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Volume 22 No. 44
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McDonald’s scores a touchdown on return

McDonald’s recent return to the NFL’s sponsorship portfolio was highlighted by activations targeting both children and smartphone-wielding adults. The outcome, according to the results of the eighth annual NFL sponsor awareness survey conducted by Turnkey Intelligence for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily: More NFL fans correctly identified McDonald’s as the league’s official quick-service restaurant than the number of fans who thought, incorrectly, that Subway had those category rights. It’s the first time since 2009 that Subway has not finished on top.

Previously a league sponsor from 1994-97, McDonald’s signed its current multiyear agreement with the league near the end of the 2012 season. Its prime resulting activation came with the start of the 2013 season. The company introduced its first sports-themed Happy Meal premium promotion last fall, aligning with the “NFL Rush Zone” animated show on Nickelodeon. Customers who bought a Happy Meal at any of McDonald’s more than 14,000 U.S. locations received one of the 32 NFL Rushers figurines that are featured on the show, each bearing a different NFL team logo.

NFL Rushers figurines were included with McDonald’s first sports-themed Happy Meals.
At the same time, in an effort to target older fans, McDonald’s coordinated the release of its new Mighty Wings product with the league’s debut of its “NFL Runner: Football Dash” app. The app lets fans become a character in a game, picking a team and competing against other NFL clubs. The McDonald’s and Mighty Wings logos are incorporated into the game, and the Mighty Wings packaging at select restaurants included codes that customers could scan and use to collect “power-ups” in the game.

David Healy, director of the media strategy and business development group at NFL Media, noted the sponsor’s pairing of a consumer purchase of one of its products with a league-controlled digital offering. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick appeared in a TV spot at the beginning of the season promoting the Mighty Wings launch, as well. All together, the efforts culminated in McDonald’s surging to the top of the QSR category in this year’s fan loyalty survey.

For its part, Subway has never been an official NFL league-level sponsor but has built a deep NFL portfolio that includes Seattle and Cleveland as sponsored teams, and Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Justin Tuck and Jarvis Jones among the player endorsers who are featured in the brand’s high-volume TV ad efforts.

Pepsi’s recognition level with casual fans continues to rise.
Among other brands noted in the survey:

Pepsi, the league’s official soda since 2002, has seen its awareness level among casual fans increase for five straight seasons and has seen its mind share among all fans surveyed increase by 10 percentage points over that span. Rival Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has experienced a drop of 14 percentage points during the same time period.

Pepsi touted its role as the Super Bowl halftime show sponsor in the month leading up to the game by staging spontaneous faux-halftime performances at various places throughout the country, such as when Foreigner showed up at a Secaucus, N.J., Buffalo Wild Wings location (another NFL partner), and country star Lee Brice stopped by Milligan, Neb., (population 275) to perform on a few hours’ notice. “In essence, we took our 12 1/2 minutes of our sponsored Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show and extended it into a monthlong engagement campaign focused on the fan experience,” said Zach Harris, director of sports marketing at Pepsi.

For the first time in the eight-year history of the study, General Motors was not the automaker most likely to be selected by fans. GM has been an official NFL sponsor since 2001 and promotes its GMC brand through the league. The survey was fielded two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, and GMC’s presence on Super Bowl Boulevard, particularly the eight-lane Toboggan Run Engineered by GMC, received extensive media coverage. Still, GM was topped by Ford, which teamed with the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a nationwide seasonlong promotion, with a grand prize winner receiving a 2014 F-150 (estimated value, according to the company: $50,000) and a weekend trip to the hall’s enshrinement festivities in August (valued at $6,500).

Mike Levine, truck communications manager at Ford Motor Co., said the company hosted interactive events across all 17 stadiums where it had sponsorships in 2013, “including AT&T Stadium [Dallas] and Reliant Stadium [Houston], both located in Texas, the nation’s largest truck market,” he said.

Gatorade was correctly identified as a league sponsor by more than 53 percent of all NFL fans, tops among brands in the survey. Still, that score is down from 71.5 percent in our inaugural study following the 2006 season.


For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.

The 2014 survey was conducted Jan. 16-20, a period that coincided with the AFC/NFC championship games and is comparable to the time periods for the 2013 and 2012 surveys.

Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their general avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NFL?”, claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season,” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season,” and “have a favorite team.”

When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Turnkey Intelligence performs research for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. The NFL and several of its teams are among the company’s clients.


Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an NFL sponsor's product/service if they are aware of the relationship?

To read: 27 percent of NFL fans said they would be more likely to consider using a hotel that is the league's official hotel sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 47 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that Marriott is the NFL's official hotel.

Hotel (Marriott) 27% 47% +20 pct. points
Quick-service restaurant (McDonald's) 30% 47% +17 pct. points
Shipping services (FedEx) 37% 38% +11 pct. points
Credit card (Visa) 25% 35% +10 pct. points
Wireless service provider (Verizon) 24% 34% +10 pct. points
Soft drink (Pepsi) 29% 37% +8 pct. points
Sports/energy drink (Gatorade) 31% 38% +7 pct. points
>Automotive (General Motors) 26% 27% +1 pct. points
Pizza (Papa John's) 30% 30% No change
Beer (Anheuser-Busch) 27% 27% No change

Subject: What brands do fans think should be NFL Tour sponsors?

