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Volume 20 No. 42

Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL TV analyst Cris Collinsworth has signed a rare endorsement deal, under which he will become the face of Western & Southern Financial Group later this year, as the 125-year-old financial services giant mounts a national ad campaign for the first time.

Fortune 500-ranked Western & Southern is based in Cincinnati, where Collinsworth played for the Bengals for eight seasons. He also was born in Ohio and earned a law degree at the University of Cincinnati.

“His reputation for smarts and trustworthiness make him right for a financial services brand, and obviously he has deep connections in Ohio, so it just makes a lot of sense as Western & Southern looks to generate more of a national identity,” said Steve Rosner, a principal at 16W Marketing, which represents Collinsworth.

The campaign from Cincinnati ad agency Northlich will include two to three TV ads, along with print and digital support. The ad buy is still being planned.

Western & Southern, which has asset management and insurance as its principal business lines, has been a longtime title sponsor of the August U.S. Open Series event in Cincinnati, on which the ads may break. Collinsworth’s other commercial affiliations have been with DirecTV and FedEx.

The quest to find a 13-race primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car continues at Hendrick Motorsports.

The team has reconfigured the primary sponsorship plans on the car, allowing it to bump the first unsponsored race back from early this summer to July. The first race it doesn’t have a sponsor for Earnhardt will be July 14 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, or in about six weeks.

The July 14 New Hampshire race is first for which the No. 88 car does not have a primary sponsor.
Pat Perkins, Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of marketing, said the team is optimistic it will find a sponsor between now and then.

“We’re feeling good,” Perkins said. “We’ve had a lot of stops and starts this year, but I’m optimistic. We’re working on a couple of things right now with the potential to bring a program to life this year and extend it into the future.”

The deeper Hendrick Motorsports goes into the season without a sponsor, the more difficult it will become to land one. Most brands finalize their marketing budgets in the third and fourth quarter of the preceding year, and finding a brand that can free up marketing dollars after the year has begun can be tough.

“With an icon like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the marketing power he brings to the table, all it takes is one interested party, so the negotiation shouldn’t take too long,” said Ken Cohn, chief operating officer at Breaking Limits, a motorsports marketing agency that works with General Mills.

“But if they’re looking for a brand that will kick off the partnership in July, they may need a brand with a fiscal that is a July 1 start rather than a calendar year start. What seems like a challenge today could become an opportunity for them because it’s timed to the start of a whole new year.”

But Perkins remains encouraged about the team’s prospects and added that they have no plans to cut the price of sponsoring Earnhardt. Industry sources have pegged the price at more than $800,000 per race, which would make the 13-race package worth more than $10 million.

“We maintain price integrity,” Perkins said. “We have to be respectful of the organization and our partners. We’ve got a high-powered brand, not just Dale but all of our drivers, and we want to respect that.”

Major League Baseball corporate sponsor Chevrolet has added title sponsorship of the league’s Home Run Derby to its collection of baseball marketing assets.

Prince Fielder won last year’s event, the final edition sponsored by State Farm.
The General Motors brand has been an MLB sponsor since 2005.

Chevy has been aggressive with on-street test-drive promotions in and around MLB All-Star Game cities in recent years, which seems less likely in the congested New York City market, home of this year’s All-Star event. The addition of the Home Run Derby expands Chevy’s MLB All-Star Game rights, which already encompass sponsorships of  the annual Red Carpet Parade of players on MLB Network and the MLB All-Star Game MVP Award, the Fox pregame, and ads in the game telecast.

Beyond the media buy, activation plans are incomplete.

Chevrolet is sponsoring the Home Run Derby only for 2013. For the past six years, State Farm had titled the Home Run Derby, which is held annually the night before the league’s annual All-Star Game. The event is televised on ESPN and generally achieves a respectable TV rating during the summertime, when that is not an easy feat.

Last year’s Home Run Derby, won by Prince Fielder, posted a 4.1 rating and 6.9 million viewers on ESPN, up slightly from the prior year.

MLB had again targeted the insurance category in an attempt to find a sponsor for its Home Run Derby but was unable to come to terms with brands that included Geico, already a big buyer of MLB media, and USAA.

The NFL’s new five-year, $400 million technology and sponsorship deal with Microsoft, announced last week as part of the introduction of the forthcoming Xbox One gaming and home entertainment console, is the most extensive in league history in terms of its breadth and depth of execution.

News of the NFL deal came with the unveiling of the Xbox One console last week.
Several prior NFL deals exceed the Microsoft pact in raw dollars, including pacts with Anheuser-Busch, Verizon and Pepsi. But none before has blended on-field technology, media-related assets, player health and safety, and traditional branding in the way this latest deal does. While the Verizon deal, signed three years ago, opened a new realm for the NFL blending sponsorship and media assets, the Microsoft alignment takes that concept to a far greater degree by also including technology and on-field operations.

“Every facet of our business and many of our business partners were involved,” said John Brody, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and media sales. “There’s a lot more work to do. You won’t see everything from our opening kickoff. This relationship will evolve over time.”

The deal will include tablets on the sidelines for the first time, likely in time for the 2014 season, replacing the Polaroid instant photos used for years; interactive TV elements such as fantasy football integration, Skype video calls and game highlights; branding for Microsoft Surface tablets on instant replay booths; and data analysis on player injuries, among many other elements. The deal, notably, does not include the league’s vacant and lucrative headset category.

But the agreement is so broad and open-ended in terms of its potential touch points that executives for both the NFL and Microsoft could not itemize every element of it, or outline specific timetables for their public introduction.

“Using the combined assets we have to make the stadium experience great, to make the in-home experience great, that’s what our opportunity is,” Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, said last week during the Xbox One reveal event in Redmond, Wash.

The NFL deal also extends a recent run of sports-related dealmaking for Microsoft that includes a deal with Major League Soccer focused on the Windows 8 brand, and an expanded relationship with EA Sports in which the game publisher will produce four of its key titles for Xbox One and provide exclusive content from its “FIFA” soccer series.

NFL teams will still be allowed to use rival technology brands on the sidelines, such as coaches and doctors using Apple iPads. But the logos for Apple or any Microsoft rival will be covered. Lenovo, another NFL sponsor, also produces convertible tablet computers, creating a potential overlap with Microsoft. But Brody said he did not see a category conflict.

“We think there’s enough eyeballs and opportunity for our partners to activate,” he said. “We have a lot of partners in the technology space, because that’s where our fans are. Sports follows life that way.”