Subway's Tony Pace on authentic athletes, Super Bowl ads and sports vs. entertainment

Photo by David Durochik
Pace: “I've often said to people, 'If you want the biggest check, don't talk to us. That's not the business we are in."
Subway Global Chief Marketing Officer Tony Pace was a featured interview at the SBJ/SBD Intersport Activation Summit in Chicago on Thursday and talked about how the brand has made "sports a long-term part of our brand strategy." Among the highlights:

On working with athletes: “We don't want to talk about what we are peripherally involved in. We want to be involved with people who are involved in our brand on a regular basis.”

What he looks for in brand endorsers: “The screen for athletes is they truly are a brand [consumer] of Subway. [Boxer/Subway endorser] Mike Lee told us that every time he gets off the scale after a weigh in, he gets a foot-long turkey sandwich from Subway, saying, 'My Dad gives it to me.' The athletes also have to have a media magnetism to them.  .... That' s one of the things we very much look for.  You have to have people that are media savvy and good with the media, and that's important to us.

On athletes faking it: “You'd be surprised with how many athletes and their people have approached us who told us they loved our product. But after talking to them and asking them questions, at the end of the day, I didn't believe they were eating at Subway on a regular basis.”

On Subway’s philosophy: “I've often said to people, 'If you want the biggest check, don't talk to us. That's not the business we are in. But if you want a pretty decent check, and you want the exposure and see a lot of activation, you should work with us.' .... I've had people now come up to me and say, 'You don't have to pay me anything, I just want the exposure that you provide your athletes.'  I haven't done a deal like that because I don't feel comfortable with that situation. I think people should get paid for the work they do.”On the success of the Super Bowl: Pace talked about the brand's return to advertise around the Super Bowl during last February's game on CBS. He said he previously didn't feel the need to be involved in Super Sunday because of the costs and surrounding noise, but this year, he was pleased with the result from the ad buy. Pace said Subway’s spot ran twice - once right after the blackout and then again because officials weren't sure if the ad got national play. "I swear to God, we didn't pull the plug," Pace said with a laugh. "We got one [ad] for free." But Pace was impressed by all the pre-game attention the Subway spot received. "The interesting thing about the Super Bowl is, because the build up has become so great before the game, you get a lot of attention above and beyond the Super Bowl spot. I always thought, from the media valuation standpoint, the Conference Championships were some of the best value in the world. But it's got to the point, and the NFL deserves great credit for this, the NFL has brought big, significant brands back to the Super Bowl. And when you have significant brands there, the event has more stature, and you want to be among the big brands." Even considering all of that, though, Pace said he has not made a decision whether Subway will return to advertise on Super Bowl XLVIII on Fox next February.

On sports vs. entertainment: Pace said he sat in on the recent network upfront presentations but that primetime entertainment viewership continues to decline despite what he called good network programming. "So sports is more important than ever, because you're getting the viewership," he said. In looking at the brand's sports and entertainment spending, he forecasted, "I think our sports versus entertainment balance will still steer toward sports because that's where the numbers are. But there's a nice balance there. You have to pick good properties in entertainment. That's more difficult than sports, because in sports, you can do a pretty good job handicapping success. But when we support a film, we try to get all the [promotional] value before a movie launches."

On one under-the-radar challenge of Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey: Pace said one of the most underreported stories affecting the success of Super Bowl XLVIII at Met Life Stadium is that there will be a new mayor in New York City at the time of the game.  "You are going to have a change in mayor, and the mayor won't be Bloomberg,” he said. “And the [Super Bowl] is happening about 30 days or so after a change in the administration and a new mayor being sworn in. I think, 'Oh, my God, please be aligned on all these events.' Because there could be a real challenge with a new administration, especially if they are not up to speed on everything. In terms of just overall media coverage, on a local basis, it's going to be pretty difficult, because you're going to have everyone and his brother trying to get media attention there. So we haven't fully figured out our plans yet."
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Subway, Super Bowl, Media

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