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Volume 27 No. 26

Marketing and Sponsorship

Sporting KC this morning named locally based, digitally focused ad agency VML its official marketing partner in a three-year deal in which the agency will aim to enhance the club’s online offerings. Under the deal, VML will not be classified as SKC's agency of record because the club's in-house marketing team, led by CMO Andy Tretiak, will continue producing all creative. Instead, VML will strategize ways to better the club’s digital approach. In exchange, the shop will get assets including access to the club’s technological innovations and Sporting Park for business meetings, as well as hospitality and signage opportunities. Financial terms were unavailable, but because of the exchange of assets, services and cash will be going both ways, as opposed to the club hiring VML outright. Sporting KC Chief Revenue Officer Jake Reid said that the two sides decided to align because they not only meshed philosophically but furthermore shared multiple companies that are sponsors for SKC and clients for VML. This includes U.S. Bank, Microsoft and MillerCoors. The companies’ execs hope this will allow for synergistic opportunities for both of them. VML Chief Client Officer Chuck Searle said that his firm’s experience in the digital realm will allow it to give SKC suggestions on how the club could create online campaigns that are more connected and multifaceted yet still coherent and easy to navigate. Reid said, “Right now -- and I think this is typical with most teams -- you tend to get a bit segmented. So some guys focus on the web, some on social, some on e-mail/digital marketing, which is all important. But I wanted to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, all these things are interconnected; how do we put together some packages for our clients that are more of a 360 view?’”

K.C. MASTERPIECE: The two sides will begin collaborating immediately, with the first step being a big-picture review of everything pertaining to SKC’s digital operations. MLS is nearing the midway point of the ’14 campaign, and Reid said that the timing of this deal could allow for some of VML’s forthcoming ideas to be implemented as early as this season. Reid added the fact VML is based in K.C. was a key to the two sides coming together, as it not only helped execs familiarize themselves with their counterparts but moreover helps the club further its commitment to make its brand representative of and beneficial to the city as a whole. With the companies’ HQ separated by about a three-minute drive, execs held informal talks over the past six to 12 months and eventually decided the fit was such a good one that they wanted to work together. In the sports space, VML works with Gatorade, Cobra Puma Golf and Napa Auto Parts, among others. The shop also counts the U.S. Soccer Federation as its client and helped build the governing body’s website for the buildup to this summer’s World Cup. However, the SKC deal represents its first venture into MLS.

Jerseys featuring player first names will
be available beginning Nov. 14
The NBA will use its slate of Christmas Day games this year to "roll out a set of newly styled jerseys" that feature players' "first names on the back of the uniform, placed below the players' numbers," according to John Lombardo of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The front of the jerseys for the second straight year "will feature teams' logos instead of their city or team marks." However, unlike in '13, this year's Christmas uniforms "will be teams' traditional, tank-top style jerseys." NBA VP/Identity, Outfitting & Equipment Christopher Arena said that putting the names below the numbers "is a way to call additional attention to the change." He added that five games "will be played on Christmas Day" again this year. Lombardo notes while the participants in the games have not been announced, "figure on big-market, big-name teams." The NBA will start selling the first-name jerseys on Nov. 14 (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/21 issue).

I LOVE GOLD! The NBA reportedly is putting gold tabs on the back collar of jerseys for franchises that have won an NBA championship, and ESPN's Jackie MacMullan called it a "brilliant" idea, as "everyone is going to want to go out and buy" the new uniforms. However, Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said, "This is too confusing. Do we include the Lakers' championships they won in Minneapolis?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/16). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "This is ridiculous! You're telling me that a player like Swaggy P (Nick Young) is now going to have championship tabs because the Lakers won championships?" He added, "If you won in Seattle, do you get one in Oklahoma City?" ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the decision was made "in the afterglow of soccer." Wilbon added the idea "can be blamed on adidas," as the apparel company is a "soccer promotion vehicle that wants to make basketball jerseys look like soccer jerseys." Wilbon: "That's all adidas cares about" ("PTI," ESPN, 7/16).

Univ. of Arkansas fans have been calling the hogs nearly as long as their Razorbacks have been playing football, making “Wooo Pig Sooie” one of the most recognizable cheers in collegiate athletics. Now the school is making its claim to the cheer legally binding by obtaining a sound trademark for the Hog Call. Arkansas officials think it is the first collegiate cheer or chant to be officially registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office as a sound or sensory mark. Little Rock-based attorney Harold Evans, the university’s outside counsel, registered the cheer with the trademark office. UA's costs for the sound trademark included the government filing fee of $325, plus attorney fees. Evans, who specializes in intellectual property and licensing, searched for other school cheers and chants but did not uncover any. CLC, the licensing arm for UA, was not aware of any other trademarked cheers, but said it would need to do a more comprehensive search before calling it the only one. CLC, however, applauded Arkansas’ decision to protect a cheer that so closely is identified with the Razorbacks’ athletic teams. UA Dir of Trademark Licensing Candace Stimmel said the point of registering the Hog Call was to protect the school in cases where an entity might be commercially using “Wooo Pig Sooie” in a way that potentially harms the school or its athletics. “It’s not about trying to monetize this iconic piece of who we are. It’s more about protection,” Stimmel said. “We own that action, the Hog Call, and it’s registered under the university’s name. Now we can prove it, in case there’s ever something that comes up that’s potentially damaging.” It was last summer that Stimmel, Evans and UA Associate General Counsel Scott Varady first discussed the possibility of trademarking the Hog Call.

