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Volume 21 No. 13

Marketing and Sponsorship

Next week, the “Taste of the NFL” charity event returns to Minnesota, where it began in 1992. Staged the night before the Super Bowl, “Taste” has contributed more than $25 million to food banks in NFL markets, which founder Wayne Kostroski equates to 200 million meals.

Things have changed over 25 years. In its inaugural version, the “Party with a Purpose” had 26 chefs cooking for around 1,000 guests. Tickets then cost $75 and the event raised around $100,000. For this year’s strolling food and wine fest at the Saint Paul RiverCentre, 40 chefs will cook for 2,200 people who have paid upward of $700 per ticket. Organizers are hoping to surpass the record $1 million from the 20th anniversary “Taste” at Super Bowl XLV in 2011.

“It does feel like a homecoming,” said Kostroski, a Minneapolis restaurateur who served on the Super Bowl XXVI Host Committee and had experience using chefs to promote hunger relief for programs like “Share Our Strength.” “That idea of using chefs to fight hunger was powerful and I knew it could work here. Really, my toughest job was convincing them all to come to Minnesota in January and cook. Really, once the chefs and players knew the cause, they were all in.” 

Jim Steeg, former NFL senior vice president of special events, said that as the first Super Bowl charity event sanctioned by the league, “Taste” served a purpose beyond fighting hunger. “It was a critical moment for the NFL,” Steeg said. “The way it succeeded convinced us to do many more. Four years later we had more than 108 sanctioned [charity] events in Phoenix, which was probably too many, but we found the formula for a legacy and a leave-behind, which was an important change.”

Now it can be told: The original “Taste” almost never happened. The way Philadelphia restaurateur Jack McDavid remembers it, when he and fellow chef Allen Susser showed up at 5 a.m. in the atrium of a Norwest Bank carrying their sets of chef knives, security didn’t exactly shower them with Midwestern hospitality. Apparently, the authorities thought they were there to raise funds in an altogether different way.

We all thought this would be a great way to give back, but none of us knew it would become a legacy event.
Dave Mona
Super Bowl XXVI Host Committee member, on the beginnings of the ‘Taste of the NFL’

“They figured we were there to rob the bank,” McDavid said with a laugh. “We told them we were there to make food. For a while, we thought we were going to jail.”

The misunderstanding was corrected and the two chefs have volunteered at every “Taste of the NFL” since.

“You look across the world of chefs and almost all of us came up by our bootstraps,” McDavid said. “So we all want to share — especially when it comes to food and hunger.”

Around a dozen NFL teams, including the Vikings, Browns, Cowboys, Texans and Jets, have added local versions of “Taste” over the years, which raise between $150,000 and $400,000 for local food banks.

“Taste” is celebrating its return home with another event: a “Founders Breakfast” that will reunite many of the original forces behind the charity. It comes with the original $75 price tag. Some of those founders remembered the impetus for the first event.

“The Super Bowl had gotten really big by then and both the NFL, and the host committee as an extension, were aware of the reputation it had for taking and taking, and not giving back,” said Dave Mona, a retired Minneapolis PR exec who served on the Super Bowl XXVI Host Committee. “We all thought this would be a great way to give back, but none of us knew it would become a legacy event.”

Parties and events come and go at Super Bowls, but “Taste” is a constant. How to account for its longevity? “So many of the original people are still involved and that keeps it going,” Steeg said. “They’ve locked up a premium time [Saturday night] and they attract everyone who loves football and food, which, in a Super Bowl city, is a lot of people.”

McDavid offers Kostroski accolades: “He’s like an Energizer Bunny when it comes to this,” he said.

Counters Kostroski: “It’s not me, it’s because of all of these chefs and [NFL] players who have volunteered. Lots of chefs have been interested in hunger causes for a long time. I just happened to know some of them.”

