SBJ/Sept. 1-7, 2014/In Depth

Sponsor roster grows as NFL boosts its presence in London

As the NFL has increased its presence in London, it has also attracted more corporate support.

Go back five years to 2009, and the league had only seven partners for its single London game. Fast forward and the International Series now counts 21 brands across 18 companies in its sponsorship roster for this year’s three games at Wembley Stadium.

Ion is the most recent company to sign on as a partner. The deal is expected to be officially announced early this month and will make the company the official action camera partner of the NFL International Series.

The London games are the only ones on the NFL schedule that feature sideline LED boards.
Photo by: Getty Images
Ion, which will become a second-tier associate partner, will be present at all events surrounding the London games and will provide content for U.K. fans, said Marc Reeves, the NFL’s international commercial director.

The league broadly divides its U.K. partners into three tiers — cornerstone, associate and local — though it tries to customize deals for specific partners. The deals are typically separate from the league’s primary U.S.-based sponsorships, although those partners are offered “first dibs” on international activities.

Reeves said that depending on the scope, deals range from mid-six figure amounts to the low seven figures. He said the league will announce a few more sponsorships before the first game at Wembley between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28.

The NFL hosted its first regular-season game in London in 2007 and the league’s commitment to the U.K. market, along with increased media coverage, has led to an influx in interest from existing and potential partners, Reeves said.

“We’ve gone from a point where we were playing one game and it was a little bit like the circus comes to town, where we came and there was a big event for a week or so but then we went away, to really stretching out and having seasonlong activity that’s held together by three games this year that are all sold out.”

The London games offer some unique features for advertisers. They are the only ones on the NFL schedule that feature sideline LED boards. The use of LED boards goes against the NFL’s mantra of a “clean venue” that only features brands that are endemic to the game. Reeves described this anomaly as an ode to the fact that LED boards are typical in the U.K. and they also help to differentiate the NFL games.

One of the companies that will be taking full advantage of the LED boards is Visa.

“On the broadcasts you’ll see a lot more branding than you see in a regular match,” said Ricardo Fort, Visa’s senior
vice president of global sponsorship and marketing. “You get a feel that there’s a little bit of influence of how soccer treats branding during the matches and that’s something they can offer in the International Series that you don’t get here.”

Microsoft, one of the NFL’s global partners, has not yet finalized its marketing and activation plans for the U.K. “We sort of follow the lead of the NFL for the international markets,” said Jeff Tran, director of sports and marketing alliances at Microsoft. “We are looking to see how we best fit into their overall push behind the NFL London games.”

He said Microsoft will make use of the NFL’s different guidelines around sponsorships in the U.K. and will focus its marketing on the company’s Surface and Xbox One brands.

In comparison to regular-season games in the U.S., the league is putting more resources behind the U.K. games.
Reeves compared the London games to a Super Bowl in terms of production. Those production elements include pregame performances such as musical acts as well as fan events in the heart of London and at Wembley Stadium.
The fan events and performances provide the league with another opportunity to bring in partners, Reeves said.

In addition, league owners loosened the NFL’s marketing regulations and allow U.K. partners to talk about the NFL and American football in connection with other sports.

A company that will take advantage of this new opportunity is Nike. While the NFL’s official uniform supplier declined to provide specifics, it is expected that the company will create a “football meets football”-type campaign, highlighting its affiliation with American football and soccer.

Aon, another NFL partner, will use its affiliation with Manchester United for cross-promotional events.

“We have quite a following and quite a presence and exposure through our Manchester United partnership, and so we use that to kind of build and complement what we are doing with the NFL here in the U.K.,” said Patrick Pierce, Aon’s sponsorship and marketing director. “You see a lot of English Premier League owner groups that also have ties to the NFL and vice versa.”

HJ Mai is senior writer at SportsBusiness Daily Global.

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