NFL maintains slow, steady approach in crafting policy around sports betting
While it now has corporate sponsorships with DraftKings and Caesars, the NFL continues to move slowly on a comprehensive legalized sports betting sponsorship, which surely would be the largest in the industry.
Chris Halpin, NFL executive vice president, chief strategy and growth officer, is heading the group developing the policy and, as expected, the league is proceeding cautiously. Still, there are a couple of developments from the Super Bowl worth noting when it comes to sports gambling:
1) While official word is that formal negotiations for new NFL TV deals have not begun, there’s already skirmishing — or perhaps it’s posturing — about whether gambling ads will be permitted within NFL programming. Sources in Miami said NFL ownership is intractably opposed to gambling ads appearing within its games and pregame, postgame and halftime shows, and is making that position clear, even before face-to-face negotiations begin. But the NFL remains open to allowing gambling-related content on those same pregame, postgame and halftime shows. Network executives describe the NFL as taking small steps in this area.
2) A senior industry source in Miami noted that the NFL has retained an executive search firm to fill a new job with an attention-grabbing title: vice president of sports betting. Times have changed since those many years when the NFL prohibited the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority from advertising on the Super Bowl. This year’s game was the first to feature an ad from the tourism group.
“Where Sunday Ticket ends up seems like a bigger issue,’’ said a network source, who will be involved in the negotiations, which he doesn’t expect to begin before March or April at the earliest. “I don’t want to say the NFL is intractable before we’ve even seen a model of how this would work. … Surely, I’d expect gambling to be a part of those conversations, especially with Jerry Jones being so optimistic about legalized betting’s impact on NFL rights. We’re not nearly as optimistic, given the amount of states where it’s legal (currently 14).”
■ RIDING WITH THE COWBOYS: MillerCoors’ spending on sports sponsorship has slowed dramatically over the past few years, but we’ve long thought that the biggest test of the brewer’s recent “less is more” sponsorship philosophy would be whether it renewed its Dallas Cowboys exclusive rights, which date back more than four decades.
Sure enough, numerous industry sources in Miami told us that Miller’s Cowboys deal has been renewed for an additional 10 years at an astronomical price that starts at $18 million and averages around $20 million per annum, courtesy of an auction with Anheuser-Busch InBev. Miller is believed to have been paying $11 million to $12 million under the old deal.
■ TO YOUR HEALTH: What if you paid what it took to buy off the top shelf and then hid your purchase away? Essentially, that’s the story with Cigna — call it the stealth NFL corporate sponsor.
The $49 billion health care insurer discreetly purchased NFL league rights last year and has sat on them, at least as far as any business-to-consumer marketing efforts. We are told there were some scattered business-to-business efforts last fall and Cigna has increased its NFL team deals, including the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, to five or six in total, with Genesco Sports Enterprises handling negotiations.
Cigna, which came on board as an NHL corporate sponsor three years ago and is lead sponsor for the “Every Save Counts/Hockey Fights Cancer” program, has also been working with the NFL’s player development/football operations side on issues such as mental health. We also note that Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, is affiliated with Cigna for community outreach programs.
Some Cigna signage was evident during Super Bowl week at youth football events in Miami. Sources said a consumer push is coming later this year. Until then, Cigna will remain the league’s most furtive corporate sponsor.
While pro teams have long had a variety of hospitals as local sponsors, league deals have been tougher to land. In addition to the NHL’s three-year-old deal with Cigna, others include the NBA’s five-year-old Kaiser Permanente sponsorship.
“Health care and hospital sponsorships are 99% local; every team has one or more medical providers and many have numerous ones,” said Jeff Sofka, a former NFL marketer whose Bendigo consultancy, in Ridgewood, N.J., pairs health care brands including NYU Langone Health and Cedars-Sinai with sports and entertainment properties. “As health care becomes more about keeping people healthy before they become sick, you’ll see more deals like this, because they need to reach more consumers more of the time.’’
■ HUNTING SEASON: The NFL’s offseason is the “on” season for NFL marketers seeking new sponsors. Last season yielded dollars from new categories, including Oakley on the field, and Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage embracing the Super Bowl as a vehicle for a national “squares” game promotion.
Nana-Yaw Asamoah, NFL vice president of business development and sponsorship, said autos and quick-service restaurants are top priorities.
Hyundai left the NFL sponsor fold after the 2018 season, and while its Genesis luxury nameplate remained a corporate patron of the league, those rights expire at the end of March, and there has been a reshuffling of senior management at the automaker. Nonetheless, Asamoah said renewal talks continue, but there’s a space for any carmaker looking at both the luxury and regular auto categories.
The quick-service restaurant category has always been a heavy media spender but can sometimes be indifferent about the value of intellectual property deals. With the recent QSR emphasis on delivery from the likes of Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub, the question is whether there’s a possible deal that might or might not be paired with a specific fast-food brand. Pizza Hut has NFL rights for pizza, while on-again/off-again NFL sponsor McDonald’s walked after last season.
The league has also been in the market seeking a spirits sponsor, but with A-B marketing more non-beer alcoholic beverages, it will be intriguing to see whether the brewer snaps up alcoholic-beverage rights across the board.
■ A DIFFERENT NFL HOUSE: There were plenty of happy faces around NFL sponsor Lowe’s Super Bowl Experience build-out of 32 miniature houses with NFL themes — one for each team. Still, no one was smiling more broadly than Endeavor’s 160over90 President Ed Horne, when telling us about the genesis of the project.