To read: 44 percent of NFL fans said they think Anheuser-Busch should be an NFL sponsor, compared to 25 percent who think MillerCoors should have a league deal. Those numbers became 67 percent and 25 percent, respectively, when considering only those NFL fans who correctly knew that Anheuser-Busch is the league's official beer sponsor.

Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors 44% / 25% +19 pct. points 67% / 25% +42 pct. points
Gatorade/Powerade 53% / 25% +28 pct. points 65% / 26% +39 pct. points
Papa John's/Domino's 41% / 24% +17 pct. points 57% / 20% +37 pct. points
Visa/MasterCard 43% / 31% +12 pct. points 59% / 29% +30 pct. points
Marriott/Hilton 27% / 22% +5 pct. points 45% / 15% +30 pct. points
Verizon/AT&T 35% / 32% +3 pct. points 53% / 24% +29 pct. points
McDonald's/Subway 37% / 42% -5 pct. points 61% / 37% +24 pct. points
General Motors/Ford 30% / 38% -8 pct. points 53% / 33% +20 pct. points
FedEx/UPS 36% / 34% +2 pct. points 43% / 32% +11 pct. points
Pepsi/Coca-Cola 39% / 49% -10 pct. points 49% / 43% +6 pct. points

Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.

Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NFL?

  Avid   Casual
Sports/Energy Drink 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Gatorade* 56.0% 58.2% 60.1% 50.7% 55.2% 53.3%
Red Bull 6.0% 6.5% 1.0% 4.0% 6.0% 1.0%
Powerade 3.5% 5.0% 4.9% 4.5% 2.5% 4.6%
I'm not sure 31.0% 28.9% 31.0% 34.8% 33.8% 37.6%

Gatorade, the league's longest-tenured partner (since 1983), was the most recognized brand in our study among all NFL fans for the eighth consecutive year, though it was surpassed among avid fans specifically for the second consecutive year by Papa John's. In November, a redesign of the brand's website debuted with a spotlight on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and stories of how they became star athletes. Gatorade and NFL Films also co-produced a documentary-style film called "RGIII: The Will to Win" that began airing before the start of the 2013 season looking at Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and his offseason journey following a knee injury.

  Avid   Casual
Pizza 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Papa John's* 56.5% 62.2% 49.3% 39.3% 44.3% 31.0%
Pizza Hut 7.5% 7.0% 10.8% 10.0% 15.4% 13.7%
Domino's 9.0% 6.5% 7.9% 8.0% 5.0% 7.6%
I'm not sure 24.0% 21.9% 28.1% 38.3% 32.8% 43.7%

Papa John's, a league sponsor since 2010, heavily advertised during the NFL Network's Thursday night game broadcasts touting the brand's Thursday Night Football Fan Deal. Fans could tweet a picture of themselves (using the hashtag #TNFisBetter) for a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl. Rival brand Pizza Hut, meanwhile, had a presence on NFL Network as the presenting sponsor of the net's "NFL GameDay Morning."

  Avid   Casual
Beer 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Anheuser-Busch* 40.5% 51.2% 45.8% 39.8% 41.3% 34.5%
Coors 16.5% 13.4% 20.2% 10.0% 12.4% 12.7%
Miller 9.0% 13.4% 12.8% 6.0% 8.5% 13.7%
I'm not sure 27.5% 19.4% 16.8% 38.8% 33.3% 34.0%

In addition to its continued strong TV ad presence, Bud Light created the Bud Light Lucky Key sweepstakes, offering entrants a trip for two to the Super Bowl, including a four-night stay on the Bud Light Hotel cruise ship that it featured during Super Bowl week in New York. At the team level, Bud Light has local sponsorships with 28 of the league's 32 clubs and unveiled team-specific cans in the home market of each of those teams.

  Avid   Casual
Credit Card 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Visa* 45.0% 44.3% 45.3% 31.3% 42.3% 31.5%
MasterCard 9.0% 9.5% 10.3% 9.0% 4.0% 8.6%
American Express 6.0% 10.4% 5.9% 6.5% 9.5% 7.6%
Discover 4.0% 3.0% 5.9% 4.0% 3.0% 4.6%
I'm not sure 35.0% 32.8% 32.0% 48.8% 40.8% 47.7%

Visa was correctly identified by 45 percent of avid fans as a league sponsor, the brand's second-highest level ever among avid NFL fans in the eight-year history of the survey. Throughout the season, commercials featuring San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees aired in support of the credit card's "My Football Fantasy" campaign, in which fans used the #MyFootballFantasy hashtag on Twitter and Instagram for a chance to have their football fantasies fulfilled.

