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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

In keeping with a recent trend that sees nearly every economic metric for the NBA at a new high, league officials say the playoffs, which began this past weekend and could run as late as June 16, will be supported by a record amount of sponsor activation.

“When you look at our TV numbers, we’re on track to have our most-watched season ever, and the rest of our business is right in line,” said Emilio Collins, NBA senior vice president of global marketing partnerships.

Among the playoff activation is a promotion by with a $25,000 payoff.
NBA official auto Kia is title sponsoring the NBA Performance Awards, which offers cars to the winners of the league MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man awards. Fans are again participating in the MVP vote via online balloting.

Elsewhere in the realm of digital activation, has a fantasy-game-based promo, “Drive to the Finals,’’ that offers $25,000 toward the purchase of a car on the website as top prize. Cisco is offering the ability for fans to create playoff video mashups, while Adidas is running a Facebook game that ties in to a Dwight Howard ad that will run later in the playoffs. American Express will provide special access for cardholders during the playoffs in markets including Miami, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.

For its part, the NBA is staging an ambitious schedule of grassroots events during the playoffs, with 46 different event days in 20 cities for various tours. Among those is the NBA Nation mobile marketing tour, presented by T-Mobile, which starts April 30. New banking sponsor BBVA Compass is also carrying the NBA flag with a “Team. Works. On Tour’’ theme, largely in Texas.

T-Mobile, an NBA sponsor since 2005 — and which may be part of AT&T by the time next season starts — has retail promos at its stores in 10 NBA playoff cities. The effort will include player appearances, premium giveaways and local radio tie-ins. T-Mobile also will debut NBA-themed creative in support of a new Sidekick smartphone.

Other sponsors expected to air new NBA-themed TV ads include BBVA Compass, Adidas, Nike and Taco Bell.

Bacardi did more than 700 retail activation nights at on-premises and other retail accounts this season and will continue those through the postseason.

As for community initiatives, Kia’s effort with the player-performance awards calls for donating a Sorento to a designated charity for each winner; BBVA Compass will be refurbishing schools; and the four winners in the Bacardi Gold scholarship program will be announced. In addition, State Farm and Hewlett-Packard will participate in the NBA Finals Legacy Project.

Don’t look for any signs of disaffection among NFL sponsors activating around the NFL draft next week in New York, even with labor negotiations at the forefront.

League officials are doing their best to tout business as usual and say they will have a record amount of marketing support for the draft, which averaged nearly 10 million viewers last year in its debut as prime-time programming on ESPN and the NFL Network.

But be ready for some changes to the traditional programs. To achieve what the league says is a record amount of support from 14 sponsors, a new level of integration was sold — in the form of former players and more fans reading off the picks that teams hope will lead them to future success.

One of the deepest forms of integration is by new league sponsor Anheuser-Busch: It has presenting sponsorship of the entire second round of the draft, which will take place on day two, April 29.

Bud Light will get on-air mentions during the second round of the draft.
During that round, NFL legends will deliver the picks from the podium at Radio City Music Hall, and through ad deals with ESPN and NFL Network, Bud Light will get on-air mentions throughout the round. Those retired NFL players will also make appearances at various A-B on-premises accounts around New York City. Meanwhile, a Facebook-based sweepstakes overlay for what A-B is touting as the “best round ever in prime time” is offering a $10 million first prize for anyone correctly predicting all 32 first-round picks in the proper order, the size of the prize being inversely proportional to the likelihood of any NFL Nostradamus achieving that feat.

NFL corporate sponsor Verizon has a draft sweepstakes in which three winners will get to announce a team’s pick in the third round, which also takes place on the second day of the draft. Points-of-sale, ads on Verizon’s subscription-based NFL Mobile service, and retired player appearances at retail will support the effort.

A-B and the National Dairy Council also are participating in marketing efforts in the draft’s later rounds, which will include additional opportunities for fans to announce team picks.

The NFL has turned the draft into a “prime-time” marketing platform.
EA Sports will again reveal its cover athlete, selected via fan vote, for its top-selling “Madden NFL 12” video game. The winner will be revealed during the first round, and EA will hold a draft day event in Times Square.

Other NFL corporate patrons with national marketing support include Castrol, GMC, Mars, Papa John’s, Pepsi and Visa.

Peter O’Reilly, NFL vice president of fan strategy and marketing, said he did not anticipate any decline in ratings around the draft this year with the current lockout. Over the three days, ESPN is planning a mind-numbing 26 hours of draft programming; NFL Network is planning 36 hours of coverage.