REMOVING JERSEY BARRIERS: NBA business partners Fanatics and American Express are teaming to offer “Jersey Insurance” to anyone purchasing an NBA jersey with an AmEx card at the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, or on any of the Fanatics-administered sites, which include

The promotion offers fans a year of “insurance” that the player whose jersey they purchase will not move to another team. If he does, the jersey can be exchanged for another at no charge for a year from the purchase date. The promotion expands a 90-day program that Fanatics began offering last year for jerseys from other pro leagues. The offer comes with the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline impending.

Chris Orton, Fanatics’ direct to consumer co-president, said research revealed that fears of a player being traded or leaving via free agency was a leading concern for those considering a jersey purchase. “We wanted to remove a consumer pain point,” he said.

The program will be communicated via digital and social media, along with point-of-sale and possibly traditional media.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

For the first time, Rupp Arena’s sponsorship inventory will be sold in conjunction with the University of Kentucky’s.
Photo: Getty Images

In Rupp Arena’s illustrious 40-plus years as the University of Kentucky’s basketball home, the venue and the school have never joined their sales and marketing efforts. That will soon change.


The Wildcats are finalizing an agreement with their existing multimedia rights holder, JMI Sports, that will enable the agency to sell the arena’s sponsorship and advertising assets in tandem with the university’s. The amendment required to bring those rights together will take effect July 1.


In the past, if an advertiser wanted signage at UK’s football stadium, it would buy that from JMI. But similar signage at the basketball venue, Rupp Arena, which is owned and operated by the city, had to be purchased through Rupp’s own rights holder.


Jason Schlafer, UK’s chief revenue officer, said the new arrangement will clean up any confusion in the marketplace so that sponsors can buy football and basketball through a single source at JMI.


“It should make things a lot easier for our partners and anyone who wants to be associated with UK athletics,” Schlafer said.


The past approach occasionally created category conflicts.
Photo: Getty Images

Through the years, Rupp Arena’s sales and marketing rights have been managed by Learfield, and previously the defunct Action Sports Media. They were hired by the Lexington City Center, the entity that operates Rupp Arena and the surrounding development.


That fragmented approach led to category conflicts. UK Healthcare is the official sponsor for the Wildcats, but Kentucky One Health owns the category inside Rupp. UK pours Coca-Cola, Rupp pours Pepsi. Farm Bureau is UK’s official insurance, State Farm and Geico have a presence in Rupp.


But in a December 2016 extension between UK and the city, which will run through 2033, Rupp’s owners decided to turn over the sales and marketing rights to the school.


UK pays the Lexington City Center $4.75 million per year for the multimedia rights, which include inventory in and around Rupp, premium spaces, video board content, public-address announcements, promotions, parking and other assets. If annual gross sales revenue exceeds $7.25 million, then the school shares 25 percent of that excess with the LCC.


JMI is negotiating its own set of financial terms with UK separate from the school’s deal with the LCC, but those numbers are still being finalized.


The Rupp Arena name will not change, but the city is in the marketplace seeking a naming-rights sponsor for the LCC, which could result in a name like “Rupp Arena at the ABC Center.”

Pepsi’s activation has included highlighting Pepsi Zero Sugar.
Photo: Getty Images

The NHL and NHLPA are keeping Pepsi on ice for another five years. PepsiCo has signed an extension of their North American partnership that continues a relationship dating back more than a decade.


Neither the NHL, the NHLPA nor PepsiCo would comment on the deal terms, but sources said it is a five-year extension with options for additional years. Between activation and media commitments, the deal is valued at more than eight figures per year, an increase from the five-year extension PepsiCo signed in 2012. It represents one of the league’s top-five revenue-generating partnerships.


PepsiCo has been a league partner since 2006 and also sponsors roughly half of the league’s teams. The new deal will see PepsiCo retain exclusive NHL North American rights in the non-alcoholic beverage, sports nutrition and savory snack categories.


PepsiCo activation this season has included highlighting Pepsi Zero Sugar during the NHL Winter Classic. It also features Gatorade prominently during games, with branded squeeze bottles seen atop the goals, in the penalty boxes and on the bench in all 31 NHL arenas.


