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Volume 20 No. 41

Leagues and Governing Bodies

With more questions than answers surrounding the Super Bowl being played outdoors in a cold-weather climate next February, one thing is for certain: The NFL will have an extensive contingency plan in place to account for bad weather.

The league is considering various options that include the possibility of delaying the contest several days in the event of a weather emergency on game day. The league even could decide to play the game on Saturday if faced with an ominous forecast, sources said.

The NFL’s contigency plans leave open the possibility of rescheduling the game if a blizzard hits New York.
While contingency plans are in place for all events of this magnitude, the New York/New Jersey setting offers new challenges for the NFL. It is not a typical snowstorm that concerns the league but rather a weather crisis like a nor’easter, something that is capable of shutting down the city.

“We have to look at all the angles: storm arriving day-of-game, storm arriving prior to game, storm arriving after game,” one source said.

If the game, set for Feb. 2, has to be rescheduled, a host of complications would arise. For example, if the game were played later than on Sunday, fans would have to reschedule flights, something that would become especially problematic considering potential airport closings. Hotel accommodations also would come into play, as fans would need to extend their stays.

Similar problems would occur if the game is moved to Saturday, since some ticket holders do not arrive until the day of game.

“You know it will be a lot cooler, but there will be a lot of people and transportation issues regardless,” said Jeff Miller, NFL vice president of security. “When you have a lot of moving parts and large crowds, you are moving on transportation systems already overloaded with daily commuters, so you’ve got some issues to deal with.”

While New Orleans returned to the Super Bowl rotation with its game earlier this month, the talk among industry executives during the week was of next February, with an eye on New York and a focus on the uncertainties of staging such a large event in a potentially frigid city. The league has held Super Bowls in cold weather climates before, but always in stadiums with roofs.

The league was especially fortunate last year in Indianapolis, where mild temperatures held steady through the week.
But next year’s game is seen as the test case for future cold-weather-climate Super Bowls. Most are bracing for what is expected to be unparalleled interest.

The league is prepared for significant demand for tickets and hospitality, with some veteran sponsors predicting record-high prices for both.

“The challenge I see is that the stadium is only so big and demand is far going to exceed availability,” said Dave Wintergrass, the NFL’s senior director of events.

Wintergrass directs NFL On Location, which sells on-site Super Bowl hospitality packages ranging from $3,949 to $8,849 per person. “We had requests to leave deposits since last October.”

Media presence during Super Bowl week also is expected to be greater than normal, especially since all of the major broadcasting companies have extensive studio space in and around Manhattan. The increased broadcast attention will follow from what happened this year in New Orleans, where CBS essentially took over Jackson Square,­ a popular landmark in New Orleans.

“We will still have a presence in New York, but we don’t know what that will be yet,” said David Berson, executive vice president of CBS Sports and president of CBS Sports Network. “We envision it will be a different approach from this year, when it’s our game.”

Fox Sports, which holds the rights to next year’s Super Bowl, was mum on its plans for New York, mainly because it still hasn’t officially announced its plans to launch the all-sports channel Fox Sports 1 in August.

Fox has identified the New York Super Bowl as a big opportunity to build the Fox Sports 1 brand and is planning to carry several New York-based events in the run-up to the game, including college basketball games, a U.S. women’s national soccer team game from Yankee Stadium and a UFC event from the Prudential Center.

Much like CBS Sports this year, Fox Sports will have an extensive set for Fox Sports 1, most likely on or near Super Bowl Boulevard, which will run along Broadway from 34th to 44th streets (see related story, Page 1). Plus, it plans to share talent between the broadcast network and the cable channel and will use Fox News’ studios liberally.

In years past, ESPN virtually owned Super Bowl week, carrying out its motto that it owns everything around the Super Bowl but the game. ESPN has always built the biggest sets and produced the most TV hours around the game.

Once NFL Network launched, the two channels shared the market. Now, the NFL’s other TV partners, and their all-sports cable channels,­ are taking part, too.

ESPN hasn’t made its decisions about New York yet but has been looking for locations that combine a good backdrop of the city with heavy foot traffic.

It’s the size and everyday clutter of New York that dominated conversations in New Orleans, as concerned marketers stressed it will make social, digital and street marketing efforts much more important.

“The Super Bowl is always a noisy marketing environment, as is New York,” said Alex Craddock, head of Visa North America marketing. “We think that will be tempered by more people interacting with a Super Bowl city than ever. All of our programs have a social component now, so we’ll ratchet that up to a level that fits both New York and the Super Bowl.”

