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Volume 20 No. 42

Marketing and Sponsorship

The Boston Celtics have signed a new Courtside Club naming-rights deal with Sun Life Financial as the company boosts its sponsorship with the franchise.

Beginning next season, the team’s 1,500-square-foot hospitality club on TD Garden’s event level will be known as the Sun Life Courtside Club as part of Sun Life Financial’s sponsorship renewal with the Celtics. The club is reserved for floor seat holders, team owners and other VIPs.

Sun Life Financial has been a Celtics sponsor since the 2010-11 season, but next year will take over the club naming rights from the Lincoln auto brand.

Financial terms of the multiyear deal were not disclosed. The deal also includes Sun Life Financial marks on all of the team’s 128 front-row floor seats, courtside and other in-arena signs, branded in-game promotions, and advertising on

“The newest asset is the presenting rights of the Courtside Club, and [Sun Life] wanted a mix of consumer branding and business-to-business awareness,” said Celtics President Rich Gotham. “The [Courtside Club] deal allows us to activate a little more, and it is a great place for them to do their own entertaining and build relationships with the people they bring through the door.”

The Celtics have about 70 integrated team sponsorships, or deals that include more than media buys. The total number of team sponsorships stands at 125.

The Celtics deal is the only NBA team deal for Sun Life Financial.

“A major focus is on selling our products to small businesses, and this allows us to meet many different people who are courtside ticket holders and network with them,” said Sally Bray, director of brand advertising and sponsorships for Sun Life Financial.

“Part of the package is four courtside seats for every game that we can offer our clients. It is great for building relationships.”

The NHL, EA Sports and mobile sponsor BlackBerry have combined on an unlikely grassroots marketing success story, surpassing more than 19.5 million fan votes in a campaign to pick the cover athlete for “NHL 13.”

The voting for the “NHL 13” cover athlete will wind up during the Stanley Cup Final.
The online campaign for the hockey game, set to be released Sept. 11, on the surface is similar to those conducted in recent years for other EA Sports titles, including “Madden NFL” and “NCAA Football.” But the fan vote total for “NHL 13,” with two rounds still to go, is poised to pass the record 19.7 million fan votes in the campaign for the “Madden NFL 13” cover.

The “NHL 13” effort has posted its total despite holding only a fraction of the popularity of “Madden NFL,” which sells more than 5 million copies each year, and without the broad promotional platform of ESPN, which was a partner in the football effort.

“This has frankly become much bigger than any of us thought it would be,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing.

The reason behind the unexpected success, executives involved say, is a potent blend of timing, in which the “NHL 13” cover vote, unlike other titles, was positioned during its sport’s real-world playoffs; active promotion through several league-controlled media platforms, including and the NHL Network; and high levels of engagement from players and teams.

Many cover candidates, including Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux, have posted YouTube videos and conducted aggressive social media campaigns with an aim of driving up votes.

“The amount of support we’ve received from the individual clubs and players has been a huge boost,” said David Le, EA Sports director of marketing.

“It’s also been immensely helpful that we’re doing this just as the sport is experiencing its highest fan interest of the year.”

The voting campaign is also providing the NHL with new consumer names for its marketing database. More than 200,000 registrants for the vote have never before registered for an NHL promotion, and nearly half of those people have opted in to receive additional messages from the league. Roughly one-third of all votes have come from Canadian fans, with almost all of the rest from the United States.

The winner of the “NHL 13” cover vote will be announced June 20. The championship vote between the final two candidates will be held between Tuesday and next Monday, a period encompassing Games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“The vote is happening earlier than our usual marketing for the game, but it actually creates a lot of momentum going into [important industry conference] E3 in June and then our normal ramp-up prior to launch,” Le said.

A few weeks ago, Just Marketing International’s Zak Brown headed out to Del Frisco’s in New York for a steak dinner with his client Jeff Gordon and 20 executives from advertising agencies, media buying firms and major international brands. Brown, who has represented Gordon since early 2010, hoped that putting the four-time NASCAR champion in front of advertising decision-makers would make the driver a top candidate for their clients and brands the next time they hired a spokesman.

The going’s tough even for stars like Gordon.
“Jeff’s always on his ‘A’ game,” Brown said before leaving his hotel. “This is a great way to show others that.”

While Brown was optimistic the dinner would result in new endorsement deals, he acknowledged a new reality that he and other driver representatives are accepting: The driver endorsement business is not what it used to be.