NHL Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel said the league highlighted the in-arena exposure, and the league’s continued expansion of its events calendar, during the renewal process.


While the deal isn’t expanding in terms of category exclusivity, Wachtel noted that PepsiCo will receive more assets and will be provided more opportunities to activate alongside the league at events and via digital and social content. That’s because of the growth of the league not only to a 31st market in Las Vegas, but thanks to its media partnerships with BAMTech and Rogers, deals struck after the 2012 extension.


Wachtel negotiated the deal on behalf of the NHL, alongside Kyle McMann, NHL group vice president of integrated sales, directly with PepsiCo Beverages Canada President Richard Glover and Genesco Sports Enterprises Vice President Larry Goldman.


Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, said PepsiCo has worked closely with the NHL and NHLPA over the course of its previous deal to highlight players such as Drew Doughty and Brent Burns in marketing campaigns, especially in Canada, something he expects to continue. “We’ve seen their commitment to growing the game of hockey overall, and they’ve been a great brand to work and collaborate with,” he said.


PepsiCo is planning its activation for the 2018 All-Star Game and Stadium Series game, and will do a Stanley Cup-themed campaign again this year, said Claudia Calderon, senior director of marketing for PepsiCo Beverages Canada.


“In the last year or so, when we look back at some of the activations we’ve done alongside the World Cup of Hockey and across celebrating the [NHL] centennial, we think there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of great assets that we haven’t quite tapped into yet,” Calderon said, noting the opportunities for the company across the NHL’s branded social and digital platforms. “The addition of Las Vegas just shows the continued growth of the sport and the league, as well as how many more and more fans are engaging with the sport every day.”


Although the NHL relaunched its international platform last year, which included games in both China and Sweden, the renewal provides exclusivity to PepsiCo in these categories only in North America, unlike deals the NHL has with partners such as Adidas and SAP. That would allow the NHL to sign a partnership in one of those categories that could be exclusive to Europe, China or both — areas of the world that are expected to host future events and games as soon as next season.

StubHub has reorganized its North American business, naming three general managers to oversee its sports and performing arts operations.


The resale ticket marketplace has split its activities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico into three groups; one for the NFL, NBA, and NHL, led by former NBA and NHL executive Scott Jablonski; a second for MLB, the NCAA and other sports, led by former Wal-Mart e-commerce executive Jill Krimmel; and a third for music, theater and performing arts, managed by StubHub veteran Jeff Poirier.


Each of the three will report to Perkins Miller, StubHub GM of North America, and will manage strategy, partnerships and event operations in their respective areas. The three groups were structured to have relative balance in terms of sales volume and seasonality.


“As we took a closer look at the business, we found that our partnerships were still growing and were of greater importance as teams and leagues and venues continually want to get a deeper look at their markets,” Miller said. “So this structure will allow us to work with more precision in each of these areas and with each of our partners, and I believe that precision and focus will serve us well.”


Jablonski spent six years at the NHL from 2009-15, ending as vice president of NHL club business and analytics, and prior to that worked two years in the NBA’s team marketing and business operations group. Most recently, he was the founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based 77 Analytics. Jablonski will be a key figure in StubHub’s new partnership with the NFL that will begin this year and designates the company as the league’s authorized secondary ticketing partner.


Krimmel, meanwhile, led several categories of online merchandise sales at retail giant Wal-Mart. Among her duties will be to lead the implementation of a newly agreed-upon third contract term with MLB.


The hiring of Jablonski and Krimmel was led by the internal recruiting team of StubHub parent company eBay.


While this reorganization happens, eBay President and Chief Executive Devin Wenig has yet to name a new StubHub president following last summer’s promotion of Scott Cutler to senior vice president of the Americas for eBay. There remains no timetable for when a successor will be named, and there have been no publicly named candidates. Miller and StubHub Chief Financial Officer Ajay Gopal have operational leadership responsibility in the interim.