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Volume 21 No. 2

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Quick. What is the Roman numeral for 50?


With NFL owners scheduled to vote this week on the host site for the 50th Super Bowl, it may be time to brush up on ancient Rome’s numbers. Just ask the mayor of San Francisco.

Fans seem to like the Roman numerals, though fewer seem to be able to understand them.
“When you look at the name Levi’s Stadium … they started out with the first two letters [L and E] close to my name,” said Mayor Edwin Lee, speaking earlier this month at the unveiling of Levi Strauss’ naming-rights deal for the new 49ers stadium — and amusingly trying to underscore how the deal makes perfect sense. “Daniel Lurie [chairman of the local Super Bowl bid committee] must have stuck his head into the negotiating room and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a bid going for 50 and 51, Super Bowl.’ So therefore you see the V and VI; that’s 50 and 51.”

Levi’s Stadium is likely to win that owners vote to host the iconic 50th Super Bowl (with Houston expected to get the nod for 51). But as Roman numerologists would attest, it has nothing to do with the name Levi’s. Super Bowl V was the fifth Super Bowl; the 50th will be Super Bowl L, to answer the question above.

Logo legacy

Super Bowl logos through the years became more elaborate and picked up a look reflective of each year’s host city — until 2011, when the league unveiled a more uniform look.













But does Mayor Lee’s comment reflect a larger consideration as the NFL moves closer to a planned celebratory blitz for that benchmark 2016 game?

How many fans know what L is in Roman numerals, or for that matter LI (51)? And do they care? And would the impact of hitting such a major milestone be stronger by using traditional numbers?

“Almost no one can understand Roman numerals,” said Tom Geismar, partner in branding firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. “I gave an assignment for a 50th anniversary [logo] of an arts school. [One of the students] came up with an L, but no one [in the class] knew it. … People don’t recognize it.”

An NFL spokesman, asked about the “L” and any potential issues with its recognition, replied in an email, “So fans won’t watch the Super Bowl b/c of the L?” He did not respond for further comment.

And clearly, he’s right. It’s a stretch to fathom that interest in the Super Bowl is because of (or despite) how the games are numbered. But why the Roman numerals in the first place? And why keep going beyond the more familiar I, V and X markings, especially when the number 50 could be more impactful?

“[Roman numerals are] visually striking, whether it’s an X, a V or an I,” said Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer of WPP branding firm Landor Associates, which designed the Super Bowl logo that has been in use since 2011. “Roman numerals carry prestige; they have a timelessness to them.”

In any event, Roth added, when the NFL’s marketing blitz leading up to the 50th game is complete, “People around the world will know L means 50.”

Clark Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and whose father, Lamar Hunt, thought up the use of Roman numerals to designate each Super Bowl, added, “There is always a learning curve each year with the numbers.”

The NFL in recent years has been imbuing even more meaning into those numerals, too. At the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis and again at this year’s game in New Orleans, the league and host city orchestrated a major unveiling of massive Roman numerals on the Thursday before the game.

This February in New York, the league plans a curtain opening in Times Square for this year’s numerals, XLVIII, as part of the week leading up to the game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The NFL is alone among the four major sports leagues to designate its championship games in numeric sequence. The World Series, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Final incorporate the year into their annual monikers.

Lamar Hunt
Clark Hunt said his father, who died in 2006, came up with the Roman numerals idea after attending an Olympic Games, which also employ the numbers of ancient Rome. Asked if he thought there would ever have been a time his father might want to see the league cease counting Super Bowls by Roman numerals, Hunt said no.

“He thought it would become a tradition,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t make sense to drop the numbers.”

And most fans agree. Only 8 percent of more than 1,700 fans polled recently for SportsBusiness Journal said the league should drop the use of Roman numerals (see chart).

Landor’s Roth said the real issue for the league is how to handle the stand-alone numeral that will appear in the Super Bowl logo for that 50th game. Not since Super Bowl X (10) and not again until 2066, when Super Bowl C (100) would be scheduled, has or will the NFL see a single numeral in the Super Bowl logo.

Prior to 2011, there was a different logo for each year’s Super Bowl, but seeking consonance and elegance, the league adopted a uniform logo at that time. The gray and black mark now used features the Lombardi trophy stretching above a silhouette of the host stadium and the name “Super Bowl,” all resting on the Roman numeral for the particular year’s game.

For the 50th game, having just an L underneath the stadium, trophy and Super Bowl name could offer an unsturdy image.

“Looking at L alone on a page, it looks a little different, a little odd,” said Roth. “How the L holds up in the design will be interesting to see.”

The NFL to date has not approached Landor to redesign the 50th Super Bowl logo, Roth added.

However the league handles the L in branding, the Roman numerals are clearly here to stay and are part of the NFL’s legacy.

Hunt recently was sifting through old letters of his father’s and came upon one sent to him in February 1985. The hand-written correspondence came from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle. In the letter, he thanked Hunt for his epiphany in thinking of the Roman numerals, among his other contributions to the league. Asked where he keeps the letter today, Clark Hunt replied he no longer has it.

It’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The WNBA is counting on a trio of players it’s calling the “3 to See” to help it rebound from record low attendance last year — even though the three have yet to see their first regular-season games.

