductions.com), a film sales and distribution company focused on sports. Heggans previously served as media counsel for the NFL, general manager of AOL Sports and managing director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

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