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Volume 25 No. 134

Marketing and Sponsorship

The use of “billboard” TV ads has become commonplace during NFL broadcasts, but the league is now "encouraging the networks to take such stuff away," according to Brian Steinberg of VARIETY. Billboard ads usually happen "during a quick break between plays" as the TV audience "sees an on-screen graphic touting beer, a razor blade or a new movie, while the announcer tells them the broadcast is 'brought to you by…'" Fox Exec VP/Sports Sales Neil Mulcahy said that the net has already "banished the billboards" from its "TNF" broadcasts, but is "keeping them in Sunday-afternoon games." ESPN Senior VP/Sales & Marketing Wendell Scott said that the net is "testing several ideas to take some commercial interruptions out" of "MNF." That includes a "'commercial free' halftime show that is still commercial in nature, because it’ s sponsored by Hyundai." But the NFL "can’t sack billboards entirely." CBS has "continued to run them ... without apologies." CBS Senior VP/NFL Sales Anthony Taranto said, “We have that option to trade them out for a different kind of in-game commercials, and if we see something we like, we may utilize it." But he said CBS will "continue to give people billboards" because they are a "solid value, and advertisers like them." Many of these ads are "handed out to big-spending sponsors at very little cost" and sometimes "they’re even free." The ads "often serve as a sort of cherry on top for advertisers buying large packages of commercial inventory." NFL VP/Media Strategy & Business Development Amanda Herald said billboards are "not necessarily going to be eliminated entirely" and the league is "not seeking to mandate that" (VARIETY.com, 11/8).

Activists aimed at getting the Trail Blazers to "cut ties" with Oregon-based weapons company Leupold & Stevens "escalated those actions with a protest staged within the Moda Center" during Tuesday's game against the Bucks, according to Tim Brown of the Portland OREGONIAN. Josuee Hernandez, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines, was honored during the Leupold & Stevens-sponsored "Hometown Heroes" segment "on the jumbotron in the arena as well as on the television broadcast." Hernandez "immediately unzipped his sweatshirt to reveal a T-shirt which read 'End This Sponsorship' followed by the '#NoLeupold' hashtag." Protesters are upset Leupold & Stevens has a "contract to supply sniper rifle scopes" to Israel (Portland OREGONIAN, 11/8). After unzipping his sweatshirt, Hernandez "took a knee, refused the gift bag thrust at him ... and looked deadpan out toward a confused crowd." Hernandez said that he "applied to be honored at the game explicitly to stage a protest." Hernandez: "We should not feel honored by being gifted a bag of trinkets and then paraded in front of an audience." Hernandez is a "member of the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America," which has pledged to "continue protesting" until the team ends the sponsorship (WWEEK.com, 11/7).

Ovechkin in September took part in a six-hour shoot in which he recorded voice-overs and posed for photos
Photo: WORLD OF WARSHIPS

Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin is promoting "World of Warships," a "free-to-play, naval action multiplayer online game" from Belarus-based videogame maker Wargaming, according to Scott Allen of the WASHINGTON POST. The game "hugely popular in Eastern Europe and Asia," though developers are hoping the association with Ovechkin will "widen its audience." He was added as a "playable character in the October update ... which also includes red, white and blue ship camouflages and a hockey rink animation atop the aircraft carrier Lexington."  Ovechkin is available as "both a Soviet commander and an American commander." Wargaming earlier this year paired with Paris Saint-Germain G Gianluigi Buffon by "making him a playable captain" in its "World of Tanks" game. Wargaming Dir of Marketing Alena Terekhova indicated that the company "considered partnering with another soccer player for 'World of Warships,' but ultimately decided to contact Ovechkin." Allen noted the initial talks "took place about a month before" the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin in September took part in a six-hour shoot in which he "recorded voice-overs, posed for photos and filmed a trailer for the game." The trailer features footage of Ovechkin "firing pucks on goal interspersed with animated missiles sinking animated carriers" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/8).

MoneyLion will become a primary sponsor of Team Penske in '19 for three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and will serve as the primary sponsor of Penske’s Xfinity Series car for 18 races. The online financial services company joined Penske earlier this year with a handful of primaries on the No. 22 Xfinity car driven by Austin Cindric, but it is expanding its presence significantly in its first full-time season in the sport next year. In addition to 18 races on Cindric’s ride, the company has bought two primaries on Penske's No. 22 Cup car driven by Joey Logano and one on the No. 12 driven by Ryan Blaney. The company, which announced the news Thursday night at a team event at the Penske Racing Museum in Phoenix, also will give its members 1,500 NASCAR tickets in '19, as well as 5% cashback on NASCAR tickets and purchases of products at NASCAR tracks and on NASCAR.com.

IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL: MoneyLion CMO Bill Davaris said the company is expanding its NASCAR presence to take advantage of untapped business in Middle America, which is part of NASCAR’s core demo. Most of MoneyLion's competitors are focusing on consumers on the coasts. The company has also received pitches from ISC and SMI tracks and is in talks to buy track assets, though Davaris was not ready to reveal with whom. MoneyLion, which has 3.2 million members, is trying to position itself as a next-level bank with a lifestyle marketing vibe and offers to its members like no fees on ATM withdrawals, minimum balances or overdrafts. MoneyLion is also working on B2B opportunities with Penske and its partners, and it has already worked out an arrangement with team owner Roger Penske to offer its premium model to all of his 60,000-plus employees across the world. Davaris: “We saw a huge opportunity to connect in an authentic way with the middle of the country and not just the bi-coastal approach. I come from helping to build Americana brand like Cabela’s when I worked with Ogilvy, and I’ve always understood the power of that demographic.”

Tough Mudder intends to spin off its line of boutique gym franchises and seek a major investor or buyer for the new company as it restructures its struggling core events business. The spin-off plan developed out of talks with a new capital partner that has joined in recent weeks, Tough Mudder co-Founder & CEO Will Dean said. He would not identify that partner, but acknowledged it. "We’ve taken capital into the business in the last few weeks, and that has given us the space we need to make some restructuring in the core events business,” Dean said. “That partner sees that ultimately the long-term growth of the Tough Mudder brand is going to come from pruning our event portfolio slightly, particularly in North America -- not big changes -- and then focus on the growth area in the business." Post spin-off, Dean said, they hope to find a large strategic partner for the gym franchise line. The new investor and Dean agree that fitness facilities carry far more upside than events. “With the right partner, I suppose it could be [a] 51 percent [stake],” Dean said. “I don’t want to say that would never happen. But the assumption is we’d sell a large minority stake in the business to someone who can then help us grow quickly." Dean said Tough Mudder’s status as a going concern is not in jeopardy, noting that sales are underway for '19 events. Meanwhile, Dean intends to step down from a day-to-day management position for a Chair-style role in the coming months.

Del Potro would have given Nike an apparel endorser in the ATP's final event of the year
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

FORBES' Tim Newcomb notes Nike is "without a key sponsorship player" in the eight-man field at the Nitto ATP Finals after both Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew due to injuries. However, Uniqlo ambassadors Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori will both wear Nike sneakers. No brand has "more than three of the athletes" in the field and that "comes only for racket maker Head." Fila (John Isner and Marin Cilic) and Adidas (Dominic Thiem and Sascah Zverev) "join Uniqlo with two athletes apiece." Lotto (Kevin Anderson) and Lacoste (Novak Djokovic) have the other two players (FORBES.com, 11/9).

START YOUR ENGINES: The AP's Yuri Kageyama notes Nissan is "mulling a 'Naomi Osaka model' car" as the automaker believes "investing in Osaka enhances brand image for the long-term." Nissan in September signed Osaka to a three-year deal to be a “brand ambassador.” The deal was "in the works for a while," and now the timing "couldn’t have been better," as Osaka is coming off her U.S. Open win. Nissan GM of Japan Brand & Media Strategy Masao Tsutsumi said that Osaka's "transformation from 'every girl' to superstar parallels the automaker’s commitment to technological innovation" (AP, 11/9).

THE SON ALSO RISES: In N.Y., Andrew Keh profiled Leo Borg, the 15-year-old son of tennis legend Bjorn Borg and "one of the best young players in Sweden." The younger Borg earlier this year "signed his first sponsorship deals" with equipment company Babolat and Fila, "whose clothing his father wore." Agent Nina Wennerstrom has been working with Leo Borg for a year and said that she is "navigating the delicate path between acknowledging the famous family name and letting the teenager forge a distinct identity" (NYTIMES.com, 11/7).

WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY's Lisa Lockwood noted clothing company Boy Meets Girl is partnering with the Hawks to release an "exclusive Pride fashion collaboration." The collaboration is a "first of its kind for an NBA franchise" and aims to "promote inclusion for all genders and sexual orientations." It will be available to consumers "both in-store at Hawks Shop and online at hawksshop.com next week." There will be a "unisex collection, including hoodies, Ts and totes" retailing for between $20-56 (WWD.com, 11/8).

PAC-ING IT IN: The Pac-12 signed extensions with Audi and Dr Pepper for its football championship, and also added San Diego-based QSR chain Jack in the Box. Audi's assets include presenting sponsorship of the “Inside Pac-12 Football: Championship Pregame Show” on Nov. 30. Dr Pepper will continue its popular “Tuition Giveaway” at the game. Meanwhile, Jack in the Box calso will sponsor the Pac-12 men's hoops tourney in Las Vegas (Pac-12).

BETTING ON REVIS ISLAND: Australia-based bookmaker PointsBet named former NFLer Darrelle Revis a business partner and face of its digital sportsbook. The "Revis Betting Academy" will feature a series of videos that will include an overview of basic bets and will be accompanied by a "Betting 101" blog series. Revis will also appear in a weekly segment breaking down key NFL games on the slate that weekend (PointsBet).