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Volume 20 No. 41

Events and Attractions

NFL licensing partners are stepping up their game for the Super Bowl.

Established boundaries are crossed when a licensee becomes a retailer, or vice versa. For the first time,, which administers e-commerce for nearly every sports property of consequence, including the NFL, is supplying Super Bowl championship T-shirts to for sale after the game. Fanatics will supply and sell generically labeled hot-market T-shirts to the NFL site only. Nike will supply on-field championship tees for brick-and-mortar retail.

“This is about speed to market and servicing fans,” said NFL licensing chief Leo Kane.

Mindful of offending licensees for which it sells products, a Fanatics spokesman said e-commerce remains the company’s primary focus, adding, “We have no desire to grow on the licensee side.” However, expansion of Super Bowl responsibilities is a testimony to the company’s growing influence.

Licensees said either Baltimore or San Francisco would generate good sales as a Super Bowl champion, though many were mindful of the sales boom generated by the MLB Giants’ recent World Series championship.

The big player stories are Colin Kaepernick and Ray Lewis. VF Licensed Sports Group President Jim Pisani said that in addition to a large collection of generic Super Bowl apparel, VF has prepared a Ray Lewis Collection and a line commemorating what would be the 49ers’ sixth Super Bowl win, which would tie them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most titles.

Lids will run the 30,000-square-foot store at the NFL Experience for the first time. Included will be shops within the shop from numerous licensees; EA Sports video game competitions; and DJs and Polynesian dancers tying with Willie Salave’a’s Style Pasifika jewelry.

A bewildering array of titles in New Orleans will sees Lids’ NFL Experience store called “NFL Shop at Super Bowl presented by Visa.” Meanwhile, the six hotel stores that will be serviced by Lids and a pop-up store in a former Hard Rock Café location will each be labeled “NFL Shop presented by Lids,” but the concessions sites within the Superdome operated by MainGate will also carry the title “NFL Shop presented by Lids.”

As with so many Super Bowl activities this year, the transition to next year’s New York/New Jersey-hosted Super Bowl is a big concern. The NFL already has an RFP out for the retail in and around next year’s contest. Even without knowing where the NFL Experience will be located, staging the NFL’s championship game in the country’s largest market smells like money to many. “Throw 4 or 5 million more people in the market than usual, and it gets pretty interesting,” said John DeWaal, Lids director of marketing.

New Era this year, on Tuesday’s Media Day, plans to introduce a 59Fifty on-field cap with a Super Bowl side patch, something it has been doing with its World Series caps since 1996. Braden Dahl, New Era’s director of NFL consumer marketing, said the brand also would have a fitting station at the NFL Experience store along with a manufacturing setup and a lounge at the Media Center.

New Orleans may be a town famous for all-day carousing, but the Super Bowl party scene will have some noticeable absences this week.

The NFL Commissioner’s Party, which started as a media gathering at the first Super Bowl and eventually gave rise to the whole party scene, is scaling back to a VIP-only event this year with thousands fewer attending. The league also is downsizing the party annually hosted by its consumer products division to a luncheon.

The NFL is not the only one scaling back, either. Penthouse is not reprising its annual Super Bowl party. A spokeswoman declined to say why.

The league offered a few explanations for the cutback of the Commissioner’s Party, which has been scaled back to 1,200 guests. Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, agreed that the number of attendees was down, but added, “There also weren’t all the other new events, parties … TV shows we’ve created. Not sure how things will be in future years.”

Teams also have opted to stage their own smaller gatherings, McCarthy said, taking advantage of New Orleans’ many hospitality options. There are also events, like the “NFL Honors” awards show and the Tailgate Party before the game. “We also factored in that there are a couple establishments in New Orleans where fans, media and business partners could celebrate,” McCarthy added.

It costs several million dollars to host a large Super Bowl party, experts said, so the cost savings to the NFL, with $9.5 billion of revenue, is insignificant in that light. But if looked at just from the event production budget of the league office, then the savings are more significant.

In terms of other traditional events, Playboy is back in full force with its annual offering, presented by Crown Royal, this Friday night at the Jackson Brewery Bistro Bar, with music by DJs Devin Lucien and Jesse Marco and a performance by B.o.B.

Maxim’s annual bash is at the Second Line Stages studio Saturday night, and it expects a crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000, said Ben Madden, president of the magazine. The party helps brand the publication, he said, “and is like a Disneyland for guys.”

DirecTV is so established in the Super Bowl party business that it purchased its own 60,000-plus-square-foot tent several years ago. This year’s seventh consecutive DirecTV Celebrity Beach Bowl Tailgate Experience will be Saturday next to Mardi Gras World, with a crowd of 4,500 expected for the daytime event. An invitation-only night party will host around the same number of people, with Justin Timberlake performing.

“Sponsorships support it and we look to put a halo around our brand, create some programming and support sponsors like MillerCoors, The Weather Channel and Lexus,” said Jon Gieselman, DirecTV senior vice president of advertising and PR.

