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Volume 25 No. 177

Marketing and Sponsorship

MLB this afternoon plans to unveil details of a step into the world of legal sports gambling, and all signs point to some kind of partnership with MGM Resorts Int’l. A “major sports gaming announcement” is being made at MLB’s N.Y. HQ involving Commissioner Rob Manfred. The official reason for the announcement was not disclosed, but very similar phrasing was used earlier this year in advisories sent out in advance of announcements by the NBA and NHL regarding league-level partnerships with MGM. MLB, like many sports properties, has taken a heightened interest in sports betting following the U.S. Supreme Court verdict in May allowing states to legalize it. Longtime MLB exec Kenny Gersh was reassigned to a new role of Exec VP/Gaming & New Business Ventures, putting him in a point position for the league on sports betting matters. Additionally, MLB owners earlier this month at a business meeting in Atlanta discussed sports betting at length, including potential new club-level rights.

LeBron James, Lindsey Vonn, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cindy Crawford have founded Ladder, a brand of all-natural nutrition supplements with clearly labeled ingredients. The powerhouse sports/pop culture foursome is formally launching the startup today, but they have already lent their marketing weight to a pre-launch social media campaign with the tagline “There is no magic pill.” Together, they have 65 million Instagram followers. The four co-Founders are equity investors along with unnamed capital partners. Ladder is designed to upend the supplement industry, which the founders say is poorly regulated and full of risks for elite athletes who must get tested for banned substances. Ladder’s products will contain no “propriety blends,” a term many manufacturers use to hide the precise ingredients. Vonn noted she is "terrified" of taking a tainted substance as part of her training regiment. Vonn said, "In almost everything you can buy over the counter, there are ingredients that aren’t listed, and a lot of them are contaminated and come up on the banned substance list on USADA or WADA.” She added, “Having a product that is reliable is huge. And for me and my legacy, it’s really important for me to be behind a company that’s is transparent in ways other companies are not." Schwarzenegger has had his own issues with supplements -- he ended a three-year endorsement deal with MusclePharm in '16 after some of its products were found to include a chemical banned in Europe that was not listed on the container. “There’s a lot of stuff out there, but we really don’t know exactly what is in there,” said Schwarzenegger. “I don’t want to get involved with something like that, and that’s why this one is really a fantastic way of going.”

BORN OUT OF FRIENDSHIP: Ladder has its roots in the friendship between James and Schwarzenegger, which turned to business after James shared his difficulties in sourcing high-quality supplements. They then invited into the fold Vonn and Crawford, who both had prior relationships with Schwarzenegger. Ladder’s advisory board includes health journalist Adam Bornstein, James’ personal trainer Mike Mancias, Top Chef judge Candace Kumai and UNC professor Abbie Smith-Ryan. Main Street Advisors Founder & CEO Paul Wachter, a financial consultant to both James and Schwarzenegger, advised on the formation of the company. Ladder will launch with four supplement powders, but has broader ambitions. It promotes itself as a “wellness platform” and lifestyle brand. It will sell its wares via a monthly subscription, which gets buyers “targeted, personalized guidance” with tailored products each month. Its website, weareladder.com, will include free-to-access fitness advice and a social networking component. “The big advantage we have is none of us needs money,” Schwarzenegger said. “We’re not doing this for the money. Success is the most important thing. If we succeed, the money will come anyway."

Sunoco currently is also the official fuel of NASCAR, though the future of that deal is now unclear
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Ohio-based Speedway LLC will replace Sunoco as the official fuel and convenience store of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year. Sunoco's deals expire at the end of this calendar year, and the move to leave the open-wheel series is not a surprise. It has sold virtually all of its convenience stores in '17 and now largely sells fuel directly to gas stations and other companies, thereby negating the need for consumer marketing. Financial terms were not disclosed for Speedway's new multiyear deal. The company will supply fuel to all teams and the AMR IndyCar Safety Crew. Speedway also will get signage at IMS and an advertising presence on NBC Sports' coverage of the series. Speedway is owned by Marathon Petroleum Corp. and is the second largest convenience store chain in the U.S. with nearly 4,000 locations in 35 states. There will be 11 IndyCar races held next year in states where Speedway has a presence. It is unclear if Speedway is working with an agency; Sunoco worked with MKTG on its motorsports marketing before taking things in house last year. Sunoco currently is the official fuel of NASCAR and NHRA, and it was not immediately clear whether the company intends to renew those deals or end them when they expire. 

Easter Unlimited makes the popular "Ghost Face Mask" that can be seen on Rozier's merch
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Toy manufacturer Easter Unlimited is suing Celtics G Terry Rozier for "copyright and trademark infringement" for his use of the company's "Ghost Face Mask," claiming he "knowingly printed the logo on his personalized clothing line without explicit permission or authorization from them," according to Steve Annear of the BOSTON GLOBE. Easter Unlimited in the lawsuit is "seeking damages from Rozier for the violations." When fans and media last season started calling Rozier “Scary Terry,” he "saw a chance to cash in by merging his favorite horror flick with some personally branded merchandise." The moniker had been "gaining some buzz on social media, so Rozier’s marketing team ran with it." Five hundred sweatshirts and T-shirts that "displayed a cartoon version of Rozier wearing the so-called 'Scream' mask, with the words 'Scary Terry' written below the image, were printed up." Within days, they "were gone." The suit says that besides selling the clothing through his personal Instagram and Twitter accounts, Rozier also "gave several apparel companies permission to sell the merchandise bearing the image without the consent of Easter Unlimited" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/27). In N.Y., Sara Dorn noted Rozier's merchandise was also sold by Barstool Sports, and Rozier "bragged about the marketing ploy in a GQ article." Easter Unlimited is "suing him in Brooklyn Federal Court for copyright infringement" and wants Rozier to "fork over his 'wrongful profits'" (N.Y. POST, 11/25).

Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League jerseys feature the Jumpman logo instead of Nike's swoosh
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain has "stepped up its efforts over the past year to position itself as a lifestyle brand," according to Joshua Robinson of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Earlier this season, PSG "parlayed its Nike sponsorship into a special line of gear" produced by Jordan Brand. Its Champions League jerseys, for instance, "feature the Jumpman logo instead of the Swoosh." The club "held a Paris fashion show to unveil it." Soon, the list of "A-listers wearing PSG gear included Justin Timberlake and LeBron James" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/27). Meanwhile, PSG renewed its partnership with Coca-Cola for three years through ’21. Coca-Cola has been an official partner of the club for 20 years. The drink brand and club have collaborated to offer fans unique opportunities including collectible bottles featuring players. PSG also renewed its partnership with AmEx. The agreement offers fans a concierge service operated by the company at the Parc des Princes hospitality areas and benefits for AmEx customers. Additionally, PSG signed a three-year partnership with French digital platform Hubside. The company will benefit from marketing rights at Parc des Princes and will be able to use PSG’s logo on its website (PSG).