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Volume 27 No. 4
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NFL To Tarp Off Lower Rows Of Seats, Allow Teams To Sell Signage To Local Sponsors

NFL teams have been told they’ll be able to sell camera-visible signage to local sponsors for the first time during the '20 season, sources said, a step one sales executive said would “significantly” defray pandemic-related revenue losses.

Under a plan shared with team presidents on Tuesday, the first six to eight rows of seating in every stadium -- including on-field suites -- will be off limits to fans this season. That move is officially to protect players, coaches and team staff from coronavirus exposure, but it would also free up that space to become lucrative sponsorship assets.

Sources said those seats will be covered by tarps that could include sponsor logos, similar to how EPL teams repurposed empty seating sections for ads during its return to play last week. The plan will be presented to owners at a meeting tomorrow. An NFL spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.

There are restrictions designed to protect league sponsors. Team naming rights sponsors, local sponsors that don’t conflict with league sponsors, and local sponsors who also have national deals -- such as Bud Light -- will have the easiest time complying with the rules.

Certain exceptions may be in play for competitive categories, one source said. It’s not clear where gambling companies fit into the regulations. The new policy will be for '20 only.

Unlike in MLB or NHL, the value of that on-camera signage in the NFL is high due to its extreme scarcity. Currently, only sideline sponsors such as Microsoft, Bose, Gatorade and Oakley enjoy brand exposure on the field and other spots TV cameras generally focus. All others are prohibited from displaying signage below 40 feet above the playing surface.

Teams have been clamoring for league policy changes that would allow them to offer local sponsors additional advertising assets, hoping that might forestall demands for givebacks in light of the probable strict limits on in-person attendance. It’s not clear exactly how many fans teams will be allowed to host, but most teams are planning on greatly reduced capacity.

The new assets will help protect sponsorship income for teams, but it won’t fix everything, said Genesco Sports Enterprises CEO John Tatum, whose clients include NFL sponsors A-B InBev, Pepsi and Frito-Lay. It will be most valuable to companies with need for more awareness and a media-centric plan. Many local sponsors are looking for something else.

“Static signage on the tarps have a level of value but it may not be the panacea, the cure all, for the fact there’s not hundreds of thousands or millions of people walking through the building engaging with the brand through a more lively or active manner,” Tatum said.