ESPN always vies for the Super Bowl party that generates the most buzz. This year’s ESPN Next affair is Friday night inside a 50,000-square-foot tent at Tad Gormley Stadium; between 2,000 and 2,500 are expected. Sponsors include Bud Light, Coke Zero, Mercedes, Microsoft and Old Spice.

“We want our advertisers happy and to generate buzz for our brand at the center of the sports universe,” said Lauren Robinson, event marketing manager for ESPN The Magazine, who added that planning for next year’s event in New York is under way. “There aren’t many large sites available,” she said. “I’ve heard people talking about tenting portions of Central Park.”

Amid the orgy of excess that is the Super Bowl are a number of charitable events.

The Giving Back Fund’s annual Big Game Big Give party, set for Saturday night at the historic Smith House in the Garden District, is hoping to be the first benefit to raise a million dollars during a Super Bowl event. JP Morgan is presenting sponsor; tickets are $1,000 and attendance is capped at 400.

“We have a few tickets left, if a really important sponsor or philanthropist comes late,” said Giving Back Fund President Marc Pollick, “but what makes this unique is that we’re all focused on philanthropy at the biggest stage in sports.”

Moves magazine, which skipped the Super Bowl last year in Indianapolis, is back this year with a party for 2,000 at the downtown Metropolitan nightclub on Wednesday. Jay Glazer will host, and sponsors include Fuse Science, Sotheby’s and Diageo.

“We need to make our athlete audience happy,” said Scott Miller, Moves CEO and publisher. “And after not much interest from athletes and sponsors about Indianapolis last year, we’re overwhelmed.”

Activation plans for the NFL’s roster of corporate partners are nearing completion as the final day of the season approaches in New Orleans.

NFL official brewer Anheuser-Busch will continue to be a top advertiser, running 4 1/2 minutes worth of spots during CBS’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII. However, it also is doing the immersive “Bud Light Hotel” for the fourth consecutive year. From Thursday to Sunday, Bud Light will transform a 200-room downtown New Orleans hotel into a venue that will host the annual EA Madden Bowl, along with Rolling Stone’s Super Bowl party on Friday and a Stevie Wonder concert on Saturday. Around 25,000 are expected to come through the downtown hotel during the long weekend.

“We can showcase lifestyle with this for consumers and our retailers, and leverage with a Bud Light Hotel ad on ESPN, Internet, video, consumer promotions and retail displays,” said Mike Sundet, vice president, Bud Light.

Tracie Rodburg, director of sponsorship at the NFL, said every NFL corporate sponsor will be activating on the ground in New Orleans. “It’s definitely bigger than last year, because we have three additional sponsors, and incumbent sponsors using more brands,” she said.

P&G’s Tide has a presence at the Media Center and also is running a Super Bowl ad. Other NFL corporate sponsors buying airtime during the game include Pepsi, M&M’s and Doritos, while longtime sponsor DMI, the milk producer’s consortium, has an in-game ad for the first time.

Pepsi is making its largest Super Bowl bet ever, with its halftime show title sponsorship and accompanying promotions, plus activation from PepsiCo brands Gatorade, Quaker Oats and Doritos.

Among other NFL sponsors: Papa John’s is offering free pizza to fans selecting whether the pregame coin toss is heads or tails; FedEx has a lemonade stand for charity in the Media Center; GMC is title sponsor of the NFL Experience and Game Day Fan Plaza; and Verizon Wireless is staging a series of events under the “NOLA 10” banner, which ties into the city hosting its 10th Super Bowl.

Of course, the ability of the Super Bowl to cement business relationships attracts sponsors and nonsponsors alike. Reliant Energy/NRG has naming rights at the Houston Texans facility, and will be entertaining 50 clients or prospective customers in New Orleans. “People want to be a part of the Super Bowl and we create a weekend that has business value and education as well,” said company CMO Karen Jones. “Super Bowl hospitality is something that absolutely does that. We can look at last year and see that.”

In Ada, Ohio, population 5,947, a small group of fans joined roughly 47 million other people in the U.S. who combined dinner with watching the AFC Championship Game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. Ribs, chicken and pizza from Ben Roethlisberger’s nearby hometown of Findlay were served. There was Browns, Packers and Patriots regalia scattered amongst the assembled viewers, but these aren’t just NFL fans, they are fans of the actual footballs on the field.

Welcome to the annual dinner with the most tenured employees at the Wilson Sporting Goods factory in the small town of Ada, where they have made each ball used in every NFL game, including Sunday’s Super Bowl, since 1955.

Since the Super Bowl game balls must have the names of the participating teams on them, the top football artisans in Wilson’s factory, the only remaining domestic manufacturing site for a uniquely American product, gather annually on this night to watch the final championship game before swinging into production. They needed to move quickly, because the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were scheduled to receive 54 balls each last Tuesday to practice with before the game. Another 54 were shipped the following day. After more than a week of breaking them in, they will turn over half of that lot to the league for use in the game.

Meanwhile, a dozen “K Balls,” for kickoffs and extra points, will be shipped directly to the game’s officiating crew. Then there is the considerable matter of the roughly 10,000 additional Super Bowl

“game balls” with the team names that will be manufactured here over the next few weeks for retail sales and giveaways to Super Bowl VIPs.

