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Volume 21 No. 39

Marketing and Sponsorship

The NFL has pitched a $10 million presenting sponsorship to the AFC and NFC championship games.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Presenting sponsorship for the upcoming NFC and AFC championship games has been on the market since late last year, but so far there have been no takers, according to a variety of client and agency sources. It’s more likely to be sold for next season, as part of an overall playoff sponsorship.

A sell sheet for the offering, obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, lists the price as TBD, but sources said the asking price was $10 million. The package is being sold by the NFL, not its media rights holders. NFL sponsors, along with marketing and media agencies, first saw the offering last month.

The league primarily is looking to sell the package for next season, with potential for an entire playoff presenting sponsorship. However, the possibility to “get in early” this season is noted in the document.

“I get asked all the time about when we’ll sell uniform patches, or goal-post signage or whatever,” said Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president, sponsorship and partnership management. “But for us, less is more. We think this could be an amazing asset for a single brand. And as we go to market, our goal is really [a sponsorship across] the entire playoffs next year.”

Other big NFL presenting sponsorship deals include Bud Light’s “Thursday Night Football” deal and Verizon’s new Pro Bowl deal.

As described in the document, the package would carry with it a requirement to purchase two 30-second ad units in each championship game; agency sources gave a range of $1.7 million to $2 million per spot. Other assets detailed include logo integration; in-game broadcast exposure and mentions; opening and closing graphics with audio/visual sponsor branding; two 10-second in-game vignettes per game; other in-game sponsor mentions, including commercial bumpers and score panes (at least two per quarter); the opportunity to develop custom features around the championship games on NFL-controlled media; and an unspecified additional buy from NFL Media. A sponsor also would be required to promote tune-in.

Presenting sponsorship for the two championships has never been successfully sold before, although several sources said a similar offer had been on the table as part of some overall NFL sponsorship packages in the past.

Last year’s conference championship games averaged 46.9 million viewers each, down from 49.7 million viewers in 2016, but up from 46.2 million viewers in 2015.

The NFL trying to sell presenting sponsorship for its conference championships follows a pattern across large properties of selling more of what has never been sold before. Last season MLB sold sponsorships for every round of its postseason except the opening Wild Card games; the NBA has uniform advertising for the first time this season, adding to a mix of on-court ad inventory that includes ads on basket stanchions, pads, court aprons and chairs; while various forms of virtual signage are in use across the NHL, along with what have become crowded dasherboards and on-ice signage.

ike many, Chris Beauchamp’s quest for “new and improved” began when he realized that what he thought was state-of-the-art was actually archaic. At an Orlando Magic game a few years back, Beauchamp watched as the obligatory mini-blimp circled the arena, dropping coupons. Most of the crowd was engaged — to what was on the screens of their mobile devices. A 40-year-old man tumbled over his son, spilling a beer, in pursuit of a $1 Chick-fil-A coupon.

Beauchamp knew there had to be a better way.

So the inveterate tinkerer, who’d earlier helped market an adhesive patch to ward off the effects of hangovers, along with a line of sun-protection products and a (legal) Nevada pot farm with retail outlets in Las Vegas, took a shot at becoming an indoor aviation pioneer.

Out, Beauchamp hopes, are the clunky indoor dirigibles of the past; in is ZipBlimp.

Since there’s never a market advancement without some jargon attached, it’s not a blimp anymore, it’s a “premier end-to-end, fan-activated engagement solution for sporting and live entertainment.” Lest your eyes glaze over, stay with us; we believe he has built the proverbial better mouse trap, albeit one that’s airborne.

ZipBlimp takes advantage of all the fans in an arena paying attention to their phones. The seating section sending the most texts is the one that attracts the 8-foot-diameter blimp (patent pending), which then delivers a digital reward instead of dropping a paper coupon. It’s a way of “gamifying” the experience, which is a marketing hot button.

