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Volume 22 No. 15

Marketing and Sponsorship

The confetti had barely stopped falling at the Super Bowl before the NFL sales team got to work on the season ahead.
Photo: Getty Images

As the confetti fell to close out another NFL season, the focus of conversation for NFL marketers shifted to the offseason selling season where the league’s top priority comes in the automotive categories.

 

For the corporate sales team, the main focus is on replacing Hyundai, an NFL sponsor since 2015 in the auto category, and either renewing or finding another sponsor in the truck category, which Ford has held since 2016.

 

Hyundai has announced its departure from the roster of the league’s corporate sponsors, but is still committed to spending around the NFL (see story, Page 8). Ford’s intentions are not clear. Still, as one senior agency source said: “The door is still open, but if a [Ford] renewal was happening, you’d think it would have been done by now.”

 

Ford’s NFL-related marketing assets not controlled by the league include a sponsorship with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, presenting sponsorship of the Hall of Fame Luncheon during Super Bowl Week, and a major ad buy on Fox, which includes a position large enough to merit a billboard on “Fox NFL Sunday,” which draws the largest audience of any NFL pregame show. The auto category has long been the top media spender, but many auto brands already have large broadcast deals with NFL rights holders, making a league deal a challenge.

 

The agency source spoke to the rationale behind the major media buys by saying: “You can look more official than your competition by having the biggest broadcast entitlements.”

 

With that being the case, the NFL needs to craft a unique package of rights, perhaps including the Super Bowl MVP and on-field car award presentation rights last held by GM four years ago. How and whether to sell or split the auto category between foreign and domestic, luxury and trucks still must be decided.

 

Ford’s other NFL-related marketing assets include a major ad buy on Fox, which includes a billboard on “Fox NFL Sunday.”
Photo: Fox Sports

The sweeping changes in the auto industry also present the league opportunities. The impact of tariffs, consumers’ affinity for SUVs, the future impact of driverless cars, and the popularity of services like Uber and Lyft could lead to a rideshare deal, said Renie Anderson, NFL senior vice president of partnerships, sponsorship and consumer products. So far, Uber and Lyft have done deals only with teams, seeking access to their game-day crowds.

 

“We’re taking a broader look at mobility,” explained Nana-Yaw Asamoah, NFL vice president of business development and sponsorship. “If we start to figure out the future of driverless cars and rideshare, we can plan accordingly.”

 

Following demographic trends, health care should be a good opportunity, but again, it’s been a category predominated by team sponsorships and naming rights to facilities. By no means is it automatic, but the NFL does have its blue sideline medical tent as a canvas. Asamoah said it’s likely to be more of a holistic pitch, centering on year-round health and wellness.

 

While the NFL has quick-service restaurant sponsors in Pizza Hut and McDonald’s (the latter is on the to-be-renewed list), the league is also looking within the casual dining space, where sports-oriented hub Buffalo Wild Wings is a likely target.

 

An intriguing new area is the optical category. Currently, players can wear tinted visors on NFL fields only for medical reasons and 13 did so last season. League marketers are now working with the competition committee to see if a broader deal could include visors that would improve player performance. Might that include a tie-in to sunglasses by the same manufacturers or even a sideline deal?

 

Film studios are another target. This past season, the league did a short-term deal with Sony Pictures for its “Venom” release. With enough relevant movies in the pipeline, a longer tie-up could make sense.

 

Having successfully sold a playoff sponsorship for the first time — to Intuit’s TurboTax — Anderson said the league is now looking to sell a presenting sponsorship across the three-game Thanksgiving package on CBS, Fox and NBC, which would make sense for a large retailer or any brands seeking an early presence before Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the entire holiday-shopping period. 

First Look podcast, with Super Bowl LIII and NFL offseason discussion at the 8:24 mark:

You can also download the First Look transcript.

As a follow-up to Fanatics’ recent and much talked-about distribution agreement with Walmart.com, Chairman and Founder Michael Rubin said he has two similar deals signed, which will put Fanatics “marketplaces” on two large retail sites, based offshore. As was the case with the Walmart.com deal, they are both 10-year pacts. He would not name the companies.

 

These “marketplaces” are a new strategy through which Fanatics can cut into Amazon’s enormous advantage in web traffic. Amazon attracts more than 197 million monthly unique viewers, while Walmart.com draws 127 million.

 

Rubin
Photo: Getty Images

“Marketplaces represent a huge portion of e-commerce, especially offshore,” Rubin said, adding that the Walmart.com deal took a year to complete. “So it’s a massive growth opportunity. We need to do it in a disciplined way, but with our assortment of a million products, we hope to put [them online] everywhere. Everyone is asking how to grow the industry, this is a way to do that.”

 

Rubin is projecting an increase in overall company revenue from $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion this year “and when I look at our growth over the next decade, marketplaces will be a big chunk of that growth.”

 

Marketplace deals generally require a commission of 7 percent to 15 percent paid to the site. Rubin said he won’t do any marketplace deal without exclusive rights and ensuring it’s in a “brand right environment.”

 

For years, sports properties and their top-tier licensees shunned Walmart and other mass merchandisers as being undesirable “downstairs” distribution, largely competing on price. Fanatics’ size and scale has apparently changed that perception, as top-shelf on-field licensees, like Nike and New Era, will be included in the Walmart.com assortment.

 

Many licensors “are right not to be selling in [mass merch] stores, but online, the [Walmart.com] presentation is better or as good as anyone,” Rubin said. “Leagues and teams want their licensed products distributed everywhere — here’s a way to do just that and in places without counterfeits and a brand presentation that works.”

 

Rubin said the integration of the Majestic brand, purchased from VF in 2017, along with associated distribution and manufacturing capabilities, is 90 percent done. Rumors abound that Majestic will eventually be the leading downstairs brand for Fanatics, but Rubin would not comment.

