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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

EA Sports has developed a new marketing effort seeking to turn “FIFA 12,” its soccer video game franchise, into a major North American hit.

“FIFA” each year is by far the publisher’s biggest seller on a global scale, last year using the men’s World Cup as a launchpad to move an unprecedented sum of nearly 15 million combined physical and digital units of “FIFA 11.” The sales records included more than 2.6 million units and $150 million in revenue in the first week alone.

Soccer player Hope Solo takes on soccer lover Steve Nash in one “FIFA 12” spot.
No other sports video game has ever sold as quickly or so well overall, but the appeal and sales traffic for “FIFA” are firmly rooted in Europe. In the U.S., the title still trails well behind other top sports games such as “Madden NFL,” and 2K Sports’ “NBA 2K” series.

“We’re looking to shift the conversation a bit and tell people [in North America] that even if you don’t necessarily love soccer, you’ll still love ‘FIFA,’” said Jamie McKinlay, EA Sports senior director of global marketing.

“FIFA 12” will be released Tuesday.

EA Sports has developed several TV commercials and viral videos based around the tag line “United States of FIFA.” Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash and Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan are starring in “FIFA” spots for a second straight year. They are joined this time by U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo and San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum for a series of “FIFA”-based gaming competitions and trash talking.

The TV ads are also running more extensively on entertainment programs as opposed to just sports outlets. EA Sports debuted its “FIFA” advertising last week during a roast for actor Charlie Sheen on Comedy Central.

“We were too heavy in sports last year. The mix is better now, around 40 percent entertainment, 60 percent sports, where it was at least 30-70 last year,” McKinlay said. “This is going to give us more exposure around that more casual fan.”

EA Sports this week also is scheduled to conduct several retail store and media appearances in Los Angeles and New York involving Donovan and New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez, each of whom appears on the game cover along with Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.

Buttressing the game is the newly developed “EA Sports Football Club,” a free online social media-focused service that will look to forge a deeper link between real-world soccer and the game. For example, challenges will be issued on the service the morning after major real-world matches, inviting fans of the defeated team to avenge their loss in the video game realm.

EA executives declined to outline specific percentage changes in the “FIFA” marketing budget. Overall, marketing spending on the game is about the same as in prior years, but has been reallocated this time to focus more heavily on TV, social media and Hispanic-focused efforts.

Industry analysts are expecting EA Sports to continue with “FIFA 12” a recent run of momentum shown by improved initial sales for “NCAA Football 12,” “Madden NFL 12,” and “NHL 12.”

“Soccer certainly continues to grow more popular in the U.S., and overall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this title improve [in sales] by 10 to 15 percent,” said Arvind Bhatia, video game industry analyst and managing director for brokerage firm Sterne, Agee & Leach.

Terry Lefton
With the ING-titled New York City Marathon approaching with the speed of a Kenyan runner, the parent New York Road Runners has signed four new sponsors and renewed five others. Quick-service restaurant Subway was pleased enough with its first-year designation as the marathon’s “official training restaurant” that it has renewed for another year. As part of its 2011 activation plans, Subway endorser Apolo Anton Ohno will run in this year’s marathon and appear in point-of-sale ads. Last year, Subway uberspokesman Jared Fogle completed the 26.2-mile course in 5:13.

Subway, Asics and Timex are among those getting programs ready for the ING-titled event.
Longtime partner Asics, a sponsor since 1999, has renewed in the apparel/footwear category for an additional five years and will continue to activate with out-of-home ads, including bus wraps. United Airlines has renewed with both the NYC Marathon and Half Marathon. Include the merged Continental’s time as a NYC Marathon sponsor and you get a 17-year legacy. Incumbents Coors Light and Timex, which will have softballer Jennie Finch running on its behalf and will be touting its Run Trainer watch, have also renewed. Coors, the event’s official beer, will be promoting the NYC Marathon at more than 100 local on-premise accounts. “Of course, we love the endemic running brands, but what we like about brands like Coors and Subway is that they speak to such a broad base of our fans,” said Ann Wells Crandall, executive vice president of business development and strategy.

New sponsors include Wonderful Indonesia, the tourism agency for the Southeast Asian nation, which is the world’s fourth most populous country. Indonesia shares the category with Andalucia Sports Bureau.