Of course, the end game is data capture. ZipBlimp is a Trojan Horse, collecting data from fans such as cellphone numbers, which can later be cross-indexed with zip codes and email addresses, and relevant demographic information. A 1080p camera adds another benefit as a fan cam.

ZipBlimp’s airships look to modernize the classic marketing, fan activation tool.
Photo by: ZIPBLIMP
It’s a leasing arrangement for around $25,000 a year, plus the cost of a pilot and spotter.

“The idea is to hit two hot areas,” Beauchamp said, “fan engagement and to help teams monetize their fans, by knowing who’s in the audience, and how to monetize that data.”

ZipBlimp has yet to, er, take off.

“The sponsorship guys wonder what they can sell it for, but the marketing and ticketing guys see the value right away — so it’s been a question of getting all of them together,” Beaucamp said.

The Los Angeles Clippers have employed it sporadically, and the ascendant Vegas Golden Knights have been using it at every game since the start of the season, branding it as the “VGK UFO.” It’s become a social media hit, perhaps because it has yet to bear a sponsor logo.

Jonny Greco, Golden Knights vice president of events and entertainment, said they’ve used the system to give away tickets for team sponsor Cirque du Soleil, and for a cap giveaway.

“We haven’t activated half of what it’s capable of,” Greco said, “but there will be lots of sponsorship integration moving forward.

“We’re all jaded by things like this, ’cause we think we’ve seen it before, but this really is Blimp 2.0. It’s a new dialogue and experience for fans that just wasn’t there. And it opens up a channel for immense data capture so you can know, service and sell to your fans.”

There’s still air space to be cleared.

The Magic, whose home was the site of the original inspiration, are close to signing on. Beauchamp has been in talks with various NBA, NFL and International Speedway Corp. officials. He was scheduled to meet with the Dallas Cowboys last week. ZipBlimp will need to develop an all-weather version for some of those. Until then, “the six domed NFL stadiums are our bogeys,” he said.

Of note: The next two Super Bowls are indoors. Happy flying.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Boost Mobile has signed a long-term deal to become the official wireless carrier of Bellator MMA just ahead of the sports property’s launch on Viacom’s new Paramount Network.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Bellator is owned by Viacom and has been broadcast on Spike TV since 2013. Spike TV will be relaunched as Paramount Network on Thursday.

Boost Mobile will be featured throughout the television broadcast of Saturday’s Bellator event on Paramount, including having its logo on the mat and advertising during the broadcast. Boost Mobile also will sponsor the “corner cam” in each fighter’s corner and will be a key partner in the launch of future digital and virtual reality content opportunities.

Boost Mobile is returning to the sport of MMA, having been a sponsor of the UFC in 2010.

“Boost as a brand has always been a fan and supporter of MMA, back from the early days of UFC and that partnership,” said Nick Holt, Boost Mobile creative director. “We are definitely coming back in with a heavier presence from a media and advertising standpoint.”

Boost Mobile is a longtime sponsor of MMA heavyweight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who will fight Chael Sonnen on the Saturday card at the Los Angeles Forum.

Scott Coker, Bellator president, called Boost Mobile “a blue-chip” sponsor and said the agreement will help the property and the broadcasts. “It just shows you that Bellator has arrived and sponsors will have a choice and Bellator will be one of the choices for them,” he said.

Ralph Sorrentino, Viacom vice president of brand solutions, represented Bellator in the deal. Boost was represented in the agreement by its media-buying agency, Horizon Media.

Lagardère Sports, the new manager of the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge, has installed a new festival/entertainment model and slashed ticket prices to drum up fan interest in one of the tour’s oldest events.

The marketing overhaul this year includes a cut in ticket prices from $50 to $30 for the event, which is set for Thursday through Sunday at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. Organizers have also built a pavilion featuring local restaurants and for the first time will host live music with two concerts; one headlined by Huey Lewis and the News and the other by the Goo Goo Dolls.

A total of four clubs will be on site and entry to all fan activities is included with the $30 ticket price.