Rookies Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins are at the heart of the league’s marketing efforts for the 2013 season, which begins on Friday night. A new TV deal, a refreshed brand image and some renewed sponsor interest also mark the start of the new WNBA season, the league’s 17th year.

The league will tout (from left) Skylar Diggins, Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner.
Last year, the WNBA averaged 7,457 fans per game in a season that was divided by a monthlong Olympic break. That was down 6 percent from 2011 and was below the league’s previous low average of 7,479, set in 2006.

With a return to the league’s conventional May-to-September full season this year, league executives are expecting attendance to improve. In addition, through May 14, the league had seen 2 percent growth in full-season-ticket sales and a 5 percent increase in its season-ticket renewal rate compared with last year, according to league officials. Specific marks were not available.

Griner (Phoenix), Delle Donne (Chicago) and Diggins (Tulsa) were the first three players selected in last month’s draft. The league is hoping the success and visibility they had at the college level — Griner at Baylor, Delle Donne at Delaware and Diggins at Notre Dame — carries over to the pro level. The “3 to See” promotional efforts began at last month’s draft, with video and player stories across all platforms on league media partner ESPN. The marketing of the players won’t come from only their franchises — WNBA teams across the league have created ticket packages built around games featuring Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins.

“There are lots of innovative partial packages that leverage the ‘3 to See,’” said WNBA President Laurel Richie, who begins her third season leading the league. “We are seeing a lot of creativity around the three and beyond.”

The WNBA also is pointing to its offseason “brand refresh” effort that created a new league logo with orange and oatmeal colors and features a player shooting at the basket. It replaces the league’s former red, white and blue logo featuring a player dribbling a basketball.

“The brand refresh is all about making sure how we represent ourselves as a league is in line with the athleticism and diversity of our players,” Richie said.

ESPN is primed for a boost in the league’s profile. The network in March announced that it had signed a six-year extension running through the 2022 season. The value of the deal averages about $12 million per season, bringing each WNBA franchise about $1 million in television revenue annually. The deal also increases the number of ESPN network games to 30 from 28 and this year includes a Memorial Day doubleheader on ESPN2 that will be the WNBA’s version of the popular NBA Christmas Day game schedule. Those Memorial Day games will include the teams with the top four draft picks — so the league and network will be able to highlight Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins.

While the Memorial Day doubleheader currently is set for only this year, Richie said talks are under way for similar scheduling for next season.

The WNBA last season averaged 359,000 viewers a game during the regular season on ESPN, 180,000 viewers on ESPN2 and 804,000 viewers on ABC.

“[The ESPN deal] became a catalyst in thinking about our business and what we can do to take it to the next level,” Richie said. “Things like our draft being televised in prime time for the first time [this year] and kicking off our season with a doubleheader featuring our top draft picks. We are in discussion about a whole host of things. There is a shared desire to bring fans closer to the game. We are giving fans an opportunity to get to know our players on and off the court. That will be an important part of our future.”

Since selecting Griner with the top overall pick in the draft, Phoenix has seen combined full- and partial-season-ticket sales climb nearly 40 percent through May 14 compared with all of last season. The Mercury also has seen a 33 percent increase in group-ticket sales, and team officials say the club is on pace for a record revenue-generating season.

“Coming into the draft, we knew the impact would be big, but none of us knew how big,” said Mercury Chief Operating Officer Amber Cox. “A lot of people who have sampled us in the past are coming back, and interest outside our normal fan base has been phenomenal.”

In Chicago, the Sky last season averaged 5,573 fans per game at Allstate Arena, 10th in the 12-team league. Chicago this year expects to average 6,000 fans per game.

“We are tracking ahead of last year and we are on track in meeting our revenue goal,” said Sky President Adam Fox. “The growth has been in our groups and small-ticket-package sales.”

Officials at the Shock, who last year ranked last in the league in attendance with an average of 5,203 fans per game, said single-game ticket sales and sponsorship sales have increased but would not disclose specifics. The Shock this year for the first time will use dynamic ticket pricing as they look to leverage Diggins’ star power. A total of six of the 12 WNBA teams this year will use dynamic or variable pricing.

“There is a lot of curiosity and interest around her, and more people are talking about us,” said Shock President Steve Swetoha.

The Shock this season also becomes the sixth WNBA team to have a jersey sponsor, as the Osage Casino begins its first season as the team’s marquee sponsor. The other teams with jersey deals are Indiana (Finish Line), Los Angeles (Farmers Insurance), Phoenix (LifeLock), Seattle (Bing) and Washington (Inova Health System).

On the sponsorship front leaguewide, the WNBA this past offseason signed State Farm to a leaguewide agreement, and WNBA officials say the league is working to bring back former partner Procter & Gamble, which previously was a sponsor from 2003-05

“They have been a partner in the past, and right now we are back in discussions with them and hope they will be joining us this season,” Richie said.

Officials from P&G were unavailable for comment.

State Farm was the presenting sponsor of this spring’s WNBA draft and will be the halftime show presenting sponsor for all nationally televised games on ABC and ESPN2. It also will be the presenting sponsor for the monthly WNBA Community Assist Award.

State Farm, which has been a sponsor of the NBA since 2010, has had team deals in the WNBA before its signing as the league’s 15th marketing partner.