— -- The National Football League is leaving no ball unturned as it prepares for a season kickoff campaign that it calls Super Bowl-size.
The analogy may be a reach, but the league is spending more and asking sponsors to ramp up their game to make sure that football ad revenue doesn't get lost in the economic downturn.
The regular season kickoff is not until Sept. 10, when Tennessee takes on the Steelers in Pittsburgh, but the marketing has begun with an ad campaign airing in preseason games.
The NFL is trying to make sure people are back in front of TV sets so that marketers have a reason to advertise. The NFL and marketing partners combined will spend about $40 million, up 30% from last year, to promote kickoff.
"The catalyst is how we can get viewers back in a way that would reinvigorate a currently depressed advertising market," says the NFL's Mark Waller, senior vice president, sales and marketing. The networks realize "how important football is for the collective TV universe."
Especially for CBS, which will broadcast 2010's Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Strong season ratings would only help ad sales for the game. But even CBS acknowledges game sales have been sluggish, because prime-time ad sales have been slow.
"The market has moved later, because prime time moved later, but the Super Bowl is very active right now," says LeslieAnne Wade, a CBS spokeswoman. "Deals are being made right now."
It's unlikely that CBS will be able to increase Super Bowl prices, but the NFL has continued to prove that advertisers still will pay a premium for games. Sponsorship rates rose slightly, 2%, for packages this year. And the National Guard, Gillette and casual restaurant chain IHOP signed up as NFL sponsors for the first time. IHOP will air NFL-themed ads and introduce football-themed menu items.
Even General Motors, just out of bankruptcy court, will return as an official NFL sponsor and be part of the kickoff marketing with its GMC Sierra pickup and all-new Terrain crossover.
"It's right on track for our target (market), and you can't beat the exposure," says Dayna Hart, Buick/GMC spokeswoman.
Coors is returning and adding some firsts for its marketing, including a VIP kickoff party. Coors Light is currently hosting bar parties to give away 1,000 tickets to a Sept. 9 VIP party in Pittsburgh. The events "help us tie in to the NFL all season long," says Julian Green, Coors Light spokesman.
For its part, the NFL will continue to back its own brand and properties. Among the initiatives:
•New ads. "You Want the NFL? Go to the NFL" will be the theme across all media in new ads by Grey New York. TV ads feature super-slow-motion shots of plays from games. A camera from high-tech ballistics company Vision Research in Wayne, N.J., films action at 1,000 frames per minute. Ads will be created throughout the season as the cameras capture more footage.
•50th anniversary AFL apparel. Vintage style apparel will commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the American Football League, the precursor to the NFL's American Conference, and the uniforms of the eight AFL teams. Three million NFLShop catalogs will feature the clothing.
•Social networking. The league's 800,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 Facebook fans will get content and chats that direct them to NFL.com.
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: Can you tell me what type of dog is in the Travelers Insurance commercial? He can't seem to find a good place for his bone.
–Joanne Morton, Mendham Township, N.J.
Q: In a Travelers ad there is a cute little dog running through the streets. The music has a reggae sound that I just love. Can you find out the artist?
–John Galvin, Virginia Beach
A:The Ad Team agrees: The ad is good, the dog is cute, and the music has a great sound. The commercial features a Terrier-mix dog from a rescue shelter, says Emily Halada, a spokeswoman for agency Fallon, which made the ad. It's a sweet, lighthearted look at how people hold certain things dear. Clearly this dog loves his bone. And the only place he feels it is safe is in his bowl — overseen by a small red Travelers umbrella. Before he discovers the umbrella he is troubled about where to leave it. Hence, the ad music selection: Trouble, from the album of the same name,by Ray LaMontagne. He is touring and will be on the East Coast in October.