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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Terry Lefton
Four months after the Super Bowl and two months before training camps open, the NFL’s offseason scoreboard reads thusly: two sponsors out and one renewed for the team on Park Avenue.

Longtime NFL sponsor IBM, a league sponsor since 2003, has opted not to renew its league sponsorship rights, joining Motorola (SportsBusiness Journal, March 19) as another veteran sponsor deciding not to return to the NFL. While “Big Blue” is more familiar as a nickname for the New Jersey-based Super Bowl champs, the tech industry version has been a model business-to-business sponsor during its tenure as an NFL corporate sponsor, using league infrastructure projects like the digitization of NFL Films and other IT projects to demonstrate its capabilities.

Without sharing considerable detail on the non-renewal, Rick Singer, who heads IBM’s sponsorships as vice president of client executive marketing, called it an amicable split.

“It was a good nine-year run,” he said. “We had some very good discussions, but we decided that the things they want to do aren’t the same as what we want to. It wasn’t about money as much as it was about each party’s philosophy on the [technology] category.”

The headset rights held by Motorola could be packaged as part of a broader category.
Singer said no decision has been made yet on whether the healthy IBM budget line that was used to support NFL rights will be re-allocated to another sports sponsorship, here or abroad. IBM’s domestic sponsorship portfolio includes tennis’ U.S. Open, The Masters, the USGA and the Tony Awards.

As for the NFL rationale in all things tech, we’re told that the league is on the street with the framework of a larger technology deal, and that the thought within league circles is that adding IBM’s broad category rights in computer hardware, software and IT services to those formerly held by departed telecom hardware rights holder Motorola could form the rudiments of a broad technology deal. Such a sponsorship could include Motorola-like headset branding, integration of tablet PCs on NFL sidelines, widespread use of tablets by coaches and as playbooks, and rewiring NFL stadiums.

Since it would involve the league’s competition committee and league and team marketing and sponsorship teams working together, the politics of such a deal are complex enough to render it nearly impossible. As in all cases, however, the NFL’s magnitude will allow it to set the bar, both in rights fees and scope, in whatever tech deal it achieves.

We do not expect tablet market leader Apple to pay rights fees to any sports property any time soon. We do believe that any secondary brand, be it Lenovo (an IBM stepchild, for those in search of potential irony) or Samsung, could use the power of the NFL to quickly make a credible claim at being the No. 2 brand to Apple.

Hard to believe the NFL will be able to fashion such a complex deal in time for the coming season. Looking at it through the lens of Motorola’s lapsed telecom deal, club marketers have already been told that while the league does not expect to have a telecom hardware deal before the coming season, the category is still off limits for clubs to sell.

What will the coaches’ headsets, which have carried branding since the mid-1990s, look like next season? We’re told that without a sponsor, that valuable real estate would promote or NFL Network. However, we’re also cautioned that the category is changing week to week, so stay tuned, via whatever handheld device you deem most appropriate.

: Well-placed NFL sources tell us that Bridgestone has extended its NFL deal, but opted out of its title sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show. Bridgestone’s last sponsorship agreement bound it to the NFL through the 2014 season, and it had titled the halftime extravaganza since 2008, during which musicians Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, the Black Eyed Peas and Madonna have headlined.

Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show will be the last for Bridgestone.
Bridgestone is shifting its NFL efforts to a “year-round platform, including training camp, kickoff, and will still have a presence at Super Bowl,” we’re told by one involved marketer.

In winning Sponsor of the Year accolades at the Sports Business Awards recently, Bridgestone marketers cited their affiliation with jewel events of the biggest sports properties as the key strategy in growing both brand equity and sales measures in what has been a declining tire market. However, Madonna’s performance at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show included rapper M.I.A. flipping the bird. M.I.A.’s childish action was seen by a record television audience of 111.3 million viewers. So we’re wondering if that played a role in the tire brand veering right with its NFL rights.

That puts the NFL back on the street with its Super Bowl halftime show for the first time under its current marketing and sales regime. Another rhetorical question before departing: Would that inventory be enough to attract a tech sponsor of the type outlined above?