Since the recession in 2008, NASCAR’s most endorsable drivers, according to The Marketing Arm’s DBI, which measures an athlete’s ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent, have cut only a handful of endorsements.

Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton both signed two deals during that time, while Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch each signed one. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, signed no new endorsements in the last four years. Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., three of the sport’s most recognizable drivers, shied away from personal endorsements in favor of deals that included inventory with their Sprint Cup and Nationwide series teams.

The only driver to sign more than two personal endorsements since ’08 has been Danica Patrick, the former IndyCar star who established herself as a personal brand long before she made the move to NASCAR. Since joining the sport in 2010, she has announced new deals with Tissot, Nationwide, COPD, Chevrolet and Coke Zero.

Marketers and driver representatives say the dearth of deals not only reflects the economic downturn and a general pullback in corporate spending in NASCAR, but also demonstrates a change in the NASCAR marketplace.

Driver representatives and team experts point to a host of factors that have decreased driver endorsement activity, including the rise of co-primary team sponsorships, an abundance of unsold team inventory, and an evolving business model where teams are offering drivers incentives to deliver team sponsorships rather than sign personal endorsements.

“I don’t think there’s a driver you could talk to who could say their endorsements aren’t down from where they were in 2005 or 2006,” said Alan Miller, a Michigan-based attorney who works with Johnson and other drivers. “It’s a reflection, in some ways, of attendance at the track and TV ratings.”

Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing, who represented Stewart for endorsements for several years before the team was formed, added, “The whole marketplace has evolved. It’s different than it was in 2007 or 2006. We were just looking for [personal endorsements] then because we could. Now, drivers and teams are working more closely together.”

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (top left) hasn’t signed a new endorsement in years, while former IndyCar star Danica Patrick (top right) has maintained a healthy number of new deals and Tony Stewart has pushed companies to become sponsors of the team he co-owns.
A single endorsement typically adds anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million to a NASCAR driver’s annual earnings. The deals offer drivers a chance not only to increase their non-salary earnings but also raise their profile by affiliating with brands that aren’t sponsoring their cars.

Drivers through the years have endorsed everything from Wranglers and Coca-Cola to Armor All and lemonade. But in recent years, big brands like Gillette and Gatorade have cut the work they do with NASCAR drivers.

In 2003, Gillette built an entire marketing program around NASCAR drivers it called “Young Guns.” The effort initially featured five drivers. Gillette stuck with the NASCAR-specific campaign for seven years before shifting to a broader sports campaign and cutting the total number of drivers from six to two — Kyle Busch and Hamlin.

Gatorade made a similar move. In the 2000s, the PepsiCo brand endorsed four drivers — Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin — but it has trimmed that total in recent years to just two, Johnson and Kenseth.

“How many drivers do you see on TV now? It’s not what it used to be,” said a senior marketing executive who’s worked in NASCAR for more than a decade.

National awareness of more than half of NASCAR’s most endorsable drivers fell over the last four years, according to DBI’s measurements (see chart below). Those declines have coincided with some fundamental changes in the sport. Teams used to be funded by a primary sponsor that underwrote the cost of the entire season, but the number of sponsors willing to do that declined as the cost of sponsorship rose and the recession put pressure on marketing budgets.

Budweiser, Home Depot and UPS are among the full-season sponsors who now fund fewer races. Their decisions to cut back have created new inventory on cars, making it possible for brands that were once locked out of the sport to get space on a car along with an affiliation with the driver.

Frood pointed to Stewart as an example of how that’s changed a driver’s endorsement potential. When Stewart drove for Joe Gibbs Racing from 1999 to 2008, he had one sponsor (Home Depot) for all 36 Sprint Cup races. Because inventory on Stewart’s car was taken, the only way brands could affiliate with him was through endorsements, Frood said. That allowed him to sign personal deals with Old Spice, Coca-Cola, Bass Pro Shops and Armor All.

He still has many of those endorsements, but any new deals he does now include sponsorship of the team that he co-owns.

“We don’t want to do a [personal endorsement] for Tony that locks the team out of a category and blocks our ability to get a sponsorship on the No. 39 or No. 10,” Frood said.

The demise of primary sponsorships also means drivers have more sponsors to represent, which puts more demands on their time.