 

As for Fanatics’ long-rumored IPO? “Years away,” Rubin insisted. “In 2019 and 2020, we’re integrating giant businesses, moving the NFL business that had been with Nike to us and moving the [MLB] baseball business to us and Nike. For the next few years we’ll be focused on integrating those.”

Marc Bluestein (left) and Tim Brown discuss the launch of H2H.
Photo: Terry Lefton / staff

News picked up from a week on the ground in Atlanta

WE’RE STILL HERE: Hyundai CMO Dean Evans said that while the company is not renewing its NFL corporate sponsorship, it is not walking away from the league. “We’re still sports-oriented and NFL-oriented, we just moved our chess pieces around,” he said, pointing to Hyundai’s five team sponsorships and presenting sponsorship of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” pregame show as evidence.

 

As for next season? “We’re plowing all those dollars right back into NFL media,” Evans said, adding that while the NFL sponsorship increased various brand metrics for the Korean car brand, dealers prefer broadcast entitlements because they “really allow you to stand out” among the morass of ads in a typical NFL telecast.

 

This year marked Hyundai’s 11th year advertising in the Super Bowl out of the last dozen, a trend Evans sees continuing.

 

Without NFL corporate sponsorship rights, Hyundai will have far less on-the-ground activation at the Super Bowl, but “we have enough dealers addicted to this trip, so we’ll still be here in force,” he said, with a laugh. A total of 100 dealers and their spouses were being entertained by Hyundai in Atlanta.

 

SLEEP ON IT: During an appearance by Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott at Sleep Number’s Super Bowl Experience activation, SVP/CMO Kevin Brown said that after a year with NFL and NFLPA rights, he’s sleeping easier. More than 1,800 NFL players have purchased one of the company’s high-end mattresses via substantial discount, helping to increase social media buzz exponentially. A national TV campaign with Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins drove traffic to the company’s website — where more than 90 percent of purchases start, Brown said, adding that awareness is at near-record levels and an amalgam buzz metric has never been higher. As for adjustments for the second of Sleep Number’s five-year NFL pact? “We’re a performance brand, so with all those players using our products, we want to be out there telling their stories,” he said.

 

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW: A familiar figure represented Turner Sports in its recent broadcast negotiations with the fledgling Alliance of American Football. It was former NFL consumer products chief and current 16W partner Frank Vuono — with The Montag Group’s Sandy Montag on the other side of the table.

 

Vuono said he’s impressed with some of the tech money behind the AAF, considering how big a role interactivity and wagering is expected to play with the AAF.

 

“So far, they’ve avoided the mistakes of the past,” said Vuono, who was COO of the defunct United Football League, which lasted from 2009-12. “The NFL definitely needs a developmental league, especially for offensive linemen, and that’s where they say they are heading.”

 

HALLOWED HALLS: Former Notre Dame and NFL star WR Tim Brown is heading a group launching H2H — a legacy marketing property composed of players who have won the Heisman Trophy and have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Aside from Brown, they are Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Paul Hornung, Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach and Doak Walker. Simpson is not part of the marketing consortium, for obvious reasons.

 

Brown, who sold his Heisman Trophy a few years back, said he and other winners have been frustrated with the marketing restrictions surrounding the trophy, which include the Heisman assertion that no one else can display the award publicly. Still, Brown said the impetus for H2H was both for commercial reasons and to create a force for social change and community-based educational programs.

 

Marc Bluestein’s Aquarius Sports and Entertainment is handling marketing and sales. Bluestein hopes to launch H2H as a content series and then extend into events, licensing, marketing and promotional opportunities.

 

GREENER PASTURES: Ari Roitman, Philadelphia Eagles senior vice president of business, has left the team after eight years. In Atlanta, Roitman said the decision was mutual and made in September. He called his tenure with the team “incredibly gratifying” and offered thanks to ownership. Next for Roitman: Pivot Consulting Group, his startup sales and marketing consultancy, with capabilities including business development, sponsorship activation, premium sales and retention, along with TV, radio and digital monetization strategies.

First Look podcast, with Super Bowl LIII and NFL offseason discussion at the 8:24 mark:

You can also download the First Look transcript.

Player tracking firm Zebra Technologies and the NFL are close to extending their deal, which is due to expire early next month.

Zebra is the data supplier behind Next Generation Stats, which measures players’ speeds and closing distances, for example.

“The 2018 regular season was the last year of a five-year original deal that was struck with the league,” said John Pollard, vice president of Zebra Sports. “We are really looking forward to extending that relationship with the NFL. We came to some level of agreement in the early fall, late summer 2018, and we are in the process of working through the final details. So, both of us — Zebra, and the NFL — will endeavor to continue our relationship.”

The NFL declined to comment other than to confirm the Zebra deal expires at the end of the league year in early March.

Zebra’s tracking chips are in every player’s shoulder pads and generate statistics that can measure closing speeds and the quickness of a pass rusher. This past season, all 32 teams for the first time received the data for all clubs. Teams are still not receiving data from the ball, which also has a chip. This would allow teams to track ball rotation speeds, distance traveled, and where the ball is when a receiver makes his cut.

“The ball data has been collected for two full seasons,” Pollard said. “The league is still evaluating the efficacy of that data and then determining how to share, or if to share, with clubs. If you have the ball data released, we can do more analysis, it opens up a new level of analytics.”

This past season, Amazon Web Services sponsored the Next Generation Stats, so when shown on TV, they are referred to as “Next Gen Stats powered by AWS.” AWS also uses its mathematical capabilities and cloud services to derive more insights, Pollard said.

Zebra also plans to expand into college football, Pollard said. The annual Senior Bowl last month used Zebra chips for the first time, he added.