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Volume 24 No. 116

Marketing and Sponsorship

Ford Motor Co., a sponsor of the NFL, has "voiced support for NFL players exercising their right to free speech and peaceful protest" after President Trump urged fans to "consider a boycott," according to Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN MONEY. The company in a statement said, "We respect individuals' rights to express their views, even if they are not ones we share. That's part of what makes America great." Ford "entered into a three-year agreement with the NFL last year that made the Ford F-Series the league's official truck." Ford also "owns the naming rights to the Ford Field in Detroit." The Ford family has "owned the Lions for decades" (MONEY.CNN.com, 9/25). NFL sponsor Nike in a statement also responded to the protests, saying, "Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society." YAHOO FINANCE's Daniel Roberts noted that is "not the same as saying Nike supports the protests themselves, but even supporting the players’ right to protest represents a big risk for the brand." Other sponsors may be "studying the response to Nike’s statement for an indicator of what they should do." On social media, a search for “Nike NFL” results in finding "some Twitter users applauding Nike." However, it also finds many "claiming they will now boycott Nike products because of Nike’s support of the player protests" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 9/26). NFL sponsor Bose in a statement today said the American flag is a "symbol of our great country which protects the freedom for every person to express their views. We respect that freedom, whether we agree with those views or not" (Bose). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Green & Novy-Williams noted Hyundai "took a more direct stance." The company in a statement said, "We stand for and respect individuals’ freedoms to express their First Amendment rights in any peaceful manner in which they choose. We also stand for inclusion, freedom and all that represents those values." Green & Novy-Williams noted the "vast majority of the NFL’s 37 sponsors have remained silent" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/25).

RIPPLE EFFECTS: In Chicago, Robert Reed writes the nation’s major NFL advertisers have "decided to hunker down in their locker rooms and wait out the public opinion storm over the national anthem protests." Trump’s advocacy "appears to be gaining ground with those who favor, and even oppose, his call to economic arms." On Twitter, both groups are "starting to set their sights on NFL sponsors by pressing the companies to take a stand on player protests or risk losing customers." This is right where McDonald’s, Pepsi and other consumer product brands "do not want to be -- smack in the middle of a highly emotional social controversy." Should this Trump-NFL controversy "roll on for the season, the playoffs or Super Bowl, then Pepsi, Visa, Budweiser, McDonald’s and such will feel the pain of lower ratings, lukewarm advertising impact and slower sales." That is a "frightening scenario for huge companies that are staples of the U.S. economy and employ millions of people" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/26). Strategic Vision PR Group CEO David Johnson said many sponsors are taking a “wait-and-see approach” because they know the customer "is always right." Johnson: "They’re going to look to see what the TV ratings are, what the attendance is at the stadiums, and then we’ll see them beginning to make a more forceful stand, one way or another.” He said one issue is that “nobody knows what’s being protested." Johnson: "That’s one of the big problems the NFL has right now and why they could lose this battle." That also is why a "lot of advertisers are trying to take a wait-and-see” approach (“Power Lunch,” CNBC, 9/25).

Broncos LB Von Miller "did not lose an endorsement deal" with Denver-based Phil Long Ford dealerships after protesting during the national anthem Sunday, "despite media reports to the contrary," according to Nicki Jhabvala of the DENVER POST. Denver-based KOAA-NBC first reported yesterday that Miller "had been 'fired' from his deal with Phil Long because of his protest but Miller has not had an agreement with the dealership for nearly six months." Miller’s previous deal "expired in March." There had been "talks about a renewal, but nothing had materialized." Miller was among 32 Broncos players who "took a knee during the national anthem." Last season, Broncos LB Brandon Marshall followed the lead Colin Kaepernick and "knelt for seven games to bring attention to the matter." His actions "resulted in the loss of two endorsements deals" -- Air Academy Federal Credit Union and CenturyLink -- and he "received numerous hate-filled and threatening messages" (DENVER POST, 9/26).

The Bucks "quietly inked a fourth 'foundational sponsor' at their new arena: MillerCoors," according to Rich Kirchen of the MILWAUKEE BUSINESS JOURNAL. MillerCoors will "supply products at the Bucks-developed entertainment block across the street from the new arena." Bucks President Peter Feigin said that the Chicago-based brewer "'will be in the building' when the Bucks open the new arena" in late summer or early fall next year. MillerCoors joins "three already-announced foundational sponsors" --  Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, BMO Harris Bank and Johnson Controls. Feigin has said that the Bucks are "seeking six to eight such sponsors." Meanwhile, the Bucks "continue talks" with South Korea-based Foxconn "about a possible overall naming-rights deal." Feigin noted that the Bucks and MillerCoors "extended their business relationship last year" and that the contract will "continue in the new arena." Feigin: "We have five years left in Miller’s deal." MillerCoors Media Relations Manager Marty Maloney "emphasized the arrangement at the new Bucks arena is an extension rather than a new contract." He added that the brewer’s presence will be "felt in the new arena, including three branded bar spaces." Maloney noted the entertainment-block deal is "still being figured out" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 9/25). In Milwaukee, James Nelson notes Bucks ownership yesterday during the team's media day "exuded confidence and even a little swagger" about the "progress of their new arena, practice facility and accompanying development." Bucks co-Owner Wes Edens said, "We feel very good about the development of the franchise generally." He said that the Bucks owners "visited and toured several such facilities around the country and gleaned the best ideas from each." Edens: "This is without question the best of these facilities right now" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26).

In L.A., Chuck Schilken notes Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and was the lone player from his team to come out of the locker room for the national anthem on Sunday, now has one of the "bestselling" player jerseys on NFLShop.com. Under top sellers listed on the site yesterday morning, one "would find Villanueva’s No. 78 at the head of the page." The same goes for "Villanueva name and number T-shirts" (L.A. TIMES, 9/26).

TIME FOR EVERYONE: In Boston, Mark Shanahan notes Patriots QB Tom Brady after his game on Sunday headed to local Italian eatery Scampo at the Liberty Hotel, "where he had a date with a dozen or so super fans who paid a small fortune for TAG Heuer’s new Tom Brady Limited Edition Heuer 01 Chronograph." Brady answered a "few innocuous questions" posed by Tag Heuer North America CEO Kilian Muller (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/26).

BIGGER NOT BETTER? In San Antonio, W. Scott Bailey noted the potential merger between Learfield and IMG College could "drive up the cost for institutions" like UTSA who "rely heavily on the extra revenue and exposure" that corporate sponsors, media rights and licensing deals generate. While such a merger could potentially make it tougher for non-Power 5 programs to "stand out among a more crowded roster of colleges, the bigger concern" for UTSA may be a "higher cost of doing business in a narrowed field of marketers" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 9/22).