For example, Hendrick Motorsports’ Gordon has three primary sponsors — DuPont, Pepsi and AARP — on his No. 24 car, and Roush Fenway Racing’s Edwards has six primary sponsors — Kellogg’s, Fastenal, Aflac, Subway, UPS and Best Buy — on his No. 99 car. That can mean as many as 25 to 40 appearances in a year for each driver.

At a point, driver representatives say their clients begin to ask: Is it worth $250,000 if they have to do three to five more appearances a year?

It also makes it harder to find a category in which the driver can take on an endorsement. For example, the six primary sponsorships on Edwards’ No. 99 car preclude him from doing an endorsement in the cereal, fast food or retail categories, and any endorsement he wants to sign requires Roush Fenway’s approval.

Teams also have begun giving sponsors access to all of the drivers in their stable. As a result, Gordon not only works with DuPont, Pepsi and AARP, which are on his car on Sundays, but also Quaker State, which is a primary sponsor on the team’s No. 5 car driven by Kahne.

“[Multiple sponsors] does present a challenge,” said Brown, who represents Gordon and consults with brands such as Farmers Insurance and Crown Royal. “We have to be mindful of all the Hendrick sponsors. We can’t do a personal service deal with Coke because Hendrick’s a Pepsi shop. We can’t do something with a manufacturer because Hendrick’s a General Motors team.”

But it’s not just conflicts holding drivers back these days. There is a glut of primary inventory on top-tier cars, including Kenseth’s No. 17 car, which has 12 races available this year, and Kahne’s No. 5 car, which has five races available. The open inventory gives brands interested in the sport a choice they didn’t have just a few years ago. Do they endorse a top driver for $250,000 to $1 million a year, or sign a car sponsorship that includes a driver for $400,000-plus per race?

“When you had little inventory on the cars, driver endorsements were an attractive alternative because it didn’t cost as much as a car sponsorship, and if you had a good media budget, you could get a lot of value out of it,” said Mark Dyer, senior vice president of strategic planning and development for IMG, which represents Patrick. “There’s too much inventory now.”

In the hierarchy of NASCAR sponsorship, filling that team inventory takes precedent. Contracts require drivers to get their teams’ approval before signing an endorsement, and driver representatives say the glut in sponsorship inventory has made getting approval more difficult.

To avoid conflicts, teams are encouraging drivers to bring potential endorsers to the team. Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer did that a year ago when he hooked up with 5-Hour Energy.

Kahne made a similar move when his agency, Fuel Sports Management, took the interest Rockwell Tools expressed in an endorsement deal, which would have been worth more than $250,000, and converted it into a primary sponsorship — valued at more than $400,000 — on the No. 5 car at Darlington during the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Fuel Sports Management CEO Rod Moskowitz sees the shift away from driver endorsements to deals that incorporate team inventory as an opportunity for both drivers and brands.

“To really do an endorsement deal the right way, it’s best to have branding on a car,” Moskowitz said. “If you can use the driver with the car and have him in a uniform with your brand, it’s more authentic and sponsors get more value, and if you can get more deals to fill up the car, then the driver has a chance to make more money. That’s best for the sponsor and the team, and ultimately good things come from that.”

The NHL has completed what many thought would be its most challenging renewal, signing a five-year extension of Pepsi’s North American sponsorship rights.

Financial terms could not be learned, but sources connected to the deal said negotiations were finalized in early to mid-May and that the two sides celebrated the deal at Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between New Jersey and the New York Rangers on May 21.

An official announcement is expected sometime during the Stanley Cup Final, which starts Wednesday.

Sources said the deal comes with commitments for additional stateside beverage and salty snack food promotions around the league’s big events like the Winter Classic and during the spring, which would fit well into the league’s strategy of fashioning the two months of the Stanley Cup playoffs into the NHL’s version of March Madness.

“We had very productive discussions with Pepsi executives, including [CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages] Al Carey, who saw the value in where we are going and is supporting our jewel events, big-event strategy at retail with a combination of beverage and snack food promotions,’’ said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins. “It fits well with the strategy we’ve adopted for [fellow NHL sponsor] MillerCoors, and that’s not coincidental.’’ Pepsi has been an NHL sponsor since 2006.

“Carey was a key person because he is a big supporter of the sport,” said former NHL Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Judelson, who cut the league’s original Pepsi deal and now is a top marketing executive at WWE. “Relative to the cola wars, it is clear that Coke has been winning the race recently, but it is still a two-horse race, so keeping up to par with sponsorship assets is obviously still important to both competitors.’’

