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Volume 22 No. 43
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NFL’s tough year doesn’t affect sponsor loyalty for fans

NFL sponsors appear to have weathered the dark clouds that hovered over the league last season, according to the property’s 12th annual Sponsor Loyalty study, fielded recently for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.


The NFL’s attendance was 3 percent lower last season than it was in 2016, and the league’s media partners collectively have seen a nearly 20 percent ratings erosion over the past two seasons. However, all nine of the NFL’s official sponsors that were tracked in both 2017 and 2018 earned a higher recognition level than they did a year ago, and several of them hit an all-time high.

The annual sponsor loyalty series, which debuted in 2007, also measures fans’ awareness of official league-brand relationships of NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, NASCAR, PGA Tour and NCAA fans.

The NFL’s tumultuous season did spill over into the sponsor sector, just not in the survey results.

Papa John’s was the league’s most-recognized sponsor in 2016 and 2017, a ranking cited by numerous media outlets last fall after the pizza maker’s founder and now former CEO John Schnatter complained that the NFL’s failure to take control of the national anthem protests was hurting his business. Schnatter later apologized for the statement, but last month the two sides ended their eight-year league-level partnership.

Still, Papa John’s was the most-recognized brand-property alliance across the eight properties tracked in the study, correctly identified by nearly 63 percent of NFL fans.

The 12-year-old FedEx-PGA Tour partnership was previously the most recognized brand-property relationship, with 59 percent of golf fans correctly identifying FedEx as the property’s official shipping partner in the study fielded during last season’s FedExCup Playoffs.

Verizon enjoyed the most notable year in the NFL survey as 46 percent of the 400 fans in this year’s study correctly identified the brand as the league’s official wireless partner, an improvement of more than 16 percentage points over 2017.

A sponsor since 2010, the company spent an estimated $221.9 million to advertise during NFL telecasts last season, an increase of 6 percent compared to the 2016 season, according to data. In 2017, nearly half (49.1 percent) of Verizon’s total TV spend during the season was earmarked for NFL programming, 7 percentage points more than in 2016.

In comparison, in our annual NASCAR survey, Sprint averaged a 49 percent recognition level over the final five years of its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s top circuit from 2012 to 2016.

Verizon could benefit from even more football-related exposure this fall: In December, the company signed a five-year, $2.5 billion renewal with the NFL that, for the first time, grants the brand ad inventory during the games that it streams.

In the soda category, Pepsi also enjoyed its best results ever, further widening the gap between itself and Coca-Cola. Nearly 40 percent of fans were aware that Pepsi is the NFL’s official soda, a distinction it’s held for 15 seasons. That was 17 percentage points higher than Coke, which was the league’s partner from 1983 to 2001.

Also in this year’s study, Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s and Marriott each saw their brand’s highest overall recognition level in the history of the NFL survey.