“We have competitors who claim they do all the same things, but they don’t have what we have here,” said Kevin Murphy, Wilson’s general manager of football, gesturing toward a factory floor full of equipment manufactured by Wilson for its own use and manned by manufacturers in America’s heartland with an average tenure of more than 20

years. So while New Orleans has the spotlight this week as it hosts its 10th Super Bowl, once Baltimore was through beating New England at roughly 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 20, Ada was the center of the NFL universe, at least for a short while.

“We all get to be part of the biggest sporting event of the year, every year,” said factory manager Dan Riegle, a Wilson employee for 31 years. “That doesn’t get old.”

Wilson employees select materials and assemble footballs by hand.
Wilson’s league roots are ancient, at least by NFL standards. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of Bears patriarch George Halas for the fellow Chicago-based company, Wilson has been the league’s official ball since 1941, easily making it the longest-standing licensee. In fact, only eight current NFL franchises predate Wilson’s relationship with the NFL, and while it is difficult to be definitive, many consider the ball manufacturer to be the NFL’s longest-standing business partner.

“It’s all about consistency,” said Riegle, a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan. “If a guy kicks a record field goal, we want it to be with the same ball as the one that set the [original] record.”

Jane Helser lives three blocks from the factory in Ada and has been sewing here for 47 years. She came to Wilson for a job just after high school because her sister and brother-in-law worked here and she needed more money to support her car payments than her bakery job was providing. After nearly five decades of sewing Wilson footballs, her fingers are slightly twisted and some are bandaged, bringing to mind the gnarled and taped hands of an NFL lineman. When she’s doing her piecework, those hands respond with the precision of a concert pianist, especially when completing the last stitches that close the football. They aren’t all NFL game-quality, but this is a factory that produces more than 700,000 footballs annually and most of them pass through her hands.

“There are other jobs in the factory that would be easier, but to me, they would be boring,” said Helser, who had occasion to discuss her craft with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “and it’s still quite an honor to be part of all this.”

The air is choking with the scent of leather as Riegle leans over around 20 square feet of
hide from cattle in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas to show where the product starts. “Basically, this is the side of one cow,” he explains. Under ideal circumstances, that “cowside” will yield around 10 Super Bowl game footballs with the suggested retail price of $130 each. The underside of the leather is “shaved,” cut into panels and stamped with, among other things, the names of the competing teams and the commissioner’s signature. A football is composed of four of these panels — two have holes cut in them for the laces. Like most
clothing, football seams need to be on the inside, so the balls are sewn inside out, with the white underbelly of the panels showing until late in the process.

After the panels are sewn together, the embryonic footballs are placed in a “steam box” to soften them. Then, a “turner” performs the delicate and complex procedure of wrestling the football “carcass” right side out onto a metal pole. Now it looks like a football for the first time. A “bladder” — the inside part that is inflated with air — is added and the ball is stitched closed by Helser. Laces are energetically stitched on, and then the balls are put into molds and subjected to 100 pounds of air pressure to assure the proper contour.

The footballs are weighed and inspected for quality control. Employees have developed their instincts enough that they usually can tell

At Wilson’s Ada, Ohio, factory, experienced workers such as Jane Helser (second from top) produce more than 700,000 footballs a year. A few of them are shipped out to become Super Bowl game balls.
even without weighing them whether a ball will fit the most exacting standards of a game ball, which must weigh between 14 and 15 ounces. All balls get inspected and weighed. Those with bad seams or ones that are off-weight are thrown in the retail sales bin. Footballs aren’t made one at a time, so it’s tough to say exactly how long it takes to make one, but the best guess within the factory is that a single ball takes between 30 and 40 minutes to complete.

Wilson’s football business is less than 10 percent of overall revenue for the broad-based sports equipment marketer, but in terms of branding and image, the NFL’s value is incalculable. “The NFL is the most visible and important [property] relationship we have,” Murphy said.

Again this year, Wilson will replicate the production line as part of its presence at the NFL Experience. Even in a digital age, sports fans are inevitably drawn to the authentic, so the sight of Ada’s transported football factory making the ultimate endemic football product usually attracts crowds larger than anything else at the NFL Experience.

Wilson will re-create the factory production line as part of its presence at the NFL Experience again this year. It attracts some of the largest crowds at the fan festival.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“Wilson footballs are handmade, and by contract, they have to be made in America,” said NFL consumer products chief Leo Kane. “Those are two things you don’t see much of anymore. And obviously, it’s something at the center of our game from our oldest licensee, so it’s become a real attraction, something fathers show their sons.”

At 11 p.m., less than 90 minutes after the Ravens’ victory, the first football with the names of the competing teams is completed. It’s held aloft with the joy of a newborn being shown off to its family. The Sunday crew cleared out around 12:30 a.m., and the 5 a.m. shift on Monday had the factory going full-bore. Boxes began to fill with footballs for the Ravens and 49ers, which were shipped overnight to the teams.

“Everybody knows the Super Bowl all over the world, and it’s all about the players,” said Helser, wearing a Wilson “More Super Bowl” T-shirt. “We know that, but we also know that if they didn’t have our footballs, they couldn’t play.”