SOUND ADVICE: Sound trademarks are most commonly used for sounds that are associated with a certain brand, like the NBC chimes or the Intel jingle. It is often equated to an oral or musical signature for a brand. “We’re always having conversations about how best to protect the symbols and images associated with the university,” Evans said. “The Hog Call has been around since the 1920s and it is exclusively identified with the University of Arkansas. Trademark protection seemed appropriate.” Evans said he did a “complete search of every sound mark and not a single college or university registered a sound mark or cheer.” As for Arkansas being the first school to federally register its cheer, Evans said, “I’m confident it’s true.” UA submitted several examples of audio and video showing Razorback fans calling the hogs. Some clips were general crowd shots at football games, while other videos showed individuals, such as Chancellor David Gearhart and AD Jeff Long. “They needed several very good examples of our fans calling the hogs,” Stimmel said. The federal office responded with the trademark earlier this month. UA is regularly among the top-20 best-selling schools for CLC. In the latest rankings released in May, UA ranked 15th. The Razorbacks ranked 10th for the '12-13 fiscal year, when they topped $4M in licensing revenue for the first time. 

The Patriots "are suing Bacardi for breach of contract after the rum maker backed out" of a 10-year, multimillion-dollar deal that "included plans for a 20,000-square-foot pavilion, to be called Casa Bacardi, on the grounds of Gillette Stadium," according to Callum Borchers of the BOSTON GLOBE. The Patriots said that they "probably won’t have time to secure another liquor sponsor before the season." The two sides "successfully signed a marketing agreement last July that included advertising at the stadium and on Patriots websites and broadcasts, along with tickets to home and away games" during the '13 season. The Patriots and Bacardi last fall "began negotiating a more extensive partnership." A formal marketing agreement "was never signed, but the team said it felt confident a deal was imminent after a February meeting" between execs. Patriots ownership "went so far as to begin delivering on other aspects of the proposed marketing agreement, running full-page Bacardi ads in its Patriots Football Weekly magazine and supplying the company with 612 tickets" to Revolution games. The Patriots' complaint states that Bacardi "abruptly notified the Patriots on April 15 that it planned to walk away, saying that 'internal turmoil' at the company had prompted a change of course" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/20).

While a group of team owners "are seeking a cut" of TV rights from the Tour de France, another "proposed remedy for cycling’s general instability is to adopt a league structure like other sports, in which the teams are fixed franchises that can be bought and sold," according to Ian Austen of the N.Y. TIMES. Most teams are using the "spectacle of the Tour to amaze and lure new sponsors," but cycling team budgets are, by American standards, more like a "couple of star athletes’ salaries." At the top, British-based Team Sky "spends an estimated" $40.6M a year (all figures U.S.) and about six major teams are in the $23M range. Most of that money "comes from sponsors" because cycling spectators "do not pay to watch" the Tour. Although sponsors’ names and logos "decorate the riders’ clothing, cars, buses and anywhere else they will fit, the teams are usually owned by small, little-known companies." Even at the "best of times, it has been a precarious arrangement, forcing some teams to change names and shift colors almost as frequently as a chameleon." Australia-based Orica-GreenEDGE pro cycling team Owner Gerry Ryan said that he believes the "financial uncertainty surrounding teams was a major factor behind the sport’s doping problems." Sponsors "rarely commit for the long term, putting pressure on teams for race results that may persuade them to renew -- or to lure a replacement sponsor." The Tour’s title sponsors are a "mixed bunch." The recent decline in non-cycling sponsors has "forced a return to the past with bicycle manufacturers, who had generally been secondary sponsors, filling the main sponsor void for some teams." They include U.S.-based brands Trek and Cannondale, BMC of Switzerland, and Taiwan-based Giant and Merida. However, few believe that bike makers can "afford to be the primary source of financing for teams over the long term" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/20).

AD AGE's Bruell & Schultz cited sources as saying that A-B InBev is "in the midst of a formal media agency review for the U.S." The incumbent agency is Publicis Groupe's Starcom, which was "selected to handle media planning and research duties" in late '11. A-B is "holding a three-hour, joint-agency review briefing session" tomorrow. A subsequent "agency operation walk-through" is planned for Aug. 14-15 (, 7/18).

JOHNNY CHOCOLATE:'s Darren Rovell reported Browns QB Johnny Manziel has "signed on to be the next face of Snickers." Manziel will appear in the Mars-owned candy bar's "You're Not You When You're Hungry" campaign. A national TV spot will "be unveiled closer to the NFL season." Snickers has been an NFL sponsor since '02 (, 7/18).

CAPTAIN AMERICA: EA Sports on Saturday announced that Sounders F Clint Dempsey will appear on the North American cover of "FIFA 15," sharing the honors with FC Barcelona F Lionel Messi. Dempsey's appearance will mark the first time that an American has appeared on the game's cover since '11 (EA).