Turns out that particular activation was a key part of the original agency pitch that won the Lowe’s NFL business for Endeavor last spring. “Just a wonderful feeling, to see that grow from a concept to Super Bowl reality, which really speaks to the Lowe’s brand,” said Horne, at Endeavor’s hospitality house, near the Lowe’s activation on South Beach.
As for the fate of the whimsical structures? Still TBD. It would seem a shame to demolish them, even if Lowe’s does sell around 50 different varieties of crowbars.
■ LEAGUEWIDE LAGER: While two years remain on A-B’s NFL league rights, we’re told that preliminary talks have begun, with Genesco Sports Enterprises assisting, along with 160over90. However, as one insider put it, “that’s a very difficult conversation” before the NFL cements its next media rights deal, not to mention a labor agreement, which expires after the upcoming season.
Rapidly changing dynamics in the beer category, which see hard seltzer rights nearly as coveted as beer, will make those negotiations fascinating. Note that the NHL has divided its beer category and we wonder if the NFL would ever do the same, harking back decades to when A-B had regular-season NFL rights, while Miller Brewing controlled NFL postseason and Super Bowl intellectual property.
■ PREPARE FOR LAUNCH: Nothing makes property marketers happier than sponsors using their jewel events as launch vehicles. In Miami, that included Genesis introducing its GV80 SUV; Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage employing the Super Bowl as a springboard for a national game promotion; and Gatorade making its new Bolt24 drink the presenting sponsor of Super Bowl Opening Night.
Brett O’Brien, Gatorade senior vice president and general manager, said Bolt24 is aimed at athletes, but for the “non-performance occasion,” making the low-carb/low-sugar, anti-oxidant, caffeinated beverage a nice fit for Opening Night. “It’s a different way for us to talk to athletes about wellness and stuff that’s away from the field of play that prepares them for competition,’’ O’Brien said. “It’s made for a different consumption occasion, but the same target for us — athletes.’’
Within the Fox broadcast, NFL corporate sponsors bought the equivalent of 30 30-second spots, though in varying lengths.
■ TURKEY DAY TD: Tracie Rodburg, NFL senior vice president of sponsorship, said the league is again looking to fashion a sponsor platform around its three Thanksgiving Day games, which are seemingly attractive to any retailer, since they’re at the beginning of the holiday shopping season.
“The assets are attractive, and obviously the audience on that day is huge,” she said. “With the right messaging, it’s a great jump-start on the holidays.’’
The league has been trying to sell comprehensive marketing platforms across the opening weekend of its playoffs and Thanksgiving schedule for several years, but so far, there have been no takers.
■ PEPSI’S WATER DAMAGE: Pepsi’s halftime show earned rave reviews, but the NFL’s soft drink sponsor had a big problem on its hands a day earlier. On Saturday, Pepsi began processing ticket refunds and rideshare compensation for thousands of music fans after a disastrous conclusion to Friday’s Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl party on Miami’s Watson Island.
At midnight, after a severe thunderstorm hit, but before main act Harry Styles played, the Miami Fire Department abruptly canceled the show, ordering an evacuation of the specially built concert venue. That forced about 5,000 people into a driving rainstorm, and onto a low-lying island with one access road and little shelter. Some fans were standing in a foot of water, and others told the Miami Herald they couldn’t get a car until sunup.
Why were people ordered to evacuate a shelter during a storm? Even though the facility was steel, it fell under local laws for temporary structures (intended for tents) and high winds were expected. In short, there was no contingency for a mass evacuation.
“We tried to provide a really fun experience for our fans at the Super Bowl and we didn’t do that,” said a Pepsi official. The building hosted AT&T Super Saturday Night in better weather a night later, and without incident.
■ RIDESHARE WOES: Problems marred the post-Super Bowl rideshare pickup plan outside Hard Rock Stadium, and nobody’s willing to take the blame. Some fans waited several hours for a ride after the game, despite extensive planning from the NFL, transportation consultant SP+, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami-Dade County police, Uber and Lyft.
Uber is a sponsor of the Dolphins, and the company thinks the problem lies with SP+ and the police for preventing their drivers from getting to fans. “Due to limited road access and spatial constraints, drivers were not able to access the designated rideshare lot,” a statement from the company said.
But SP+ described something very different, and suggested Uber was manipulating the system to maximize surge pricing. Spokesman Don Jordan said more than 800 cars were in the lot by halftime, and passengers were easily connecting with them at first, but that all changed at crunch time.
“Just prior to the end of the game, rideshare apps stopped reflecting the number of vehicles that were present within the parking lot,” Jordan said. “As egress began, guests were struggling to match to vehicles, although they could clearly see vehicles within the parking area. Additionally, the rides that were being matched were at ‘surge rates.’” The NFL and SP+ eventually moved 800 people offsite to less congested areas via bus to help them get a car.
■ TWITCH COMPETITION SCORES BIG: The NFLPA and Twitch are eager to expand on the Twitch Streamer Bowl, the “Fortnite” competition held in Miami during Super Bowl week that drew 1 million viewers online.
Top Twitch streamers teamed up with NFL players in a 16-team tournament, won by gamer Cody “Clix” Conrod and Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen. NFL players make hundreds of appearances at the Super Bowl, but the Streamer Bowl stood out because of how enthusiastic they were.
“What’s so great about esports video game activation is these guys do this anyway,” said Scott Langerman, CEO of ACE Media, the NFLPA-owned content division. Most of the players used the NFL-themed cosmetic enhancements made possible by the league’s deal with “Fortnite” publisher Epic Games, but the NFL shield was not involved.
Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.