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Volume 21 No. 34

Marketing and Sponsorship

It was an uncomfortable year to be an NFL corporate sponsor.

 

Just count the ways: The president’s anti-NFL tweets, player protests, league sponsor Papa John’s blaming unmet sales goals on its league association and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones feuding with Commissioner Roger Goodell were among the high-profile headlines most partners would want to avoid.

Still, many praised the league for the way it handled a trying situation — especially considering the lack of ownership consensus on the troublesome player protest issue.

“We’re one of the most scrutinized [NFL sponsors] because we are so visible,” said Nick Kelly, Anheuser-Busch InBev head of U.S. sports marketing, who lauded the league for its constant communication and making executives as senior as the commissioner available to A-B senior management. “It was so much better handled this time around than during the Ray Rice situation. … There may have been some residual damage to us early, but the feeling always was they were doing everything they could.”

Hyundai is among the NFL sponsors who say the league is still delivering.
Photo: getty images

Added Hyundai CMO Dean Evans: “NFL fans are still more favorably disposed to our brand and we’re still getting store and web traffic based on our NFL association. That didn’t change. It always seemed like an untouchable force, but I wouldn’t bet that it has peaked, just based on what I know about the people running it.”

If there was any stigma for marketers considering the NFL, it seems to have been dispelled. The league announced a new deal with mattress retailer Sleep Number in Minneapolis that was followed last week by a five-year extension with a marketer as conservative as any, Procter & Gamble.

“With everything that’s gone on, our [sponsorship] revenues keep going up,” noted Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship and partnership management.

With that in mind, it’s already on to the next sales season.

Categories of interest include QSR, where McDonald’s ties have lapsed, and where Papa John’s has been a league sponsor since 2010, but its position seems less than stable, even with 18 team deals and a league affiliation that was renewed in 2016.

With more than 14,000 U.S. locations, McDonald’s is an attractive target for the NFL. But the company already has dropped its longtime Olympic sponsorship. McDonald’s also doesn’t sync beverage-wise, since it pours Coke — and Pepsi is one of the NFL’s biggest sponsors. Some synergy could be found with Buffalo Wild Wings, which pours Pepsi, even if it’s not the same scale that a McDonald’s or YUM Brands could bring.

The timing category remains an elusive target.

“Our officials wear watches that are specific to the game, so could we have a partner build one that’s even better?” asked Anderson. “Everything about our game is built on time, starting with the draft, where every team is on the clock.”

The league is also trying to sell either a presenting sponsor for the playoffs, or sponsorship for its menu of Thanksgiving Day Games, likely a retailer, which would use it to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Other category targets: gaming console, no longer part of Microsoft’s league package rights; oil and gas; financial services; additional technology partners; and performance eyewear, like an Oakley, a deal that could get interesting if it included on-field exposure rights.

Among the larger renewals are those of Ford and Hyundai; both have a year remaining.

“Are we getting the ROI out of it? Is the NFL what it was four years ago? I understand all the concerns, but the counter argument is that the NFL just towers over everything else in sports. So, we’ll see,” said Hyundai’s Evans.

From a licensing and merchandising view, this year’s NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles is a coming out party for Nike’s new NBA jersey rights, which began this season.

 

The Jumpman logo, denoting Nike’s luxury Jordan Brand, will be on All-Star Game jerseys for the first time, which is expected to produce a hefty retail bonus.

In their first season, the new Nike NBA jerseys are already worth celebrating. Despite a handful of the jerseys ripping on the court early, they’ve blown past Nike sales projections. Internal sales projections for the season have increased by between 10 and 20 percent, and sales are tracking now to finish significantly above Adidas’ best year selling NBA jerseys. Nike jerseys with hoodies have been impossible for retailers to keep in stock.

The Jumpman logo on All-Star Game jerseys is expected to drive strong sales.

