NFL Sponsors Gambled And Scored Big

Those of you who are loyal readers of this column (hope you're both well, by the way) will recall my last article where I wondered how the NFL lockout would affect sponsors' activation plans. My flawless logic went like this: sponsors have to lay their activation plans in stone, many months in advance -- especially, if they involve retail promotions. The uncertainty around whether there was to be an NFL season could have led sponsors to play it safe, in case their whole fall marketing campaigns went the way of the dodo.

It turns out that NFL sponsors are a gutsy bunch -- the kind who will go for it on fourth-and-three from the 40-yard line rather than punting. The sponsor activations for the most part have been first class -- especially given the climate of uncertainty surrounding their planning periods. Among the most impressive efforts to date:

Bud Light: For years Coors Light did an amazing job activating its deal as the Official Beer of the NFL, so the stakes were high for Bud Light in trying to top them -- especially given the substantial premium paid to oust Coors. While it's still early, I'm pretty amazed by what Bud has done. Of course, there are the traditional elements, Super Bowl ads, on-pack branding, etc., but Bud has been impressive by creating a 360-degree activation using social media and experiential marketing to enhance more traditional promotions.

The sponsorship kicked off at this year's draft with the innovative "Best Round Ever" promotion, in which a fan could win $10 million for perfectly predicting the first round of the draft (and then be given a job by the Raiders running their personnel department). This was followed by the "Ultimate Fan Experience" sweepstakes, a nationwide experiential marketing tour ("Fan Camps") and the "Bud Light Huddle" online interactive community.

Verizon: Over $700 million invested by Verizon over four years, but this isn't a traditional sponsorship as much as it is a content acquisition play. So far the results have been pretty remarkable -- with almost five million NFL mobile apps downloaded offering access to live game coverage. It has enhanced the content play with the NFL Training Ground experiential tour, which won plaudits from Event Marketer magazine and an online trivia competition fronted by the eternally modest Jay Glazer.

Of course, the NFL has as many sponsors as the Buffalo Bills (a/k/a "The Greatest Show on Tundra" -- at least for the next week) score points in a game, and not all of them activate as well as these two examples. Do NFL sponsors make missteps? Of course they do. In my humble opinion, however, NFL sponsors collectively do a better job of activating their rights than do sponsors of any other sports property. Perhaps, that's partly because there is no branding built into the NFL deal, except for a handful of sponsors and, therefore, activation is far more critical to an NFL sponsor than, say, a NASCAR team sponsor whose car is a flying billboard.

So fans of NFL football, raise your can and your phone to the sponsors who had faith in the NFL that they would not strike. We are a better fan base because of their guts and their creativity which draws us into the fall football frenzy!

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