NFL's got the right stuff for advertisers

The National Football League has had its share of problems so far this season, but promotional spending by its key sponsors is not one of them.

The NFL's 21 major marketing sponsors will pour a record $1.1 billion into NFL-themed promotions, a 10% boost over last year.

"Every year you think the league can't any bigger and any more pervasive, and it does," says sports marketing expert Terry Lefton, an editor with the SportsBusiness Daily.

The boost in promotional spending comes despite a decline in TV ratings vs. last year (10% in Week 1, 8% in Week 2).

The league also has taken an image hit from scandals involving Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick's charges related to dog fighting and questions about the New England Patriots breaking rules on videotaping opponents' signals. And Lisa Baird, the marketing vice president responsible for the new logo and successful consumer-generated ad contest last season, said last week she'll be leaving in December.

Marketers, however, remain big fans of the NFL and its large audience. While overall ratings were off a bit, viewership of regular-season games in prime time averaged 16 million — 66% more than the average for all prime-time shows on the Big 4 broadcast networks.

Research by the SportsBusiness Daily found the league has not been hurt by the scandals, Lefton says. "Whenever we try to relate special issues back to any consumer backlash, we don't see anything."

Meanwhile, marketers fielding a new season of TV ads, high-tech promotion and in-store merchandising to link gridiron passion with their brands include Burger King bkc, Campbell's cpb Chunky Soup, Coors tap Light, Pepsi pep and Visa.

"The NFL helps us grow our (retail) business," says Ralph Santana, vice president, sports, media and entertainment, Pepsi-Cola North America. "Store managers connect with the sport and want to build displays around it. They love the teams and the glitz and glamour."

More NFL promotion in recent years for the NFL draft, training camps, preseason games and the Pro Bowl also has stretched marketer tie-in opportunities.

"It's really a year-round relationship with our fans," says Peter Murray, senior vice president, corporate marketing and sponsorship sales. "The league continues to create programs to maintain fan interest throughout the calendar. Our partners are taking advantage of that."

In NFL sponsors' 2007 playbook:

•Burger King. After two years of using the BK King to market to grown-up NFL fans, the chain added a kid-sized promotion. One of 32 miniature player jerseys comes in Kids Club meals, and kids can play a game online that features BK products and football gear. "We felt like we had something special with the adult NFL superfan, but after two years we wanted to broaden our message," says Brian Gies, vice president of marketing.

•Campbell's Chunky Soup. The brand known for its ads with players and their moms expanded the roster to eight this year, including DeMarcus Ware, Devin Hester and Jonathan Vilma and their moms.

"Certain teams and certain players (appeal) beyond their immediate market," says Campbell's spokesman John Faulkner. "We wanted to try to get a little bigger and broader reach."

Along with the TV ads, website offers player bios, behind-the-scenes video from the ad shoots and an online newsletter, The Campbell's Chunky Playbook.

•Coors Light. Consumers can text-message codes from inside Coors packages to enter the Silver Ticket sweepstakes for prizes from T-shirts to VIP access to NFL events. "NFL is the biggest property in sports, and sports is just huge with legal-drinking-age guys," says Andy England, chief marketing officer. "We spend a majority of our (marketing) dollars on the property."

•Pepsi. Game codes on 700 million packages can be entered at for the Call Your Play promotion, with $6 million in prizes. Reggie Bush hosts the contest site, where visitors also can create a Reggie Bush video with audio and video clips on the site. Pepsi is touting its newest brand with this year's NFL promotion: Diet Pepsi Max with ginseng and caffeine. "NFL is the broadest reach you can get," Santana says. "It works to build an existing brand or allows a new brand to get a toehold with consumers."

•Visa. To get more NFL fans to pull out their Visa cards, the card giant, with support from more than 500 Visa-issuing banks, is running a sweepstakes through Dec. 15 called "Inside Pass." A TV ad promoting the sweepstakes features New Orleans Saints fans on game day tailgating and sporting hairstyles with the Saints logo. Card holders who make purchases on Visa get a chance to win VIP tickets to playoff games, the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl. In a separate promotion, buyers using Visa cards to pick up the video game Madden NFL 08 through Sunday also get a shot at Super Bowl tickets.

Michael Lynch, senior vice president, Visa USA, says the NFL is the strongest sports tie-in for marketers. "For the next six months it'll captivate our country."