“This is about fans reconnecting with their favorite teams during an important offseason event that’s a celebration of football,” O’Reilly said.

With the NFL last week releasing its preseason schedule, the draft activation is another sign that business is moving forward despite the labor standoff. The league is looking to extend the draft to a three-month marketing platform and has branded it as “the path to prime time” and “welcome to prime time” in various league asset media as far back as December.

“We get calls from sponsors all the time concerned about the ability to leverage their NFL sponsorships this season,” said Bob Dittrich, vice president of Genesco Sports Enterprises, during a National Sports Marketing Network panel in Chicago about the effects of a potential NFL work stoppage. Genesco handles league sponsors Pepsi, Verizon and Motorola. “When you look at the stature of the NFL in the sports landscape, the assumption is that the fans will all be back.”

The NFL Players Association is hosting its own series of events around the draft for prospects, their families, and current and former NFL players in New York, including a dinner on Thursday night, media interviews on Friday, and a fitness and skills clinic on Saturday in Harlem. A number of top prospects, including Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Nick Fairley are expected to attend some of the events, the NFLPA announced last week.

International Speedway Corp. last week announced a multiyear partnership with Armored AutoGroup that will see the company’s STP brand become title sponsor for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on June 5 and the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4.

STP also will have track sponsorships at Darlington Raceway, Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. The brand had been a longtime NASCAR sponsor, aligning itself with legend Richard Petty and his famous No. 43 for most of his career and remaining with Petty’s team until leaving the Sprint Cup Series in 2000.

“It is always great to see iconic sponsors like STP take a renewed interest in the sport, especially given STP’s long and rich history in NASCAR and motorsports as a whole,” said Daryl Wolfe, ISC vice president and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

STP also announced its return as a sponsor of the No. 43 car. The brand will sponsor the car, driven by A.J. Allmendinger and owned by Richard Petty Motorsports, during the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Meanwhile, STP will be the primary sponsor of NHRA Funny Car driver Tony Pedregon at three races in 2011.

In other NASCAR sponsorship news, Dover International Speedway has signed 5-Hour Energy as the title sponsor of its Nationwide Series race on May 14. The race will be known as the 5-Hour Energy 200. The Michigan-based energy brand sponsored a 2010 Nationwide Series race in St. Louis. It is in its fourth season as the primary sponsor of the Rusty Wallace Racing No. 66 Toyota driven by Steve Wallace.

Terry Lefton
Contemplating the NFL lockout, word-association style:

CONTINGENCIES: Anyone within the national nexus of sports, media and sponsorship marketing is looking at this word when it comes to fall planning. We haven’t spoken to a person within that world yet who believes the NFL will miss more than a few weeks of regular-season play. Hey, the league has been trying to find a way to schedule the Super Bowl on Presidents Day for some time on the off chance that incremental amounts of food and drink, and perhaps even TV fare, might be consumed if Super Bowl Sunday were followed by yet another national holiday.

So for any agency or client used to parading goods or services in front of the 99 million or so Americans who watch the NFL on TV every week during the season, the year up to now has been one dedicated to alternatives — as in, finding some if and when there are no NFL games for sponsors to leverage or buy advertising around.

EVENTUALITIES: Depending on what sort of brand you are marketing, that can mean different things. For some of Procter & Gamble’s packaged goods brands, it’s producing TV spots and points-of-sale with and without NFL indicia or players. For a brand like Buffalo Wild Wings, with 700 or so locations, it’s about figuring out what else can entertain the customers who account for so much revenue on Sundays in the fall and early winter.

OPPORTUNITIES?: Would Sunday and Monday nights without NFL games represent a bona fide opportunity for other sports properties? That’s another possibility being considered by network and cable TV companies, and by the sponsors that support them.

Don’t expect high-profile college games such as Florida-Alabama to end up on Sunday afternoon if the NFL’s work stoppage continues into the fall. But will Boise State’s blue field make an appearance?
College football would seem to have the best play, lest gridiron fans miss their weekly fix. However, moving glam games like Alabama-Florida or Notre Dame-USC from Saturday to Sunday is no trivial task, especially without a clear sign from the NFL that it won’t resolve its issues in time to compete for eyeballs — and maybe not even then.

