NFL looks to next year
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.
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.