COMINGS & GOINGS: Mark Rooks, PepsiCo senior director of sports marketing, has resigned after 13 years with the food and beverage giant. Rooks is joining Dick’s Sporting Goods at its Pittsburgh headquarters as vice president of sports and community. Rooks started at Pepsi in 1999 and has served in various marketing roles. He was senior brand manager on Mountain Dew, and director of marketing for the North American Coffee Partnership, a joint venture with Starbucks. … The NCAA’s director of corporate alliances, Peter Davis, is leaving in July after a decade to join BDA, a licensee of the NCAA and most other major sports properties. Davis will manage BDA’s relationships with the NCAA, MLB, NFL, NASCAR and USOC and be based in Charlotte.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is unveiling an underwear and bra line this week that will include a major ad campaign airing in Europe.

The tennis star is one of the few female athletes to take a risk and agree to an underwear ad.
The former No. 1, now ranked ninth, becomes one of the few female athletes to agree to an underwear ad, joining Anna Kournikova, who 12 years ago pushed a sports bra.

Wozniacki’s personal line, created in conjunction with the third-largest underwear maker in the world, JBS, is not designed as sporting wear, a key point for her clothing company, Adidas, which she is set to renew with for another five years.

“The whole premise of the shoot is her in her most intimate moments, alone in her bedroom, or in the bathroom after competition, or getting ready for competition,” said John Tobias, Wozniacki’s agent at Lagardère Unlimited. “This is a girl who turned down SI Swimsuit issue twice, turned down Maxim magazine twice.”

The tag line of the ad is “This is me.”

Male sports stars frequently pose for underwear ads, with recent examples including Tim Tebow, Rafael Nadal and David Beckham. But for women, this has been essentially an off-limits category. That may be changing.

“Increasingly, women athletes off the field are taking a strong and sexy approach,” said Matt Delzell, group account director for The Marketing Arm. He pointed to soccer star Hope Solo, who posed naked though covered on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, and swimmer Amanda Beard, who posed nude for Playboy, as examples of female athletes taking more chances.

Billie Jean King, the women’s tennis pioneer, applauded Wozniacki.

“I don’t think there is any difference for the men or the women,” she said. “The guys have been endorsing underwear for years and if Michael Jordan and Tim Tebow can secure a deal, why can’t Caroline? For women, the challenge is how the product is presented and the athlete should have a voice in that presentation and how they manage their own brand.”

Delzell warned a backlash could come from those who see the ads as conflicting with Wozniacki’s more wholesome image (her nickname on the tour is Sunshine). “It is a risk for her,” he said.

The ads will appear initially in Europe, though the buzz factor likely will get them talked about in this country, where the Dane is less well known.

According to the DBI index, she is known by only 19 percent of U.S. consumers. She ranks in the top 100 (98th of 2,500 celebrities) in DBI’s Aspiration index, on par with celebs like Steven Spielberg and Kelly Clarkson. The Aspiration index measures the degree to which consumers feel the celebrity has a life to which they would aspire.

Wozniacki will receive a guarantee from underwear company JBS, as well as 10 percent to 15 percent royalty on the line. At the same time, she is set to renew with Adidas’ Stella McCartney collection, which she has been wearing for four years now. The new deal largely pays her based on her ranking, but should compensate her in the low to mid-seven figures annually if she remains in the top 10.

Comcast-Spectacor’s Front Row Marketing has won an agency shootout to represent the former Insight Bowl for the sale of its title sponsorship, other sales assignments and sales analytics related to that bowl game, and sales assignments for the Fiesta Bowl.

The win adds to Front Row’s portfolio of collegiate properties.

“You can make a good case this game is the best non-BCS bowl, and we are happy to be growing our collegiate portfolio on a more national basis,” said Front Row President Chris Lencheski, adding that some joint arrangements are possible.

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl title sponsorship has another two years.

Insight was title sponsor of the ESPN-televised game, which is normally a Big Ten/Big 12 matchup and is played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. It began as the Copper Bowl in 1989, but Insight had title sponsored it from 1997. For the first four years of the relationship, it was known as the Bowl. Without a title sponsor for the time being, the game is being called The Valley of the Sun Bowl.

The relationship also gives Comcast a foot in the door for a piece of forthcoming renovations at Sun Devil Stadium.

Agency sources said the title sponsorship was being shopped for around $2 million a year. Lencheski would not comment on pricing but said the package includes ESPN ad inventory, signage and hospitality. He said interest has been expressed by financial services, retail and quick-service restaurant brands. He also noted the sponsorship possibilities in using the former Insight Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, since the games are separated by a week.