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NFL teams up in play for new sponsors

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The National Football League has an official drink and an official wireless headset. Now, in a sign of how far sports leagues will go to find revenue in the recession, it has official toiletries. The NFL, the biggest U.S. sports league by revenue, on Wednesday will announce a sponsorship deal with Procter & Gamble Co., maker of everyday household items such as soaps and shampoos. The multi-year pact, which P&G says is the costliest in its history, lets it slap a newly designed "Official Locker Room Product of the NFL" label on products including Old Spice deodorant and Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo. Financial terms of the agreement weren't disclosed. A person familiar with the pact valued it at $10 million a year or more. Sports leagues around the country are inking some offbeat deals as they hunt for new sources of ad dollars, particularly to replace financial-services firms and auto makers. Spending on sports sponsorship deals in North America is expected to grow just 0.7% to $11.48 billion this year, after growth of almost 15% last year, according to IEG, a research company owned by WPP PLC.
"The days of the sporting leagues just looking to the beer and financial-services companies for sponsorship money is over," says Greg Luckman, president of the sports and entertainment marketing arm of WPP's GroupM. The NFL, concerned about shrinking profits as player salaries and other costs rise, earlier this year created an "official wing" for the playoffs to do a deal with Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC and is allowing teams to sell ads on their practice jerseys during training. The National Basketball Association, meanwhile, has sold sponsorships to Goldfish crackers and a line of Joseph Abboud apparel sold at J.C. Penney, among others. The National Hockey League has created a new player award, the "Scotiabank Fan Fav." "The good ideas will find money, even in this environment," says Mark Tatum, executive vice president for marketing partnerships with the NBA. Sports marketing experts urge caution. "If the leagues start to become too cluttered with lesser-known brands, blue-chip sponsors may feel that their deals will be devalued," says Luckman from GroupM. Mark Waller, senior vice president for sales and marketing at the NFL, says the league had been working on the deal with P&G for nearly three years. Waller's team created a "locker room products category" that could encompass numerous P&G brands. The category has its limits, since the players probably won't be seen shaving with Gillette razors or applying Old Spice, the way coaches use Motorola wireless headsets and players chug Gatorade on the sidelines. But Waller and his team convinced P&G that there was enough of a natural connection between "tough players and tough products" for P&G to become one of the league's 21 major marketing partners. Others include Coors Light (official beer) and Reebok (official apparel maker). The accord also gives the Cincinnati consumer products company the right to use the red, white and blue NFL logo — although not the Locker Room seal — on a bevy of P&G products, including Dawn dish soap, Charmin toilet paper, Gain detergent and Bounty paper towels on in-store displays and in ads. For the NFL, the P&G deal represents an opportunity to go into business broadly with a company that spends over $8 billion a year on advertising around the globe but just a fraction of that on sports sponsorships, a relatively new area for P&G. Procter spends roughly $90 million on U.S. sponsorships annually, according to IEG. "When we acquired Gillette [in 2005], we found out how much of a role sports marketing could play with our broader P&G portfolio," says Jason Dial, P&G's director of global sports marketing. P&G's products are mainly purchased by women. Still, women represented about 33% of the NFL's average audience during the 2008 regular season, according to ratings giant Nielsen Co.

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