SBJ/Feb. 9-15, 2015/Events and Attractions

Super Bowl XLIX: Arizona

‘Not a normal year’ for NFL, but it’s all good for partners



On the surface, there was never a more trying year to be a business partner of America’s most popular spectator sport.

It was an NFL season that began with problems off the field amid a firestorm of domestic abuse charges. It was a season that ended with worrisome questions about the NFL’s on-field integrity amid the Deflategate headlines. But if there was any damage to the NFL’s brand value or popularity, it was not detected by any NFL business partner.

“Our brand measures are stronger than ever and from what they’ve shared with us, their brand is really resilient and has stood up,” said Adam Harter, vice president of consumer engagement at Pepsi, whose local market presence was easily the best in Phoenix for the Super Bowl. “We actually got more engaged this season. The Super Bowl’s scale has always been there. We tried to go deeper from an engagement standpoint and take advantage of that earlier and more often.”

Kristin Rooney, Verizon director of sports and entertainment marketing, endorsed the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice affair. “We’ve seen no drop-off of interest and support in the NFL. We have supported efforts for [the prevention of] domestic violence for some time, and we fully support the NFL’s efforts there.”

Pepsi, which had a big local presence, said it went heavy on the NFL this season.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Verizon was pushing thousands of people through its “Power House,” a technology playground that included an opportunity to score a touchdown against NFL competition via virtual reality. “The Super Bowl still affords us one of the best ways for us to connect our technology and fans’ passion — that hasn’t changed,” she added.

“It was not a normal year,” said Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and partnership management. “Our partners had to answer questions to their boards and CEOs, so we made ourselves available from the top [Commissioner Roger Goodell] down.”

“Papa” John Schnatter, founder and CEO of the pizza chain that bears his name, has been an NFL sponsor for five years.

“We’ve used the NFL as a platform to amplify what we’re all about, and that hasn’t changed a bit,” he said, as fans snapped his picture at the Super Bowl Media Center in downtown Phoenix. “There’s the NFL, the local teams and there’s the players. We haven’t seen any slowing at all of any of the three as far as popularity or their ability to connect with fans and consumers.”

Added SAP sponsorship chief Chris Burton, “No one’s questioning the sport. They are questioning the off-field side, and we separate that. We looked to make sure there’s no damage and found the passion and interest is undiminished. Our NFL programs are still growing and exceeding projections.”

Anderson said the domestic abuse crisis put a lot of early-season marketing activities on hold.

“I feel like we are back on track, but players are human and some will probably make mistakes in the future,” she said. “We’re now set up to react in a more positive way and focus on things that matter, like the character of the brand and players and a focus moving forward on [prevention of] domestic abuse and child abuse.”

Viewer numbers peaked as the Patriots drove for the winning touchdown late in the game.
Ricardo Fort, Visa senior vice president of global brand, product and sponsorship marketing, said he was satisfied with the communication from the NFL and how the league handled its year of living dangerously.

“I don’t have definitive data yet,” he said, “but walking the streets here, you don’t see any less enthusiasm.”

When the conversation turned to CBS’s asking price of $5 million per 30-second spot in Super Bowl 50, he added, “the market is not shrinking. For these major events — Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup, Olympics — the media cost has been growing much more than inflation or any measure. There doesn’t seem to be any end of people and brands willing to pay. As long as that continues, you’d have to say it’s a strong indicator of health for these properties.”

WARNING SHOT: The NFL is preparing to negotiate with digital companies (think Google, YouTube or Yahoo) to distribute one 2015 regular-season game via an “over-the-top” webcast.

Goodell surprised media executives during Super Bowl week when he announced plans to stream a game next season over-the-top.

“It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but it would also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service,” Goodell said during his annual state of the league presser.

NFL executives are convinced they will be able to find a willing partner to buy the rights. “It would have to be a partner who would get behind it promotionally and make sure that people are aware that the game’s available and be able to reach a big audience,” said Hans Schroeder, NFL senior vice president of media strategy, business development and sales.

Dan Patrick, Roger Goodell and Robert and Jonathan Kraft at the trophy presentation.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Until the league figures out the digital company with which it will partner, it will wait to decide who will produce the game and handle ad sales.

As for which game gets streamed? The most likely scenario would be one of the three London games on the 2015 schedule, which start at 9:30 a.m. ET. The NFL has not made a final decision, but sources say it is looking closely at the Bills-Jaguars game in London on Oct. 25.

“That 9:30 a.m. time slot is interesting internationally when you start to think of parts of Asia, where it reaches into Sunday night, as well as parts of Europe,” Schroeder said. The one-off, over-the-top game is more of a test to see if digital companies can handle the large audiences that watch NFL games.

