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Volume 21 No. 2
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With NFL Kickoff, league builds its bookend

The NFL’s annual kickoff celebration has become a mini-national holiday in just 12 years, since its inaugural event in Times Square in 2002.

This year, even with the Baltimore Orioles refusing to relinquish a home date so that their neighboring Ravens could host the NFL opener, there’s still enough interest to hold a season-opening NFL Kickoff celebration in the hometown of the Super Bowl champs — even though the Ravens will be playing 1,700 miles away in Denver.

The NFL’s season-opening push includes a celebration in Baltimore and a fashion show of women’s licensed apparel in Manhattan.
Similarly, the league’s Back to Football effort showcasing the start of the season has grown in size and stature since its 2010 launch.

While no advertiser is confusing NBC’s opening telecast of Ravens-Broncos

with a Super Bowl telecast, marketers are realizing the opportunity. Bud Light, Microsoft, Pepsi, Verizon and Visa are among the league’s partners launching NFL-themed national TV ads. Overall, 12 league sponsors are launching NFL-themed creative for opening week.

“Kickoff will never be the Super Bowl, but it’s become a powerful bookend for the season,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL vice president of fan strategy and marketing. “When you look at how so many of our partners [are] using it, Kickoff has become another place for those associated with the NFL to be seen.”

Echoed John Brody, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and media sales, “For our sponsors, it’s become a creative beachhead. Super Bowl is a national holiday, and we’re slowly building another for Kickoff. We’ve got three different P&G brands [Tide, Old Spice and Gillette] launching NFL campaigns.”

Along with activation, Brody said that revenue related to NFL Kickoff was up.

Pepsi, which will end the season as sponsor of the halftime musical performance at the Super Bowl, helps begin the season in Baltimore with an amalgam of music and football. The festivities in Baltimore end Thursday with a Keith Urban concert on a floating stage in the city’s Inner Harbor.

Three days of events start Tuesday and include a 5K Back to Football run; a Verizon-sponsored flag football game; a Play 60 Youth Football Festival; the debut of NFL Films’ “America’s Game: Baltimore Ravens” film; a community improvement project; and a two-day sponsor activation zone in which 15 league partners will participate, up from 12 last year in New York’s Times Square.

Cowboys, Kaepernick lead
the way in offseason sales

For those looking for new NFL licensing trends, Fanatics, which administers e-commerce for the league along with 12 teams, notes that on its own site, top-selling teams during the offseason (April 1-Aug. 26) were the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, while the top-selling players were Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt. 

The strong finish last year by the Seattle Seahawks propelled them to a 450 percent increase in offseason sales on

— Terry Lefton

Consumer products also will be involved, as NFL Shop at Kickoff in Baltimore sees New Era promoting its fitted cap offerings. But there will be no traditional retail at the sponsor activation area. Those fans wanting to purchase caps will be directed to by clerks using tablets from new NFL sponsor Microsoft.

NFL consumer products chief Leo Kane said that with two versions of EA’s “NFL Madden” being released this season, continued strength from second-year on-field licensees Nike and New Era, and demand for licensed domestic “homegating” products seemingly unabated, he’s projecting “solid, single-digit growth” for the NFL’s licensing business.

As part of its women’s initiative, the league is staging a women’s licensed NFL apparel fashion show in Manhattan, working with Vogue. It will again run institutional ads featuring licensed garb for women and, for the first time, those ads will run during games.

However, the opportunity presented by a Super Bowl in New York may be the biggest focus this season, with the NFL looking to push product into every level of retail in and around the city. Licensed Super Bowl merchandise has already been available for months at most traditional sports, including airports.

“That should be a huge multiple from any Super Bowl,” Kane said.