  Avid   Casual
Soft Drink 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Pepsi* 35.5% 36.3% 37.4% 38.3% 32.8% 31.5%
Coca-Cola 26.5% 23.9% 23.7% 20.9% 20.9% 17.8%
I'm not sure 32.5% 28.9% 30.5% 33.3% 40.3% 45.2%

PepsiCo's range of products was on display throughout the NFL season last fall. As the exclusive food and beverage launch partner for iTunes Radio, the company created a set of stations on iTunes bundled as the #FanEnough stations, which added a music angle to its NFL-themed "Are You Fan Enough?" campaign. Winners of the Pepsi Next-sponsored NFL Rookie of the Week voting were announced on "NFL Total Access" on NFL Network and on Pepsi Max and EA Sports' "Madden NFL 25" video game rolled out a new TV ad starring hall of famer Barry Sanders promoting a sweepstakes with the opportunity to unlock a "Madden NFL 25" player pack. And Diet Pepsi featured actress Sofia Vergara in its support of the NFL's efforts marking the fifth anniversary of its "A Crucial Catch" breast cancer awareness campaign.

  Avid   Casual
Shipping Services 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
FedEx* 29.0% 43.3% 41.4% 29.9% 36.8% 31.5%
UPS 17.5% 14.4% 17.7% 12.4% 14.9% 11.2%
I'm not sure 46.5% 35.8% 38.4% 52.7% 43.3% 48.7%

FedEx scored its lowest recognition mark ever among NFL fans this past season, coming off of record-high marks the year before. The lower number, however, still doubled the mark of rival UPS. The company has sponsored the FedEx Air and Ground NFL Players of the Week and Players of Year awards since 2003. The most recent fan-voted Players of Year winners, Peyton Manning and LeSean McCoy, were announced during the NFL Honors awards show on Fox prior to the Super Bowl, with FedEx donating $25,000 to the Junior Achievement offices in each player's local market.

  Avid   Casual
Wireless 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Verizon* 27.5% 34.8% 33.0% 20.9% 24.9% 26.9%
AT&T 10.5% 10.4% 14.3% 14.9% 12.9% 7.6%
Sprint 10.5% 9.0% 4.4% 7.0% 7.0% 10.7%
I'm not sure 43.5% 38.8% 40.4% 52.2% 48.3% 49.8%

The NFL and Verizon in June announced a four-year, $1 billion extension of their partnership that began in 2010. An updated version of the NFL Mobile from Verizon app launched in August, and one feature of the new app was that premium Verizon subscribers got access to live coverage of Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games, as well as the NFL Network and NFL RedZone channels. In addition, exclusive mobile access was available this season for all postseason games, including the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, for the first time.

  Avid   Casual
Automobile 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Ford 22.5% 18.4% 16.8% 19.9% 13.4% 12.7%
General Motors* 19.5% 21.4% 22.2% 17.9% 23.4% 19.8%
Toyota 8.0% 5.0% 11.3% 3.5% 3.0% 5.6%
Chrysler 5.0% 5.5% 5.9% 6.0% 7.0% 3.6%
I'm not sure 41.5% 46.8% 41.9% 52.2% 51.2% 54.8%

An estimated 1.5 million people visited the GMC title-sponsored Super Bowl Boulevard that spanned 13 New York City blocks as part of Super Bowl week. At the GMC hospitality area on the Boulevard, fans could create their own EA Sports "Madden" game cover, take a photo with the Super Bowl MVP trophy and enter for a chance to win a 2015 Yukon. Ford, meanwhile, scored its highest marks ever in the eight-year history of our survey, passing league sponsor GM in awareness among fans for the first time. Ford is the pregame sponsor for "Fox NFL Sunday" and has 17 team deals.

  Avid   Casual
Quick-service Restaurant 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
McDonald's* 23.5% 12.9% 11.8% 18.4% 16.4% 10.7%
Subway 20.0% 25.4% 16.8% 14.9% 17.4% 10.7%
KFC 3.0% 6.0% 2.0% 3.5% 4.5% 4.1%
Taco Bell 2.5% 2.0% 3.0% 3.5% 5.5% 2.5%
I'm not sure 46.0% 46.8% 46.3% 53.7% 52.2% 43.7%

In November, the NFL and McDonald's kicked off a Happy Meal premium promotion at more than 14,000 U.S. restaurants. Thirty-two NFL Rushers, each sporting a different team logo, from the animated show "NFL Rush Zone" were part of the promotion. Additional TV ad placements during the season included the McDonald's "Winning Ingredients" segments on CBS's "The NFL Today" and NBC's "Football Night in America."

  Avid   Casual
Hotel 2014 2013 2012 2014 2013 2012
Marriott* 15.5% 18.4% 13.3% 15.4% 16.4% 10.7%
Holiday Inn 6.0% 5.0% 6.9% 4.5% 4.0% 5.6%
Hilton 4.5% 3.0% 7.4% 3.5% 5.0% 3.6%
I'm not sure 68.0% 67.2% 64.5% 70.1% 67.7% 70.6%

Starting its third year as the league's official hotel, Marriott used the season-opening Thursday night game on NBC to launch two ads that would air throughout the season and starred the NFL Network's Rich Eisen. Fans who booked Courtyard's NFL Weekend Package from Sept. 12 through Feb. 2 and paid with a Visa card received a $20 Visa gift card, two Pepsi drinks, two Bud Lights and two Frito-Lay snacks.

* Official NFL sponsors