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NFL Prods Partners Into Kicking Off Season With Fresh Creative

Ad Age, September 03, 2013

By John McDermott and Michael McCarthy

So much for back to school. The National Football League and a bevy of heavyweight sponsors are trying to brand "back to football," positioning Kickoff Weekend as an advertising event second only to the Super Bowl.

Almost a dozen NFL sponsors plan to launch new football-themed creative during NBC's prime-time coverage of the 2013 regular season's opening game, between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos on Sept. 5, or during the Sunday, Sept. 8, games, according to John Brody, the NFL's senior VP-sponsorship and sales.

It's no surprise that marketers pay big bucks to position themselves in front of the biggest of the last bastions of live-TV audiences. On an annual basis, NFL sponsorships start at $10 million to $20 million a year and top out at $100 million, according to Jim Andrews, senior VP-content strategy at sponsorship-consulting firm IEG. But branding Kickoff Weekend, which only started in 2002, seems to be paying off. Last year, nearly 106 million viewers tuned in to watch Kickoff Weekend across NBC, Fox, ESPN and CBS from Sept. 5 through 10, the third consecutive Kickoff Weekend to exceed 105 million viewers.


Those getting in on this season's opening-weekend action include Pepsi, Bud Light, Microsoft, Marriott, Verizon, Campbell Soup, Visa, Bridgestone and Procter & Gamble's Tide, Gillette and Old Spice brands. Other sponsors, such as P&G's Head & Shoulders, McDonald's, GMC, Papa John's, Snickers, Lenovo, Quaker Oats and SAP, are planning either new creative or pigskin-driven promotions during the 2013 regular season.

The aim of the NFL and its partners: Try to create marketing "bookends" around every new regular season, said Mr. Brody.

P&G will break on NFL's opening weekend the first major work from Grey since the agency won the Gillette men's shaving business, along with new work from Saatchi & Saatchi on Head & Shoulders and Tide.

Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light will launch a series of new spots called "Dilemmas" that highlight the lengths fans go to help their team win, according to Rob McCarthy, VP-Bud Light brands.

One sponsor missing? A headset backer. For the second season in a row, the NFL will kick off without a sponsor's logo adorning headsets worn by coaches. Motorola held the contract for 13 years but dropped out before last season.

Given the amount of cutaway TV shots and replays showing coaches such as Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots talking into their headsets, the NFL wants a nice paycheck. But the league is not close to a deal, said Mr. Brody.

Instead, the NFL's shield logo will adorn headsets as it did during preseason games.