— -- 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.