“I’ve learned never to say never, but even if the NFL declared right now that it weren’t going to play a single game this fall, it is hard for me to believe there would be BCS product on Sunday afternoons to replace it,” said Ben Sutton, president of IMG College, which represents about 90 universities and conferences. “If it’s only the preseason that gets missed, I don’t think it’s even a point of discussion.”

Schools like Boise State and its ubiquitous blue football field seem to already play nearly every night of the week, so we would expect their ilk to be on TV the first September Sunday afternoon sans NFL. For the larger college football programs, Sunday will likely stay a day of rest, unless and until the NFL season is kaput.

“Hard to see a power conference of glamour teams making that move,” said Mike Boykin, executive vice president of sports marketing at GMR, which has NFL league and team sponsors Visa, MillerCoors and P&G as clients. “The interesting thing to me will be to see if other properties get promo weight from the networks that’s usually reserved for the NFL and what effect that will have.”

Boykin said a week doesn’t go by without some NFL contingency planning, “but now we are getting close to that moment where you have to do Plan B or C,” he said. Still, this is the NFL. “Who’s to say,” Boykin said, “that if you go in a new direction and then they settle, you won’t want to backtrack?” The NFL’s reach is so broad, victims of canceled or postponed games would be part of a long list that would also feature family bars and pizzerias, and TV retailers.

EXIGENCIES: NASCAR’s late-season Chase for the Sprint Cup could pick up some Sunday viewers without the NFL as competition. Still, like so many sports property marketers, NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps says sports are too interconnected for the tribulations of one league, especially the largest one, not to affect all of them negatively.

“If there are [NFL] games lost, and I’m hoping that’s a moot point, there may be short-term gains for us or any sport because some of those NFL eyeballs and [gross ratings points] will find somewhere else to go,” said Phelps, himself an NFL marketer from 1990 to 2004. “It’s better for all sports if the NFL is healthy. You don’t want to get to the place where fans are just done with sports because they are tired from all the off-field struggles.”

On the business-to-business side, those who buy everything from TV ad time and sports sponsorships to licensed sports product for large retail chains could sour on sports because of a single labor impasse, and they all buy across sports properties.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has seen much of one season (1994-95) and the entirety of another (2004-05) lost to lockouts. Now, with the NFL labor clock ticking, Bettman is asked with more frequency if the NFL’s loss could translate into the NHL’s gain. “An opportunity for us? Absolutely not,” he said. “Fans make an emotional investment, and anything labor or management does to interrupt that isn’t good across the industry. … Fans may then spend more time with a different sport, but that’s only short term.”

POSSIBILITIES: MLB would seem to be the most likely beneficiary of NFL-less Sundays, especially if the lockout is protracted enough to mean more postseason games in the NFL’s traditional Sunday afternoon slot. We are told by an insider that “every [MLB] rights holder has asked [for Sunday afternoon games], but our answer so far has been that it is too early to be picking over bones.” Without an NFL settlement by the mid-May television upfront, things should get more interesting there. However, as Optimum Sports Managing Director Tom McGovern points out, the success of postseason baseball on Sunday afternoons is not as automatic as being awarded first base after four balls. “The only thing proven to raise viewing levels on Sunday afternoon is the NFL,” he said.

As for the rest of the field?

“If NFL games are canceled, anyone with male-skewing TV programming will benefit from a revenues standpoint,” McGovern said. “Those are some of the conversations we’re all having right now.”

Phillies manager Manuel joins Victorino in radio, print and TV ads for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
MANUEL AT THE WHEEL: Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has signed a two-year deal to be the new spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. Early this month, Manuel, along with Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, did radio, print and TV ads filmed at Citizens Bank Park that should break in June.

The pair will be used to promote a road trip to see the Phillies at opposing parks, an offseason fan cruise, a manger-of-the-day opportunity, and branding spots that will air on Phillies TV and radio broadcasts. In-stadium signage and standees at AAA Mid-Atlantic locations also support.

While the Phillies are the auto club’s only MLB sponsorship, it sponsors several minor-league teams along with the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland and Dover Speedway.

“We’ve used Victorino for several years, but now that we are tying them to our brand messaging, Charlie seemed like the right guy to layer on,” said Matthew Haas, director, partnership marketing, at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The bottom line for all our sponsorships now is brand lift and building our database to grow membership.”

Marc Bluestein’s Aquarius Sports and Entertainment of Fulton, Md., is AAA Mid-Atlantic’s sponsorship agency of record. Alex Radetsky at Radegen Sports Management represents Manuel for marketing.&;

Terry Lefton can be reached at