“We really want to figure out if the landscape is ready for digital-only distribution of a game,” he said. “A lot of this is trying to anticipate, as the world changes, who our partners are going to be and who may be interested in NFL game rights when we look seven or eight years down the road, or potentially earlier, with ‘Thursday Night Football.’ Is there nontraditional media who would be interested in those games?”

50 WAYS: Given its proximity to Silicon Valley, we’re expecting the equivalent of a technology pile-on for NFL sponsors looking to activate around next year’s Super Bowl 50. How much “techwashing” will there be? “It’s our hometown [San Francisco] next year, so we are thrilled, of course,” said Visa’s Fort. “However, it can’t be technology for technology’s sake, it has to be technology for the purpose of driving payments.”

Added SAP’s Burton, “Everyone’s going to want to out-tech each other. What we need to do is show how technology will transform sports. You can’t just throw technology at it. It has to simplify the sports experience or improve it.”

Every brand will be looking for a high-tech halo in the Super Bowl’s semicentennial.

“We’re not necessarily a technology brand,” said Pepsi’s Harter, “but our consumers engage in sports and music through technology, so we have to stay ahead. We’ll use any technology we can if it will help fans engage with our brand and amplify our halftime show.”

The NFL is also pushing the heritage behind 50 years of Super Bowls, a mixture that may not mix with a technology agenda. “We’re not retro, we’re about technology,” insisted Phil Pacsi, vice president of consumer marketing at Bridgestone, an NFL sponsor since 2007.

“I can see many brands responding to a mix of the old and new — pointing to the future,” said David Rabin, Lenovo executive director of marketing. “For us, it has to be using technology to enhance lives and businesses.”

But he did envision one way of going retro: “If I could pay ad rates from 50 years ago, that’s a throwback play I would support,” he quipped. “Tell CBS we are in, if that’s the case.”

SERVING UP A RENEWAL: PC marketer Lenovo has renewed its NFL sponsorship after three years as a corporate patron of the league, adding rights in the business-to-business-focused server category. Lenovo also is getting a unique new marketing asset: the rights to market around the creation of the NFL schedule, which will be built using its servers.

“When we started out with the NFL, our objectives were increased brand awareness, earning some credibility and driving sales,” Rabin said. “We feel comfortable that we have achieved all of that.”

There is some continuity here: Lenovo entered the U.S. market in 2005 when it bought IBM’s PC business for $1.75 billion. Looking to match its position as the world’s top PC maker with a perch atop the server market, last year Lenovo acquired IBM’s server business for $2.1 billion.

IBM was a broad-based NFL sponsor in the computer category prior to Lenovo. We note that Motorola, another lapsed NFL sponsor, is also now owned by Lenovo, which bought the Motorola cellular handset business from Google last year for $2.9 billion. The NFL has not had a sponsor in the wireless handset category since Motorola left in 2012, although cell-service rights holder Verizon has some pass-through rights. Rabin said Lenovo’s brand awareness among NFL fans has doubled during the sponsorship. The PC maker also has been able to expand its retail presence through its NFL association, especially at key retailers like Best Buy, which sells around 40 percent of the new PCs in the U.S.

Wasserman Media Group Consulting handles sponsorship negotiations and activation for Lenovo.

MANNING UP: Nationwide was widely panned for its Super Bowl ad about the death of a child during a program that normally features ads with horses and puppies.

However, after a year as an NFL sponsor, the company is happy. CMO Matt Jauchius said the NFL and quarterback-spokesman Peyton Manning were the perfect clutter busters for Nationwide, whose $300 million in annual measured media spending doesn’t even place it in the top five in the marketing-intensive insurance category.

“The sheer media weight in our category is troubling.” he said.

Jauchius said that pairing the NFL league rights with Manning was a no-brainer, because it pairs the most popular sport with its most popular player, a course Nationwide has followed with Jack Nicklaus and golf and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR.

Measures of brand awareness and purchase consideration are up 20 to 30 percent since Nationwide began the Ogilvy & Mather campaign in September, in which Manning repeatedly sings the Nationwide jingle.

Peyton Manning served up a “chicken parm” autograph for Nationwide. BELOW: T-Mobile’s bus-wrap strategy prompted a complaint from NFL sponsor Verizon.
“The insight was that people want to see their heroes off the field,” Jauchius said. “The ‘chicken parm’ line spiked in tests and we knew it would be a hit.”

As evidence of the ad’s efficacy, Jauchius shared a picture of a football signed by Manning after a fan request earlier that week. Above Manning’s autograph in silver Sharpie were the words “Chicken parm, you taste so good” from the ad.