It’s a new business strategy for a tournament that formerly was known as the Bob Hope Classic and dates back some 60 years.

Retail activation features Lagardère client Phil Mickelson.
The strategy mirrors the approach used by Jeff Sanders, executive vice president of golf events for Lagardère Sports, in running last year’s Safeway Open in Napa, which featured $30 tickets, a food and drink pavilion, and a concert series.

“Golf is the centerpiece, but it cannot be the entire show,” Sanders said. “We have to do things to keep it growing. With the music and the player field, and with amenities, we are removing all cover charges and wristbands and opening it up.”

The entertainment and pricing strategy at the CareerBuilder will be needed to help Sanders meet aggressive attendance expectations of drawing 20,000 fans per day. Last year, the event drew around 10,000 fans per day over the four-day tournament.

“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t triple the audience,” said Sanders, adding that to date, the tournament has sold three times the number of tickets compared to the same period last year.

The new marketing approach also nearly doubles the number of suites to a total of 22, priced between $20,000 and $200,000, addressing a lack of premium inventory last year.

Lagardère was hired by Desert Classic Charities to run the event. CareerBuilder took over title sponsorship of the tournament in 2015, with the deal running through 2021.

Helping the tournament’s marketing effort is Lagardère’s representation of Phil Mickelson, who serves as an ambassador to the event with duties that include attending sponsorship dinners during the week of the tournament.

IndyCar is asking for a rights fee of $10 million to $15 million annually from potential title sponsors, according to sources, an increase from what IndyCar reportedly receives from lame-duck partner Verizon.

Sources said IndyCar is seeking that range in rights fees, and hopes to secure a commensurate amount for at-track and media activation, which could push the deal’s total value to $20 million to $30 million annually if successful.

Verizon’s title sponsorship deal with the open-wheel series expires after this season. The telecommunications company confirmed that it won’t be returning to the role, but will stay in the sport via its relationship with Team Penske. Verizon’s series title sponsorship, which started in 2014, has been valued as worth $10 million annually, split between $5 million on rights and $5 million on activation.

IndyCar has seen solid viewership gains since that time, and revived attendance around the Indianapolis 500, and is leveraging that to ask for more money. IndyCar increased its average viewership 20 percent from the end of the 2013 season to the end of the 2017 season, from an average of 950,000 viewers to 1.14 million.

Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, declined comment about IndyCar’s asking price but said the series’ growth will make the title sponsorship an attractive asset.

Also immersed in media rights talks, Miles said he expects by the end of the month to have a good idea of who will be IndyCar’s next media partner in the U.S. Like the title sponsorship deal, its media rights, which are split between ABC and NBC Sports Group, expire after 2018. Miles has spoken of a desire to figure out media rights first, so that the new partner can help IndyCar pitch the open title sponsorship to brands that may want media exposure to go along with at-track assets.

“I think we’ve got a great story to describe the progress that IndyCar has made in the last few years and the growth of our fan metrics,” Miles said last week. “[But] we need to conclude at least our U.S. media deals before it’s realistic to think we’re going to finalize any kind of conversation on title [sponsor].”

Miles said IndyCar’s executives and business development team are “casting a wide net,” taking calls from agencies with clients potentially interested in the title sponsorship, plus reaching out to brands directly. He expects that the search will mainly focus on companies based in the U.S.

While IndyCar will be challenged to find a replacement with a brand pedigree as venerable as Verizon’s, some in the paddock have felt that the telco wasn’t activating enough and instead focused more on its deals with the NFL and NBA. The title sponsor before Verizon was clothing company Izod, which spent a reported $6 million annually on rights fees to sponsor the series from 2010 to 2013.

Other title sponsors in motorsports include Monster Energy, which pays about $20 million annually to name NASCAR’s premier series; Mello Yello, which pays about $5 million annually to title the NHRA; and ABB, which announced last week that it is title sponsoring Formula E in a deal valued at around $15 million annually over seven years.