Each will participate in an International Taste of Travel event the Friday before the marathon, which will be run Nov. 6. Also new to the fold is Prestige Brands’ New-Skin, a liquid bandage and antiseptic in one, and Yurbuds earphones. The Magic Bullet handheld blender is coming as a hybrid sponsor/licensee and will produce a NYC Marathon-branded model for the many runners addicted to smoothies. All sponsors get media on a combination of national and local TV telecasts and with The New York Times, a marathon sponsor since 1997. Toting up her scoreboard, Crandall said that including rights fees and value-in-kind contributions to the organization’s bottom line, NYC Marathon sponsorship increased 30 percent this year over last from new partners.

TRUCKIN’: Fresh off a four-year renewal of its franchise position as the NFL’s official vehicle, GMC is expanding its activation in its second year of sponsoring the “Monday Night Football” tour. This year’s expansive program is held within a 120-by-120 footprint adjacent to shopping malls in “MNF” markets with a variety of football activities.

Fans are invited to test their football skills for a chance to win “Monday Night Football” game tickets, gift cards and signed memorabilia. Active and retired NFL players from the local NFL teams will make appearances and sign autographs at malls in “MNF” markets in the weekend before games, where consumers can also sign up for test drives of GMC’s Acadia, Sierra crossover and Terrain and Yukon SUVs and qualify to win “MNF” tickets and other NFL prizes. Fans can try being a sportscaster with “MNF” talent Mike Tirico in a virtual broadcast booth. Adjacent lounges enable fans to watch football on big screens, and supporting cause-related programs fund Hispanic-themed Play 60 initiatives and build playgrounds in “MNF” cities. The activation will be supported through radio, digital and social media. Intersport, Chicago, handles for GMC.

MILLERCOORS: While the final ramifications of Anheuser-Busch’s lawsuit vs. MillerCoors regarding their recent NHL sponsorship are still unclear north of the border with Molson Coors, domestic plans are solid. Ryan Luckey, director of sports and entertainment marketing at MillerCoors, said the U.S. rights will accrue to Molson Canadian regionally, in the Northeast, Midwest and other markets, beginning with
Molson Canadian will sport NHL packaging.
packaging and point-of-sale next month, and Coors Light nationally, from the Winter Classic through the Stanley Cup playoffs. “For Molson Canadian this is a primary brand building opportunity, so they will go with NHL year round on packaging,” said Luckey. In support, MillerCoors has added club deals with the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, and a “Grab the Cold, Raise the Cup” promo planned for March and April plays into social media by asking fans to take a picture of themselves inside a point-of-sale stand-up of a faceless Coors Light player holding the cup. Images can be sent in for sweeps entry via Facebook, a microsite, or mobile phone. Prizes include a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. “We want to help build the NHL postseason into something like March Madness, and we’re the brand that can drive traffic in bars and restaurants to support that,” Luckey said.

Gone grape: Jeff Dubiel, formerly of Pepsi, is now EVP of marketing for The Wine Group.
COMINGS & GOINGS: Former Pepsi vice president of sports marketing Jeff Dubiel has resurfaced 3,000 miles west, but he’s still a beverage marketer. Dubiel, who left Pepsi in June after 13 years, is now executive vice president of marketing at The Wine Group, a Livermore, Calif., company that specializes in value brands like FishEye, Cupcake, Mogen David and Franzia “wine in a box.” We’re told The Wine Group, which was once owned by Coke, is the second-largest wine company in America, behind E&J Gallo, where Dubiel began his marketing career.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Jamaican Usain Bolt’s emergence as the biggest star in track and field has made it difficult for U.S. runners to distinguish themselves and land corporate endorsements before the London Olympics, reversing a trend in recent years that saw track and field athletes at the forefront of marketing efforts.

“Usain Bolt is taking the majority of the media attention, and everyone is looking for an American story,” said Paul Doyle, an agent who represents more than 50 track and field athletes worldwide. “There’s a ton going for U.S. athletes, but not a whole lot has fallen into place yet.”

Decathletes Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee (top, left to right), hurdler Jason Richardson and Jenny Simpson (above) provided surprising moments during the world championships.
Six months before the Beijing Olympics, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay had emerged as a clear favorite for endorsements among Olympic sponsors. Omega and McDonald’s both signed agreements with him and featured him prominently in their U.S. advertising and marketing efforts. But brand executives
and consultants looking to add a U.S. track and field athlete to their cadre of endorsees for London 2012 have run into trouble identifying whom to pick.

