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Volume 24 No. 215

Marketing and Sponsorship

AT&T has “suspended its sponsorship of USA Gymnastics in the wake” of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, joining Procter & Gamble, Hershey’s and Under Armour as sponsors that have left the NGB since December, according to Axon & Armour of USA TODAY. AT&T in a statement said, “We are suspending our sponsorship of the organization until it is re-built and we know that the athletes are in a safe environment. The terrible abuse suffered by these young women is unconscionable." It said it would be ready to return to USA Gymnastics when the NGB has "fully addressed these tragic events.” USA Gymnastics has “faced withering criticism from women who have shared their stories of sexual abuse at the hands” of the former team doctor “over the past week in a Michigan courtroom.” USA Gymnastics announced yesterday that the leadership of its BOD would resign (USATODAY.com, 1/23).

Nationwide has signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a multiyear PSA, continuing a longtime association with the retired driver and customer of the company. Financial terms were not disclosed. Nationwide had a PSA deal with Earnhardt from '08-14 before ending that to focus fully on its primary sponsorship of Hendrick Motorsports. The insurer is rekindling the personal deal with Earnhardt after his retirement. Nationwide will focus on using Earnhardt in a similar way that it has used Peyton Manning, with speaking engagements to employees and customers on top of some consumer-facing activation, and slowly introducing a focus on financial services to relate to his retirement. Nationwide has used Earnhardt across a number of its divisions, including pet and small-business insurance, and will continue to do so moving forward. The company also is interested in having Earnhardt help push his fan base to supporting Alex Bowman, who is taking over the No. 88 Chevy at HMS and is hopeful that Earnhardt's move to the NBC broadcast booth will keep him relevant. Earnhardt will remain involved with the Nationwide Children's Hospital, which recently had a room renamed after him and his wife Amy. Nationwide was in Charlotte last week shooting several social media videos with Earnhardt. Nationwide, an official sponsor of the NFL, will also have Earnhardt make an appearance alongside Manning at an event for the company in Minneapolis next week for the Super Bowl.

REDUCING HIS PORTFOLIO: Earnhardt yesterday said that Nationwide is one of a handful of brands he is still looking to work with in his post-driving days, as he will pare back his partner list. He said, "Obviously I want to continue on and have relationships, but the ones I want to do are the ones that are going to mean the most. The Nationwide relationship has been the one that has felt very genuine to me the whole time. We talk about being a customer and all that, and it's true. ... They came up with a plan to use me using forward and my job outside of that is to stay relevant and hold some sort of value so it'd be a win for them. I think they were excited that we were going to go into broadcasting, go to the Super Bowl, and a lot of what I'm doing -- there's a bit of that (desire to stay relevant) driving it."

The Univ. of North Carolina is "closing in on a contract extension with Nike," and the deal is "expected to be finalized next month," according to Joe Giglio of the Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER. Nike has been UNC’s primary apparel partner since '94, and UNC AD Bubba Cunningham said that it will "likely be another 10-year deal." While Ohio State and Texas each have signed deals with Nike in excess of $250M, Cunningham did "not anticipate UNC’s deal to be in the same financial stratosphere." UNC’s current deal with Nike and Jordan Brand "expires in June" and is worth about $36.85M in uniforms, footwear, apparel and cash considerations. The previous apparel contract, negotiated by former UNC AD Dick Baddour, included $31.6M (retail value) in products peaking at $3.4M annually "for the last two years of the deal." Cunningham: "We’ll take more product and less cash. I think that’s a very good philosophy" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/23). Cunningham in September said a new deal with Nike was expected in the next couple of months (THE DAILY).

Nike's first NBA All-Star Game uniforms will "feature one team in black and the other in white, with all players wearing black-and-white versions of their regular team logos on their jersey chests," according to Paul Lukas of ESPN.com. The league for the past 15 years has "stuck to the traditional format of the Eastern Conference All-Stars wearing blue or blue-trimmed uniforms, and their Western Conference counterparts wearing red." Photos "purported to be leaked images of the uniforms" and associated merchandise have been "circulating online for nearly two weeks," though Sportslogos.net yesterday reported the leaks were "legitimate." The designs "represent a significant departure from previous NBA All-Star uniforms, which have never featured the players' standard team logos on the chest," although players "simply wore their regular team uniforms, with no special All-Star design," from '97-'02. The leaked images "indicate that the new designs feature the Jordan Brand logo rather than the Nike logo." At present it is "unclear why the All-Star uniforms are carrying the Jordan logo" (ESPN.com, 1/22).

The annual Sports Licensing & Tailgate Show opens today for a three-day run at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with retail consolidation and Fanatics' continuing industry roll-up likely to be the most-discussed topics. NASCAR VP Licensing & Consumer Products Blake Davidson will start things off with a keynote today. Show Dir Pat Hus said he is anticipating a slight reduction in the amount of licensees exhibiting, but added “the folks we do have are stepping up and taking larger spaces.” Consequently, it will be the show’s largest footprint ever, at around 94,000 square feet, shared by just under 400 exhibitors. Properties exhibiting include the CLC, NASCAR, the NBA and the NHL. The Licensing Show in '20 will not be able to get space at the Convention Center at this time in January, when its customarily held. Consequently, Hus said he will be canvassing licensees to determine if they want to relocate the show entirely or move it elsewhere in Las Vegas. “I don’t know how married this industry is to Vegas, but we want to find out,” he said. “We also want to ask them if there’s sufficient demand and enough order writing for another show, perhaps in the summer.”  

The Packers are "challenging McClatchy’s attempts to trademark 'Titletown, TX,' the name of the Star-Telegram’s documentary series." The Packers have "trademarks for Titletown, Titletown U.S.A., and the Titletown Towel." Dawson notes "Titletown, TX" documented Aledo High School’s quest in '16 to "win a sixth football state championship" (Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/23).

X MARKS THE SPOT: Sponsor turnover continues for X Games Aspen, which is adding online financial firm SoFi for the first time at the “official sponsor” level in '18, but has lost veteran backers U.S. Navy, AT&T, Coors Light and GoPro. SoFi joins returning official sponsors Harley-Davidson, Jeep, electronics accessory brand LifeProof, Monster Energy and The Real Cost, the FDA’s anti-smoking campaign. Geico is back for a second year as the music sponsor of the festival, slated for Jan. 25-28 at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain (Ben Fischer, Staff Writer).

GIDDY UP
: The BOSTON HERALD notes Ralph Lauren, which designed Team USA's Opening Ceremony uniforms for the Pyeongchang Games, did a "splendid job with a red, white and blue jacket, patterned sweater and slim jeans." The look is "classic, clean and refined." But Lauren, who has long "shown an affinity for a romanticized version of the American West in his collections, couldn’t resist gussying up the ensemble with tan fringed suede gloves" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/23).