BUS BATTLE: During a Super Bowl week spent by many endlessly driving the 30 minutes from Phoenix to Glendale, it’s intriguing that the most notable piece of assault marketing was on the side of a bus.
T-Mobile agency Genesco Sports Enterprises signed Richard Sherman, arguably Seattle’s most renowned player, to a one-year endorsement deal before the Super Bowl and plastered his image on the sides of three buses, which were painted in the cell carrier’s trademark magenta. The buses, touted via social media, plugged T-Mobile’s Data Stash service plan.
Meanwhile, NFL wireless rights holder Verizon complained, and we’re told the buses were prohibited by municipal authorities from carrying passengers near the end of the week, since they lacked the required permits. The buses served as mobile billboards the rest of the time.

Sherman will continue as a T-Mobile spokesman, featured in social media and out-of-home ads in the Seattle market, also the home of T-Mobile’s headquarters.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: The most surprising TV number from Super Bowl week did not come from the game, which had all the markings of a record rating, but instead from NBC’s Saturday telecast of “NFL Honors,” which was the most viewed Saturday prime-time telecast. The show’s 4.7 million viewers was an eye-opener and marked a whopping 49 percent increase over the same show on Fox last year.

“Growing 49 percent in a year doesn’t happen every day,” said Mark Quenzel, senior vice president of production and programming for NFL Network. “It doesn’t even happen every year.”

The Saturday night telecast of the NFL Honors event drew 4.7 million viewers on NBC and was the evening’s most-viewed program.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Quenzel credited a combined marketing push from NBC and the NFL for driving viewer awareness of the 4-year-old event. That awareness was punctuated by the fact that several hundred fans gathered outside the Phoenix Convention Center to cheer on red carpet arrivals.

“There’s so much other programming and so much other content, it’s hard to cut through — particularly in Super Bowl week,” Quenzel said.

The league last week held a meeting to come up with ideas on how to improve the show next year, when it will be held in San Francisco. Quenzel said it will be tough to add new elements, since it has to fit a two-hour broadcast window.

Last year, for example, the NFL decided to announce the new Hall of Fame class at “NFL Honors.” Now, if the league wants to add an award, it would have to take another one away.

MEDIA MATH: Deflategate helped to hype and promote the Super Bowl. The cold and snowy weather in much of the country kept people inside and watching the game. Still, the Nielsen numbers suggest that the competitiveness of Super Bowl XLIX was the biggest reason why the game set a U.S. television record with 114.4 million viewers.

Initial tune-in for the game was actually down 5 percent from last year’s game on Fox, when the Seahawks crushed the Broncos 43-8. The audience caught up by halftime, and the dramatic last half-hour of this year’s game paced 13 percent ahead of last year.

Last year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey actually had more people watch all or part of the game. Last year, 161.4 million people watched all or part of the game; this year’s all-or-part viewership was 161.3. Essentially, the Super Bowl reached an almost identical number of people in both years. Predictably, viewers stayed longer with this year’s close game than last year’s blowout.

The close game also boosted social media metrics. Four of Facebook’s most talked about moments occurred during the second half. Two of the three most popular subjects on Twitter occurred in the fourth quarter.

Facebook had 65 million people on its site talking about the Super Bowl, up from 50 million last year. Twitter logged 28.4 million tweets related to the game and halftime show, making it the most-tweeted Super Bowl. Last year’s Super Bowl and halftime show generated 24.9 million tweets.

Though the game was played in Glendale, downtown Phoenix played host to much of the celebration.
“Anytime there’s emotion elicited from an event, you generally see a lot of activity,” said Dan Reed, who heads Facebook’s global sports strategy and partnerships.

Reed credited much of his site’s increase to the Super Bowl hub that Facebook created around the game, which aggregated game highlights and relevant posts. Reed said Facebook will continue to expand the amount of video available on its site, but added that it’s still too early to plan for next year’s game in the Bay Area.

“Things move very fast around here,” he said. “Thinking a year out is too far to predict anything bold.”

HALFTIME HEROES: Quenzel was getting nervous in the minutes before the halftime show, and it had little to do with the 14-foot-tall golden lion on which Katy Perry rode in or the wires that were suspended over the field.

Rather, the executive who oversaw the halftime show was nervous that the first half was moving too fast. He needed to have the sun set by the time the show started. Neither team scored in the first quarter, and it looked like the second quarter would end before the 6 p.m. sunset in Glendale. However, two late scores before halftime helped, and it just made it under the wire, according to Quenzel.

Perry’s set ended up becoming the Super Bowl’s most-viewed halftime show with 118.5 million viewers, 3 million more than the number that watched Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers last year.

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