The renewal of one of the NHL’s largest sponsors when the league is heading into potential labor difficulties — its collective-bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 — is also a nice vote of confidence.

Aside from the NHL, Pepsi’s national sponsorship portfolio includes league rights deals with Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the NFL, as well as with NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With its biggest renewal concern now completed, the NHL is looking for new business among packaged goods, brokerage/financial services, consumer electronics and airlines. In Canada, it is looking to fill categories only within the insurance and consumer electronics categories.

“It’s never easy to sell in the kind of environment a labor impasse can create, but my experience in working in exactly that kind of situation is that full transparency works more effectively than anything,” said Ed Horne, chief operating officer of Madison Avenue Sports and Entertainment and an executive with the NHL during its 2004-05 lockout. “That’s why we didn’t lose a sponsor after our labor situation and probably why you see a significant sponsor like Pepsi returning.”

Soccer United Marketing has finalized deals with Marriott, Century 21 and Behr Paints for U.S. and Mexican national team play leading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Marriott’s deal makes the hotel brand the official hotel of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Its long-term contract will pay low seven figures annually, according to industry sources. Among the elements Marriott will receive are field-level signage, intellectual property rights, digital media, hospitality and tickets. The deal takes effect Wednesday, when the U.S. men’s team plays Brazil in a friendly at FedEx Field. It covers both the U.S. men’s and women’s national clubs.

“Soccer is a truly global sport, so this was a natural for us,” said Joanna Todd, vice president of segment strategy for Marriott. “It’s a great opportunity because we want to work with best in class, and USSF is definitely that.”

Soccer United Marketing, MLS’s media and marketing business, handles commercial rights not only for MLS but also for the U.S. and Mexican national teams.

“The scope of this deal really speaks to the lifestyle of the soccer fan,” said David Wright, SUM senior vice president of global sponsorship. “We saw this with the last World Cup and all the major events: The fan base is as passionate about traveling to sites as anyone.”

Behr’s deal with the Mexican team adds to paint’s visible role in soccer.
Century 21’s deal with the federation, similarly, covers both the men’s and women’s national teams. Industry sources place the deal at the high six figures annually, with the real estate company getting player appearances, intellectual property rights, field-level signage, hospitality and tickets.

Behr Paints is sponsoring the Mexican national team, signing a one-year deal for high six figures, according to industry sources. Behr’s deal includes broadcast integration via Univision, field-level signage and on-site event access at Mexican national team games played in the United States. The club on average plays five U.S. games annually. In addition, the deal provides for visibility at Home Depot locations, where Behr is exclusively sold.

Paint has become a visible part of soccer, as referees use spray paint cans to mark the defensive line on direct kicks.

“This is a tremendous platform for our company to reach the ever-expanding Hispanic demographic,” said Scott Richards, senior vice president of marketing for Behr. “This opportunity allows us to focus both at retail and within the professional segment. It allows us, in a very authentic way, to align our brand in-game through creative broadcast integration. The referee using paint to mark the 10-yard line on a free kick: It just makes a lot of sense.”

Terry Lefton
For as many years as we have been talking to NFL league marketers (that’s back when the Internet was a fishing device, son) they’ve been pitching us the idea of the NFL as a fulcrum on which to leverage a healthy/active marketing plan for some product or service, but we haven’t seen many convincing efforts.

Gatorade, a league sponsor since 1983, has a message of athlete fuel, and its current creative pushes its potions as an alternative to the junk food consumed heavily by its audience of teen consumers. Campbell Soup Co., a league sponsor since 1997, also tried to push its Chunky soups as a healthy meal through an affiliation with players and their mothers in Young & Rubicam’s memorable “Mama’s Boys” TV campaign.

NFL team sponsorships with local health care providers, such as the New York Jets with Atlantic Health or the Philadelphia Eagles with NovaCare, can be powerful associations, since athletes are rehabilitating at the very training sites and team headquarters on which those companies have their names as part of their sponsorships. Any footwear marketed in consort with a league is likely to have some sort of health claim. Reebok tried to market gym equipment under the NFL Equipment brand with limited success, as did the Jets with the Bio Force Pro, a “full-body fitness machine” jointly marketed with hall of famer Curtis Martin.

Other than athlete-specific endorsements, the best example we can recall linking the NFL’s version of health and fitness to a consumer product is Dairy Management Inc.’s 9-year-old sponsorship with the league and most of its teams, through which DMI hits schools across the country with player appearances and messages extolling milk’s benefits and the benefits of a healthy diet.

