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Volume 24 No. 156

Marketing and Sponsorship

IBM, an NFL sponsor since ‘03, “has opted not to renew its league sponsorship rights, joining Motorola as another veteran sponsor deciding not to return to the NFL,” according to Terry Lefton in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. IBM has been “a model business-to-business sponsor during its tenure as an NFL corporate sponsor.” IBM VP/Client Exec Marketing Rick Singer said, “It was a good nine-year run. We had some very good discussions, but we decided that the things they want to do aren’t the same as what we want to. It wasn’t about money as much as it was about each party’s philosophy on the (technology) category.” Sources said that the league “is on the street with the framework of a larger technology deal, and that the thought within league circles is that adding IBM’s broad category rights in computer hardware, software and IT services to those formerly held by departed telecom hardware rights holder Motorola could form the rudiments of a broad technology deal.” Such a sponsorship “could include Motorola-like headset branding, integration of tablet PCs on NFL sidelines, widespread use of tablets by coaches and as playbooks, and rewiring NFL stadiums.” Lefton notes it is “hard to believe the NFL will be able to fashion such a complex deal in time for the coming season.” The headsets “have carried branding since the mid-1990s,” but sources said that without a sponsor next year, “that valuable real estate would promote or NFL Network.” However, sources also “cautioned that the category is changing week to week" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/4 issue).

The “hilarity” of NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson wearing a colorful wig and “stoically conducting interviews, including live on Fox, with it on -- gave the movie ‘Madagascar 3’ untold exposure” before and after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 at Dover on Sunday, according to Chad Leistikow of USA TODAY. Johnson’s car during the race was sponsored by the movie. Wearing the “now-famous wig (which is worn by the Chris Rock-voiced animal character in the movie trailer) was an impromptu decision by Johnson, who got it from a young girl two hours before” the race on Sunday. The wig was “in a gift bag the girl made for Johnson’s daughter, Genevieve, during a joint DreamWorks Animation and Lowe’s event.” Johnson said, “I wore it to driver introductions just to get a laugh. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.” Leistikow notes Johnson’s crew members “soon requested their own wigs” (USA TODAY, 6/5).

STILL FUNNY? ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser were asked, “Is Jimmie Johnson’s wig still funny when you learn it’s part of a commercial tie-in?” Wilbon: “Maybe a little less funny. You wonder about some of these things now and whether or not it’s product placement. What seems funny can be very calculated because smart marketing people understand how to place their product and be funny.” Kornheiser said, “I don’t wonder at all about product placement. Product placement is all over NASCAR drivers, that’s what they do. They’re human billboards and if he’s making a little extra money for tying into a movie, I’m okay with it” (“PTI,” ESPN, 6/4).

Tennis equipment company Babolat is “working on another tennis novelty: a racket that records shot data,” according to Rossingh & Connan of BLOOMBERG NEWS. CEO Eric Babolat said that the racket is “aimed at club players and professionals and will go on sale next year.” Sensors in the handle will “be able send data such as ball spin and shot power to a computer.” Babolat said that the company will post a 10% percent gain in revenue to $169M by the end of its fiscal year in June. He added that it is “targeting an increase in sales" of between 12-14% over the next three years. Babolat endorsers Rafael Nadal and Li Na recently tested the Play & Connect racket at Roland Garros. Babolat noted, “Li Na said when she had tested it ‘this is really interesting for me, but I don’t want the other players to see my data’” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 6/4). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Tom Perrotta wrote the “problem” for racket manufacturers today is that tennis rackets “are too good.” Perrotta: “Unless you have a John McEnroe-size temper, a racket can last 10, 20, 30 years, maybe more.” Tennis Industry Association data showed that last year was “a woeful one for companies that sell tennis rackets: 10% fewer rackets were sold than the year before and revenue dropped 8%.” But sales are “up so far this year,” as racket manufacturers “continue to refine their products, tweak them and add bits of technology.” Babolat said, "In five, 10, 20 years, tennis without data will not be possible. That's how convinced we are of players' interest in something more than the score." But Perrotta wrote there are “reasons to be skeptical” of the new data technology. Wilson Rackets Business Dir Cory Springer said, "We're curious to see it. But for us, it's about the practical day-to-day use of the technology. Is it going to attract a niche, or is it something that players of all skill types will use?" (, 6/2).

TaylorMade-adidas Golf has “clearly been gaining market share against its rivals,” announcing that Q1 sales surged 32% percent to $508M compared with the prior year, according to Mike Freeman of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. This “raised a few eyebrows” as golf has been “a stagnant business for years, with few new players taking up the game to spark growth.” TaylorMade-adidas Golf President & CEO Mark King said of the growth, “I think one of the things we have done since the fourth quarter (of) 2008 when the world became kind of afraid, we have gotten more aggressive. While a lot of our competitors and a lot of industries are contracting and cutting expenses and doing those types of things that make your business shrink, we have been investing because we believed we could steal market share and grow.” TaylorMade in March acquired Adams Golf, and King said of the brands coming together, "We sell a lot of products to people who aren’t zero to four, but the voice of the company and the inspiration for products comes from [the] zero to four handicap golfer. Adams Golf, although they make products for tour players, the focus of their company isn’t the top of the playing pyramid. It’s the middle of playing pyramid. So when we put these brands together, we [are] going to talk about how we have the number one brand in golf, TaylorMade, and we have the number one friendliest brand in golf, Adams” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 6/2).

Skechers today announced plans to air a 30-second commercial during CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XVLII. While details of the ad are still in the planning stages, the spot will once again feature the racing French bulldog, Mr. Quiggly, to promote its new line of performance footwear. It will mark the fourth time Skechers has appeared in the Super Bowl (Skechers).

THE GUERRILLA IN THE ROOM: In Chicago, Brigid Sweeney reported Chicago-based brand consultancy and e-commerce firm Acquity Group plans to “push Li-Ning through digital media and guerrilla and event marketing to boost online-only sales,” rather than “go head-to-head with the established brands in shoe stores.” Li-Ning Digital VP/Marketing, Sales & Merchandising Craig Heisner said, “There’s a huge consumer segment out there for whom online shopping is very, very important.” He added the e-retail strategy “really allows us to control the brand presentation and avoid potential for items being marked down.” Heisner said that if there is a “see-and-feel shortcoming,” Acquity will “counter it with sporting-event sponsorships, including the national King of the Rock one-on-one basketball tournament, and marketing stunts” (, 6/2).

THE BUCK STOPS HERE: AD AGE’s Emma Hall noted a “35-day, one-kilometer Brand Exclusion Zone will be enforced around all Olympic venues, inside which no brands that compete with official sponsor brands can advertise.” LOCOG’s effort to protect sponsors also covers “spectators trying to pay with the wrong credit card.” For road events such as the marathon and some of the cycling, the exclusion zone “extends to two meters on either side of the track.” Hall wrote existing sponsorship deals “count for nothing when the Olympics are in town.” The O2 Arena, sponsored by Spanish mobile network Telefonica's O2 network, has "had to become the North Greenwich Arena for the duration of the Olympics.” Marston's is the official beer at Lord's Cricket Ground, but “will have its hand pumps removed while the archery takes place.” Heineken has secured the official "pouring rights" to the games (, 6/3).