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Volume 24 No. 160

Marketing and Sponsorship

Sprint and the NBA today will officially announce a four-year corporate sponsorship deal, under which the K.C.-based carrier will become the league's official wireless service partner. Sources said Sprint hopes to have basketball-themed ads ready in time for the start of the season, which tips off with five games on Christmas. Sprint will also be the sponsor of NBA All-Star balloting and of a digital promotion centering on the Dec. 25 games. Sprint is developing an NBA Mobile application that will include live home and away radio broadcasts. Sprint is also expected to include the NBA in a new brand campaign. Sprint, the No. 3 wireless carrier in the U.S. behind Verizon and AT&T, has title sponsored NASCAR's top circuit since '04 and has been looking for another national sports sponsorship to complement that since losing its NFL rights after the '09 season. Sprint replaces T-Mobile, easily one of the NBA's most active sponsors since coming on board in '05 (Terry Lefton, THE DAILY).

YET TO LOSE A SPONSOR: NBA Dir of Marketing Communications Carmine Tiso said that the NBA "has not lost any corporate partners on Madison Avenue because of the lockout." USA TODAY's Michael McCarthy notes the "key question for the NBA is how much cash its marketing partners will be willing to spend to advertise their sponsorship." Sports marketing expert Ernest Lupinacci said, "Can the NBA still capture the imagination of millions of fans? They better hope so. People have lots of choices, and those choices have grown exponentially with the advent of on-demand video from Netflix, Hulu and YouTube" (USA TODAY, 12/14).

Aaron’s, the Atlanta-based retailer for furniture sales and rentals, has signed a deal to sponsor 30 colleges, including Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, BYU, Duke, Florida, Georgia and Michigan. The deal was negotiated by IMG College, the multimedia rights holder for these schools, and represents one of the largest sponsorship buys this year. Before making this agreement, Aaron’s already had relationships with Alabama, Missouri and North Carolina through Learfield Sports. The most recent agreement with IMG College provides Aaron’s with signage at football and basketball venues, promotional rights and tickets. Aaron’s is also designated as the preferred vendor in the lease-to-own category of furniture, electronics, appliances and computers. “While Aaron’s has a long history with collegiate sports, this is the first time the company has formed a university partnership of this magnitude,” Aaron’s VP/Marketing Tom Peterson said in a release today. An expanded sponsorship of college sports aligns with the Aaron’s business model, which offers students, faculty and fans home essentials with flexible payment options, Peterson added.

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. “sold the most diecasts of any driver in 2011, but he needed more than one version of his car to do it,” according to Bob Pockrass of Lionel NASCAR Collectibles VP Howard Hitchcock, whose company makes the diecasts, said, “There’s no denying that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still the sport’s most popular driver from a merchandise perspective. Our sales clearly reflect that and there is consistently strong demand for any Dale Jr. car.” Pockrass noted new sponsors for drivers Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick “lifted their diecasts to the top of Lionel’s NASCAR individual car diecast sales in 2011.” Lionel, "in its first full year as the main supplier of NASCAR-licensed diecasts," released its top 10 list of sales for '11 (, 12/12).

Jeff Gordon No. 24 AARP/Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet
Trevor Bayne No. 21 Motorcraft Daytona Win Ford
Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet
Tony Stewart No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt No. 96 Cardinal Tractor Ford
Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard Heritage Chevrolet
Tony Stewart No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Dale Jr. Foundation/Vh1 Save the Music Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Budweiser Military Tribute Chevrolet

F1 driver Lewis Hamilton “has again launched a robust defence of his management team," XIX Entertainment, run by Simon Fuller, according to the PA. F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone had said that he “was concerned that XIX's celebrity clients were distracting the former world champion.” Hamilton said, “I think this year XIX have taken a huge amount of criticism which has been massively unfair and that's a lot to do with me, my fault really.” He added, "They've wanted to be here every single race, they've been nothing but supportive. … They've never ever had any impact on my thought process of how I handle things. I've really taken that all on board myself." With hindsight Hamilton believes that “he could have used XIX far more effectively than he did and again has proposed change for the future” (PA, 12/13).

In San Diego, Tod Leonard wrote in what “was clearly an effort to steer the ... tournament toward a reputation as young and fun,” PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open organizers enlisted golfers Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler “to make commercials for the event that will be seen over the next few weeks on local television.” Watson and Fowler in the ads “banter about the upcoming tournament, with Watson reminding Fowler that the ‘good looking’ guy is the defending champion.” Fowler, “a pop-style idol with the under-30 crowd, feigns that he can’t remember who that is.” Leonard wrote that it is “good stuff from likely the two biggest draws to the tournament who aren’t named Mickelson.” Shooting the commercials “in September in Chicago at the BMW Championship, the Farmers folks were already all in with the Watson-Fowler promotion, well before they knew that six-time Torrey winner Tiger Woods would skip the ’12 tournament to play in Abu Dhabi” (, 12/13).

: In Houston, Barron & Crocker noted after the Texans clinched their first playoff appearance on Sunday, fans "piled into Reliant Stadium’s parking lots late Sunday night to welcome the team back home, and some returned before dawn Monday to buy caps and T-shirts celebrating the moment.” Texans coach Gary Kubiak indicated that he “saw fans lined up at 5:30 a.m. Monday outside the Go Texans Store at Reliant Stadium." Barron & Crocker noted the store had "sold most of its playoff-themed inventory by noon.” Aramark Retail Division Manager Chris Inouye said that fans “snapped up about 5,000 caps and T-shirts as of midday Monday, and he expects a shipment of several thousand more items, including some additional designs, before the team plays Sunday" against the Panthers (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/13).

BEHIND THE SCENES: Gold Medal-winning U.S. gymnast Nastia Liukin will appear in an upcoming Visa marketing campaign titled, “Go World,” which will be released “in the lead-up to London 2012.” Visa “supports a number of other Team USA athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps, sprinter Allyson Felix and gymnast Alicia Sacramone.” While past “Go World” campaigns also featured Olympians, “these new advertisements will show them preparing for competition for the first time” (, 12/13).

: YAHOO SPORTS’ Graham Watson noted the Big East “used the Times Square marquee from sponsor American Eagle Outfitters to announce new members -- Boise State, SMU, Houston, Central Florida and San Diego State.” Each team “had its own welcome and then the conference had a group welcome marquee as well.” Each image “is shown for about 30 seconds and is displayed eight times per hour” but it was only on display yesterday (, 12/13).