L.A. has a history of being a great retail market for the All-Star Game. Putting aside the anomaly of the Las Vegas All-Star Game in 2007, L.A. has yielded the two best merchandise results, when it hosted in 2004 and 2011.

“Our expectations are very high,” said Chris Brennan, NBA senior vice president of sales development and retail marketing. A store inside the NBA Crossover attraction will feature an assortment of All-Star products from Jordan Brand, New Era, ’47 and other licensees.

Some Nike projections have the Jordan-branded All-Star Game jerseys selling four times the usual amount.

Jordan Brand will have a pop-up shop with player appearances. There also will be a Studio 23 store in Little Tokyo and a variety of footwear launches.

As ever, Nike will launch a variety of footwear at the All-Star Game, including special edition shoes for Kobe Bryant, Paul George, and LeBron James. Nike’s Converse brand will be offering L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers-themed Chuck Taylors priced at $150.

As part of Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba League,” Nike will host youth clinics throughout the city. Nike will be featuring endorser appearances throughout L.A., including at parks, at key retail accounts, and as pep rallies at California high school state playoff games.

L.A. has had among the best merchandise results at All-Star Games.

What’s a jersey without a cap hookup? New Era’s activation centers at its flagship store in L.A. Live will have customization available. New Era also is collaborating with a variety of brands for co-branded products, including Levi’s, Timberland and Bodega. As ever, New Era is marking the event with some limited run high-end caps, some ranging from $50 to $150. Other than the flagship store, retail activations and player appearances are planned at Lids, Foot Action and Fanzz stores.

Exclusive trading-card licensee Panini will have a “Trading Card Experience” at NBA Crossover, educating fans on how an NBA trading card is built. Various elements will showcase NBA trading cards that sell from $1.99 a pack to Panini’s Kobe Eminence product, which retails for $12,500.

Panini will also return with its NBA All-Star VIP Lounge for guests and partners that will include player appearances.

Pepsi is boosting activation at this week’s NBA All-Star weekend, highlighting the sponsorship efforts around the league’s showcase event in Los Angeles.

 

For the first time, the Pepsi-owned Ruffles brand takes presenting sponsorship of the NBA Celebrity Game on Friday. The game for the first time will feature a branded four-point “Ridge” line incorporated into the second half of the game, with each shot made earning $4,000 for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Broadcasters will reference the “Ridge” line in their coverage.

Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand will have a heavy activation presence with Mountain Dew Kickstart serving as title partner of the Rising Stars game on Friday, also a first for the brand. The NBA for the first time also will open practice to the Rising Stars game to the public.

“These are new positions for them,” said Kerry Tatlock, senior vice president of global marketing partnerships for the NBA, of the Pepsi brands’ increased activation efforts. “Our partners are as interested as we are in expanding and enhancing the experience for fans.”

Pepsi brands Ruffles and Mountain Dew Kickstart serve as presenting sponsors for two high-profile All-Star weekend events.

Other heavy sponsorship participation will take place at the NBA Crossover fan venue in downtown Los Angeles, a concept that debuted at last year’s All-Star weekend in New Orleans. This year, ESPN Radio and Twitch will be broadcasting from the venue as a number of NBA partners engage around the event.

“This year, being in L.A. and learning from last year, gave us an opportunity to focus on additional programming that takes place during the weekend,” said Kelly Flatow, senior vice president and head of events for the NBA.

Other notable activations include American Express, which is sponsoring the “NBA on TNT” American Express Road Show, a 30,000-square-foot, four-day fan festival located outside Staples Center that will include performances by Kendrick Lamar and The Killers.

Turner is also debuting a live virtual reality streaming app around All-Star content including the slam dunk contest. “It’s a first-time format and it has added advertisers,” said Jon Diament, executive vice president of ad sales for Turner.

Another new event around All-Star weekend is the league’s decision to open the All-Star media day to the public for the first time. The NBA is charging $10 for fans to attend the media day on Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center with the proceeds to go to nonprofit journalism organizations, Flatow said.

