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 chunky.com offers player bios, behind-the-scenes video from the ad shoots and an online newsletter, The Campbell's Chunky Playbook.

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