Generally, marketing that links the health and training regimen with the NFL has been in the cause-related sphere, like the league’s 4 1/2-year-old Play 60 anti-childhood-obesity campaign. And while it doesn’t fall as neatly into the “healthy/active” category, the amount of resources the NFL has dedicated to breast cancer awareness over the past several Octobers has been impressive.

The direction we are going with all this healthy/active marketing prattle is that under its most recent NFL sponsorship, Pepsi’s Quaker Oats subsidiary will have access to NFL rights for the first time, and no one is confusing the company’s Quaker man logo with an NFL trademark any time soon. Accordingly, our rhetorical question is whether the unquestioned marketing power of the NFL, which has been used to push beer, colas (diet and otherwise), candy bars, salty snacks, pizza, wings, burgers, fries and beverages including P&G’s Sunny D version of exceptionally faux orange juice, can then be used to attract moms looking to provide a healthy breakfast for their kids?

For the skeptics among you, recall that there was a spot for Dannon’s Oikos yogurt on this year’s Super Bowl, which also included ads from leading salt and sugar purveyors Coke, Doritos, Pepsi and Pizza Hut. And while we aren’t sure it entered into their thinking, we note with some interest that National Oatmeal Month and the NFL playoffs both take place in January.

During NFL draft week in New York City, Quaker employed top pick Andrew Luck to push its new designation as the NFL’s official hot cereal sponsor. Not surprisingly, they’ve been paired with the Play 60 program, and while they are short on specifics as far as future marketing programs, Jennifer Storms, senior vice president of sports marketing at PepsiCo, assures us that Quaker cereals will be part of all the major NFL calendar initiatives, from kickoff to Super Bowl.

“It’s really about making mom the hero and a healthy-start message with a whole-grain breakfast and a healthy lifestyle and inspiring kids,” Storms said. Given that Pepsi-owned Tropicana also has NFL rights, we saw an opportunity for a breakfast club of some sort.

“Every league’s looking at childhood obesity, but none has been able to own the healthy/active ad space they are looking at,” said Merrill Squires, senior vice president and head of sports marketing and partnerships for USA Today Sports Media Group, whose experience in healthy/active marketing includes pairing Lance Armstrong with Michelob Ultra low-carb beer. “It’s relatively easy for endemic sports brands, but most of the consumer packaged-goods brands still haven’t found their way outside of cause programs.”

The NFL was pleased with traffic in its Manhattan pop-up store, though sales were below expectations.
STORE CLOSING: While NFL licensing czar Leo Kane said he was happy with the traffic that the pop-up store in midtown Manhattan generated during April, it doesn’t sound like the league is going into bricks and mortar retail again soon.

“We had close to 200,000 visitors and it was a great brand statement and energy for the draft,” Kane said of the store, which was opened for the month of April in observance of the April 26-28 NFL draft, and included a manufacturing line for Wilson footballs. “Sales were just slightly below expectations, but the brand statement we got was huge, and online in April we were up triple digits over each of the past two years, so … But I was just as happy to see what Nike did for us in their [57th Street] store and Modell’s Times Square store windows.

“One of the big learnings might be that we don’t need to be in the retail business, especially 11-8 every day.”

So what about the NYC kickoff for the 2012-13 NFL season? “We made the statement we wanted and now we’re happy to leave the retailing up to professionals,” said Kane, noting the proximity of Lids, Modell’s and other licensed-product retailers to Times Square, site of the 2002 Kickoff concert.

China’s Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry has extended its rights with the Harlem Globetrotters to trading cards and appearances in 60 schools.
GLOBETROTTING: The Harlem Globetrotters have been touring China since 1991, and that country was recently the site of what the team is calling its largest international marketing deal to date. Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry, a former Globies tour sponsor, has extended its rights to include more than 60 school appearances where it will use athletes and trading cards to push its milk and flavored milk products in schools, where they will also sample the beverages. Mengniu also will be part of the promotional efforts of the Globetrotters’ search for the franchise’s first Chinese player.

Peter LaPointe, Globetrotters senior vice president of partnership marketing and sales, said he hopes to have a Chinese player next year and noted that the Globies opened their first office in China just last year. The team will have between 15 and 25 appearances in China this year.

Terry Lefton can be reached at