Other activations include:

Jack Daniel’s and Anheuser-Busch will create hospitality venues as they did last year in New Orleans. Jack Daniel’s will run its Jack Daniel’s House No. 7 for two nights and Anheuser-Busch will create its Budweiser Live fan experience on Friday and Saturday.

Kia, which sponsors the Kia All-Star MVP Award, will again have its logo patch on All-Star uniforms and will activate around its “Escape the Room” venue featuring Kia vehicles.

State Farm, which is title sponsor of All-Star Saturday Night, will launch its new “Game Night” spot during that event.

Tom Arrix, former Facebook vice president of global marketing for North America, and Bryan Johnston, former GoPro senior vice president of marketing, are launching Dragonfli Media Technologies, a media and sponsorship agency, along with former U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief Marketing Officer Mike Jaquet and Mountain Sports International co-founder Adam Comey.

 

Dragonfli is a new entity, but it’s the result of a rollup of Arrix and Johnston’s Adjacency Partners; Mountain Sports International; Jaquet’s personal consultancy; and 503 Collective, a brand agency in Portland.

 

“It’s a startup technically, but in folding in the businesses under one umbrella, we already start out with a great book of business and clients that we can expand our scope of work with,” Jaquet said.

 

Current clients of the four predecessor companies staying with Dragonfli include Facebook, Major League Rugby, Sony, Toyota, Red Bull, Burton and Lexus. The company will target new clients for work in brand strategy, content creation, distribution, sponsorship and media rights representation, creative and event management work, Jaquet said.

 

Comey will serve as CMO, and Jaquet will be chief revenue officer. Johnston and Arrix will be “active” investors, with duties in business development and board oversight, the company said.

 

Also on board at Dragonfli are creative director Lance Meyerink, former head of creative design at 503 Collective. Dave Swanwick, chief operating officer of MSI, will retain that title under the new company.

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

 

Marketing services and sales agency PCG SportsDesk is rebranding to 4Front, some 11 years after its founding.

 

Co-founder Dan Migala said the new identity is designed to more effectively illustrate the range of services offered by the agency, which include consulting, digital media, innovation, ticketing, analytics, activation and third-party property sales representation for the likes of Feld Entertainment, Hendrick Motorsports and Minor League Baseball.

 

“We like to say that we solve problems, create solutions and generate incremental revenue,” Migala said, noting that the company, with offices in Chicago, Dallas and Denver, will have around 40 employees by the end of the first quarter.

 

The firm was founded by Migala and Josh Kritzler as PCG in 2007 and expanded in 2012 with the inclusion of former AT&T sponsorship executive Eric Fernandez and Sports Desk Media. “We built a great business, but we failed to build a brand,” Migala said. “So we need to tell people about all of our capabilities.”

 

An example: While PCG SportsDesk has run several digital campaigns for UFC, marketers at the mixed martial arts circuit were largely unaware of the agency’s other capabilities, Migala said.

 

Clients “were the ones who suggested the name — they were the ones who helped us find what our brand really is. So we decided to package that all up and tell a comprehensive story to the market,” he said.

 

The company has been offering targeting techniques to improve results for clients.

 

As one example, in 2017, 4Front managed 183 digital ticketing campaigns for 25 university athletic departments and conferences.  The company said it delivered an average return on ad spend of 9 to 1.

 

One of 4Front’s investors touted the reband as the next logical step in the company’s development.

 

“It’s been rewarding to watch the 4Front team grow their business. There are a lot of players in the sports marketing space, but few that can marry creative thinking with data, analytics and digital media execution,” said Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO of Media Link.  “Perhaps most importantly, they have been able to grow their bench strength of industry leaders in-house so there is real substance and power behind their work.”

 

The official launch of the rebrand will be at the National Sports Forum in Frisco, Texas, this week. Other agency clients include the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Cavaliers, General Motors, Pepsi and Topgolf.