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Lenovo Uses Fantasy Football To Build Brand Awareness

Advertising Age, August 25, 2015

By George Slefo

At Fantasy Online College, NFL running back Matt Forte teaches Chicago history and compares himself to other notable Chicagoans such as Barack Obama. Comedian J.B. Smoove is school chancellor and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is senior professor, aeronautic miracles.

The fictional school — also called FOC for short — is the latest in Lenovo's online video series which aims to increase its brand recognition among millennials and promote the Yoga hybrid computer. The company is now in its fourth year as the official laptop, notebook, desktop and workstation sponsor of the NFL.

Fantasy football culture usually takes all the ideals of playing sports and throws them out the window. It doesn't matter if a team wins or loses. Stat-padding isn't selfish, it's applauded. And seeing a grown man get on his knees in front of a flat screen TV and say, "Please, God, I hope Aaron Rodgers gets injured on this play," is completely acceptable.

Lenovo takes note of that madness and pokes fun at fantasy culture as well as itself in the series.

In one bit, Mr. Beckham, Mr. Forte and Dallas running back Demarco Murray encourage fantasy owners to tweet at them on game day when their performance is lacking. "Talking with my fantasy owners is the most important thing in my life … Feel free to contact me any time, with foul language in all caps -- we know that's just passion," the trio says before giving out their Twitter handles.

"Lenovo is doing the kind of things as an industry that people in sports marketing and sponsorship talk about all the time," said Jim Andrews, senior VP at IEG. "They have this official status and they are doing something interesting with it. It is developing original digital content that is sharable."

Other NFL athletes included in the video series are Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Packers running back Eddie Lacy, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, Jets wideout Eric Decker and Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon.

Lenovo again teamed with DigitasLBi, who has been partners with the computer giant the last three years, and added two new agencies: Vox Creative and Above Average's new sports comedy brand, The Kicker. Heath Cullens ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Deadbeat") directed the videos and "Saturday Night Live" writer Bryan Tucker was also brought on board.

"Lenovo being in the market this time of year is not an accident," said Greg Stahovec, senior VP-group account director at Digitas. "Back-to-school buying and shopping for computers is especially big this time of year and we created content specifically for that."

The ads are running during week three of preseason football, a time when most fantasy football players tune in to watch their favorite players. Most fantasy drafts are held after the third preseason game as NFL starters do not play in the fourth and final preseason contest.

Last year, the company teamed with Onion Labs to create Tough Season, a mockumentary that was viewed more than 20 million times and won a Sports Clio award.

"We look at things like video views, retweets and reposts as an increase in overall fan awareness," said Kevin Berman, Lenovo director of consumer marketing, North America. "We think of millennials as those who have had tech at their fingertips since the day they were born, or who have had internet for most of their lives."

Since becoming a sponsor with the NFL in 2012, Lenovo has increased its brand awareness among fantasy football players by 32 percentage points, the company said.

The China-based Lenovo is the No. 1 PC brand worldwide and has a 19.2% market share at the end of 2014, representing growth of 10.1% year over year, according to IDC. In the U.S., however, the company ranks fourth, behind HP, Dell and Apple.