It’s not just New York’s cluttered marketing environment that will be difficult, marketers say. It will be figuring out how to activate with fans in the market, as well.

“We are more concerned about the logistics of it all than the marketing,” said Carolyn Eckert, sponsorship, promotions and creative services manager at NFL sponsor Castrol. “I can’t see anyone doing grand scale efforts [outside]. We’re going to have to rethink our activation with fans. You can’t really put big build-outs on the street; New York City won’t allow that. So I think it gets down to more street marketing teams, social media, along with customer-engagement events.”

Even top hospitality companies aren’t quite sure what to expect, though they are confident sales will be big.

“Demand will be there. It already is,” said Keith Bruce, whose SportsMark runs NFL House and was executing Super Bowl hospitality in New Orleans for 10 clients, including Visa and CBS. “Operationally, it’s going to be very difficult … because a lot of people won’t want to sit outside.”

The NHRA ended four years of declining revenue last year and generated a modest profit of approximately $1 million.

The profit put the organization in the black for the first time since 2008. It saw its revenue decrease by more than 20 percent following the recession, and it lost $3.4 million in 2011 when revenue fell below $100 million, its most recent tax filings show.

NHRA President Tom Compton characterized 2011 as a “tough year,” but said that last year was “a huge improvement.”
“We were still facing economic challenges, but we made money in 2012,” Compton said. “We were back in the black.”

The organization’s bottom line got a boost from a new race it added in St. Louis, an increase in attendance and several major sponsorship renewals, including deals with series title sponsors Lucas Oil and Coca-Cola. It also continued to manage costs by laying off some personnel and controlling its travel expenses.

Compton said he expects this season, which begins Thursday in Pomona, Calif., to build on last year. Several tracks are reporting advanced ticket sales, and the series is adding a race in Epping, N.H., which will bring it into New England for the first time in more than a decade.

In addition, the NHRA plans to offer its first live broadcast of qualifying. ESPN, which broadcasts drag races, will cut into second-round coverage of qualifying during the NHRA’s race in Houston this April.

The NHRA expects the year to deliver a feature film on drag racing. Rhino Films is expected to release “Snake and Mongoose,” a feature-length movie about the 1960s rivalry between Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. The movie stars Jesse Williams of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The organization also expects a bump from promotion of its new title sponsor.

The NHRA’s 2011 tax document, which was filed late last year, shows that the organization’s total revenue decreased 6 percent from the prior year to $98.2 million. Admissions revenue fell 8 percent to $38.7 million and sponsorship fell 5 percent to $37.6 million. Expenses decreased by 3 percent to $104.4 million, and the organization finished with a deficit of $3.4 million.

The WTA Tour is reviewing whether changes to its medical timeout procedures are necessary in the wake of the controversy engendered by world No. 1 player Victoria Azarenka and her stoppage at a pivotal moment of her Australian Open semifinal victory.

Azarenka went on to win the tournament, but the semifinal incident drew sharp and immediate criticism in the media and has been viewed by many as a black eye for the sport.

Azarenka’s timeout came as American teenager Sloane Stephens was attempting to rally late in the match. While players are allowed medical timeouts, the issue of players taking timeouts for strategic, rather than medical, reasons long has been viewed as a problem in tennis.

Azarenka did not mention an injury as the reason for the 10-minute stoppage when she was interviewed immediately after the match, but she did later cite a rib injury as the reason for leaving the court.

WTA Tour CEO Stacey Allaster said she has instructed her staff to look at the issue for the sport. The tour already penalizes players financially for taking more than six medical timeouts in a year. It is too early to say, Allaster said, whether more changes are necessary, such as a point penalty for a timeout as is done in the college ranks.

The ATP, in a statement, said, “We’re confident the WTA would liaise with the ATP Medical Services Department if they have any changes/recommendations going forward on the rule on medical timeouts, or the application of the rule. Whilst we’re always looking at ways to improve, we would not have anything further to comment at this stage.”

Any changes the WTA or ATP were to make would not affect the four Grand Slam events, which are individually owned and managed by their respective national governing bodies or, in the case of Wimbledon, a private club.

Among the observers who criticized Azarenka’s timeout were ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe, who tweeted, “So let me get this straight. She had a lot of nerves and that’s why she left the court. Unbelievable.” A New York Times story on the incident was headlined, “A Timeout Jeered Round the World.”