“Going into Beijing, across all sports, there were clear front-runners, but going into London it’s not that way, especially in the track and field space,” said Courtney Nally, a vice president at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, who is assisting Kellogg’s in selecting and signing athletes ahead of the London Games. “Agents are having a tough time predicting who will do well in London now, and that makes it tough to go to a sponsor and say, ‘You should sign up X, Y or Z athlete.’”

Mary O’Connor, vice president of Olympics at The Marketing Arm, which works with U.S. Olympic team sponsors Hilton and AT&T, agreed, adding, “Track and field’s a hard one because there are so many athletes, and the recent scandals around the sport and lack of leadership in the sport make it a tough sport to get your arms around.”

Several U.S. Olympic team sponsors are looking to add athletes in the coming months, including Kellogg’s, BMW, BP and Procter & Gamble.

Agents are hopeful that winning performances by several relatively unknown U.S. stars at the recent IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships will help clarify the athlete picture for those brands. Among the performances that generated buzz in track circles were Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton, who finished first and second, respectively, in the decathlon; Jason Richardson, who won the 110-meter hurdles; and Jenny Simpson, who won the 1,500 meters.

“We’re not there in the men’s 100 or 200 meters because of injuries and the dominance of Bolt, but there are other events worth watching and we saw that at the world championships,” said Adam Lippard, vice president at GMR Marketing, which helps Visa select its athletes. “There’s a refocusing of America’s attention to determine where the real opportunity is and talent is.”

Doyle, who returned to the office from the world championships last week, said he plans to pursue deals for his athletes during the next four months and wants to finalize deals before 2012. He’s working hard on a beverage deal for Hardee and Eaton. He’s looking to target automobile companies and banks for deals with Hardee, who currently has agreements with Red Bull and Nike. With Eaton, he’s looking to wrap up a beverage deal with Powerade and add a video game to his portfolio, which currently includes Nike.

Several brands have turned Doyle down in the past because they don’t want to sponsor an individual athlete who might not qualify for the Games or might have an injury. Brand marketers have told him in the past they prefer sponsoring a team, so Doyle plans to bundle Hardee and Eaton with Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic decathlon gold medalist, whom Doyle also represents.

“We believe we can push the three athletes as a unit and almost guarantee success,” Doyle said. “We haven’t had much communication since world championships ended, but I imagine the performance of both those guys is going to help a lot.”

Richardson was USA Track & Field’s youth athlete of the year in 2003, and he competes in one of the most marketable men’s speed events that Bolt’s not in. He also is active on Twitter, which has become increasingly important to sponsors in recent years. He has a deal with Nike, and his agent, Emanuel Hudson, plans to begin reaching out to U.S. Olympic team sponsors this week to explain Richardson’s background. He hopes that Richardson’s interest in becoming a lawyer after he finishes competing will appeal to some sponsors.

On the women’s side, Allyson Felix has had the most success on the endorsement front. The 2008 silver medalist in the 200 meters has deals in place with Nike, Gatorade, Visa and Acuvue.

With hurdler Lolo Jones battling an injury and marathoner Deena Kastor returning after a pregnancy, Simpson may emerge as the second most-marketable female athlete. She won gold in the metric mile at the world championships, becoming the first U.S. woman to win at that distance since 1983. Her agent, Ray Flynn, is hopeful that her performance will appeal to sponsors looking for a female runner competing in a relatively high-profile event. New Balance is her only current sponsor, and Flynn plans to begin to pitch her to U.S. Olympic team sponsors in the coming months.

Despite the success of the U.S. team at the world championships, where it won 25 medals, Nally said she expects most sponsors to take a “wait-and-see approach” when it comes to signing track and field athletes. She anticipates many will be signed after the U.S. Olympic trials are held in June. Doing so would make fitting athletes into marketing efforts ahead of the London Games difficult but would ensure a sponsor has an athlete who will compete in the Olympics.

“Sponsors are being more mindful of the spend they’re doing,” Nally said, “and while everyone is eager to have their roster of athletes lined up by the end of the year, when it comes to track and field athletes, they may wait.”