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Volume 22 No. 39
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NFL looks to make connection with Motorola replacement

Terry Lefton
NFL coaches’ headsets will be festooned with different logos next season, as Motorola is out as a league sponsor after 13 years. Sources said Motorola had an offer on the table of about $50 million a year over five years, roughly 25 percent more than its prior deal, but could not reach agreement with the NFL on pricing and value. Members of the league’s business ventures committee were told recently that Motorola was not renewing. Club marketers contacted had not been informed of the move, or told whether any of the inventory would now revert to team control.

“Sure, we’d love to have something on the sidelines to sell [i.e., headsets], but those are some of the league’s largest deals, so I can’t see them giving up that real estate,” said one senior marketer for an East Coast NFL team.

Wireless remains one of the most lucrative sponsorship categories, and since Motorola signed its last NFL sponsorship, the NBA has signed a huge deal that does not include on-court branding. Based

Motorola, whose name has gained millions of dollars in exposure on NFL coaches’ headsets, won’t be back for the coming season.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
solely on TV exposure, Repucom estimated the value of NFL coaches’ headsets for the 2011-12 season at $90 million, and, of course, the deal included more than just NFL sideline exposure.

NFL officials are also hopeful that the dramatic rise of tablet computers like Apple’s iPad will allow for a large deal, which would include sideline rights for tablets. Emarketer estimates there were 33.7 million tablets in the U.S. by the end of 2011, with iPads representing 28 million (83 percent) of that total. By the end of 2012, some estimates suggest there will be an installed U.S. base of 54.8 million tablets.

No one expects Apple to pay for NFL rights, but certainly anyone with a competitive tablet could use the NFL’s reach to lay claim to the No. 2 spot in the market, especially if the deal included coaches toting branded tablets on the sideline (SportsBusiness Journal, Nov. 7-13, 2011) and the use of tablets as team playbooks. However, those moves would require the approval and cooperation of the NFL’s competition committee, which in the past has moved with the speed of analog technology, so we’re doubtful that such a deal will be in place for the coming season.

As far as which handset/tablet brand might pick up those rights?

Various sponsorship experts suggested that Samsung, which has a TOP global Olympic sponsorship and a sports-friendly U.S. CMO in the person of former Pepsi marketer Ralph Santana, might be a good fit, particularly since its Galaxy tablet and phones are leading competitors to Apple’s iPad and iPhone, enough so that there are numerous patent infringement lawsuits.

However, there were some strained relations after the last NFL/Samsung sponsorship (2005-10) for the HDTV category that would need to be mended first.

Other leading Korean handset brands that might covet the “Americanization” that NFL ties would provide include LG and HTC. Another intriguing issue is whether the NFL would accept non-endemic branding on its headsets, similar to when E-Trade replaced Gatorade with branding on college sideline coolers. “Doubtful,” opined one NFL club’s CMO, “but if it’s a big check and long term, never say never.”

WELCOME TO NEW JERSEY: It only takes a bit of Internet trolling to find a depiction of Peyton Manning in every NFL jersey. Normally, we’d rather answer questions than pose rhetorical ones, but bear with us on this.

Reebok’s NFL jersey rights expire at the end of this month. Nike’s five-year deal begins April 1. So if Manning, only the highest-priced free agent in NFL history, signs with a new team before the month is out, which apparel company will fill the demand by manufacturing Manning’s new uniform shirt?

We’ve been getting mixed signals on this from the various parties involved in this murky scenario. The situation is further clouded by the fact that Reebok has few blanks left. “We’ve been in a situation where we’ve been liquidating our NFL supply,” said David Baxter, Adidas vice president of sport performance, adding that, to the best of his knowledge, a jersey from the team Manning will play for next season would be “forward looking” and thus prohibited contractually.

Does that mean Nike would be willing, able or inclined to fill the expected hot market before its rights are in effect, especially considering Manning’s longtime affiliation with Reebok? Or will there just be a void in the market? Stay tuned.

MASTERS IN MARKETING: As it has previously around college football venues, Sports Illustrated is stepping up marketing at golf’s majors. Beginning with next month’s Masters tournament, SI will have a 60-by-60-foot tent at courses on high-traffic locations near Augusta National; at Union Square, San Francisco, for the U.S. Open; at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the Ryder Cup; and at Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship.

SI will originate Web video content from the tent, including discussions from its writers and editors, and display golf photography.

Ad support comes from Southwest Airlines; Macy’s, launching an exclusive line of Greg Norman for Tasso Elba apparel; and Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

Terry Lefton can be reached at