A-B InBev has completed marketing deals with the MLBPA and NBPA which will allow the brewer to use team sport player names and imagery in advertising for the first time in perhaps 60 years. The unprecedented deals will permit ABI to combine players names and images with IP from its longstanding MLB and NBA sponsorship deals in all forms of advertising. ABI U.S. CMO Marcel Marcondes said that while uniformed NBA and MLB players would now be seen in ads featuring game footage and athletes speaking directly to the camera, they will not be seen holding or consuming beer. “One of our key initiatives is to make sure our brands are more relevant,” Marcondes said. “We needed to evolve the way we work together with leagues.” The NBA program tips off for the new season, with a point of sale campaign featuring a different player in 16 markets. It will continue with a Budweiser responsible drinking TV campaign called “Drink Wiser,” Marcondes said. The brewer has been negotiating the new rights for some time. While the deals were being negotiated, ABI ran some early tests, including a Mother’s Day TV ad for Bud with active NBA players and game footage and some point of sale ads using active players around this year’s MLB All-Star Game. Marcondes said ABI is pursuing deals with other players associations. The brewer holds league rights with the NFL. “Being able to show players in uniform allows us to do very specific local campaigns no one else can do -- and local relevance is crucial,” he said.
VOLUNTARILY BANNED FOR DECADES: Active American pro athletes in team sports were last used in beer advertising (mostly print) in the ‘50s. Since then, brewers through the Beer Institute’s Advertising & Marketing Code, along with leagues, have voluntarily banned advertising using active players. ABI has used athletes from individual sports, including golfers Annika Sorenstam and Sergio Garcia and former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in responsible drinking campaigns. “Any athlete marketing has to be done skillfully to ensure the athlete isn't bigger than the brand,” said former A-B sports marketing and media chief Tony Ponturo. “As long that’s done carefully, there’s a real opportunity to enhance credibility and reach that next generation of beer consumers.” Things began to change when spirits ads and sponsorships with the big four stick-and-ball leagues became permissible following the ’08-09 recession. With the advent of legalized widespread sports gambling in the U.S., it will be increasingly difficult for sports properties to say any categories are off limits. “Sports betting going legit definitely helps us from a marketing respective,” said one beer marketer who requested anonymity.
QUESTIONS REMAIN: Some intriguing questions will arise now that active MLB and NBA players can be used in beer ads. NFL league rights are held by ABI, so is the NFLPA next? Beer is already one of the most lucrative sports sponsorship categories -- how much would an individual athlete deal with a megastar like LeBron James or Stephen Curry be worth to a big brewer? How would sponsors like Nike or State Farm feel about their biggest endorsers signing deals to pitch beer? Beer is largely regional, so could marquee players cash in with deals in Europe, Asia and North America? Will ABI use its player rights to assault markets where MillerCoors has a team exclusive, like its hometown of Milwaukee? If beer endorsements are permissible, will spirits marketers be next?
Jaguars fans were so excited following the team's 31-20 win over the Patriots on Sunday that Fanatics "sold more than" 300% more Jags-related merchandise than it did the day before the game, according to the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. The Jaguars' "top three selling players" were CB Jalen Ramsey, RB Leonard Fournette and QB Blake Bortles. Jaguars sales since the start of the season "are up more than 270 percent compared to the same period last year." Fanatics said that it has "gotten Jaguars orders from all 50 states and 43 different countries" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 9/18).
PAINT THE TOWN: Axalta has signed a multiyear deal with the Jaguars to become the team's official paint partner. Under the deal, the two swim spas in TIAA Bank Field will be branded the Axalta Spas, and prominent Axalta branding will surround each one. Axalta will also partner with the Jaguars on a mural project on TIAA Bank Field's exterior (Axalta).
Mastercard's global sponsorship with Riot Games comes after the esports company recently "came under fire for its treatment of women employees," and the credit card giant "won’t hesitate to cut ties if the company culture doesn’t improve," according to Jake Seiner of the AP. Mastercard Chief Marketing & Chief Communications Officer Raja Rajamannar said that he "spoke frankly about concerns over Riot’s culture during negotiations" with Riot Head of Esports Partnerships Naz Aletaha. She was able to convince Rajamannar that Riot "was making an earnest effort to improve its inclusivity." Seiner noted video game blog Kotaku published a story last month "detailing a sexist culture at Riot Games that included women being passed over for promotions, unwanted sexual advances and men questioning women about the legitimacy of their video game fandom." Riot later that month apologized to fans and employees and detailed "plans to improve the company’s culture." Mastercard apparently was "encouraged by what Riot has outlined" and decided to "move forward with a partnership two years in the making." Riot's deal with Mastercard serves as a "crucial step" for the game developer in a year when competitors like Overwatch and Fortnite have "grabbed a bigger share of the esports pie." Aletaha said that the partnership also "'validates' Riot’s space in the esport ecosystem." It is also a "first step into the space for Mastercard, which spent years toeing the water before making the leap with 'League of Legends.'" The content of the multiplayer online battle arena video game was a "swaying factor" (AP, 9/18).
Esports competitor and Twitch streamer Tyler Blevins -- known as Ninja -- has "launched his own merchandise brand and online store," according to Trent Murray of THE ESPORTS OBSERVER. The Team Ninja clothing line currently consists of "several t-shirts, posters, and hooded sweatshirts featuring Ninja’s branding and iconography." Personal merchandise is a "common method for esports content creators to generate additional revenue." However, it is "far less common for streamers to launch a dedicated website and brand, rather than producing shirts, stickers, or other low-cost merchandise through a third party service" (ESPORTSOBERSERVER.com, 9/17). Meanwhile, Blevins graces the cover of the latest issue of ESPN THE MAGAZINE, with the mag's Elaine Teng noting Blevins has "achieved what no other gamer has before: mainstream fame." With 11 million Twitch followers, Blevins "commands an audience few can dream of." He "logged the most social media interactions in the entire sports world" during the month of April, and people every day "tune in by the hundreds of thousands to watch him play." It has been reported Blevins earns $500,000 a month, though he suggests the number is "closer to seven figures." Twitch gives its content creators "three ways of generating revenue" -- ads, subscriptions and donations. Off subscriptions alone, Blevins "makes an estimated $300,000 a month." That is "not factoring in his sponsorships, which include Samsung, Red Bull and Uber Eats, or the revenue from YouTube, Instagram and other sites" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 10/1 issue).
MAINSTREAM ATTENTION: CNBC’s Dominic Chu called Blevins' appearance on the cover of ESPN the Magazine “validation” for esports. Chu said, “There’s been such a controversy around whether or not using your fingers on a joystick or a controller is actually a sport. But this is big when you get featured as an athlete. ... That probably is a pretty big validation for what you are and what you do.” CNBC's Meg Tirrell asked, “Do you think it's a recognition of esports as real sports or a recognition by ESPN and others of the huge market that video games are?” Chu replied, "Which is more important? It's the changing trend, what we view as sports” (“Worldwide Exchange,” CNBC, 9/19).