Outlook for NFL, NFLPA and sponsors
While fans fret about the NFL lockout affecting everything from
training camps to regular-season games, marketing partners for the
league and the players association aren’t panicking. Or
They are making contingency plans, of course, because the time
when sponsors and advertisers must make decisions on how loyal they
can be to pro football is rapidly approaching.
”We’re not at an Armageddon date. We not staring that in the
face this week,” Eric Grubman, NFL executive vice president of
business operations for the NFL, told The Associated Press during
the owners’ meetings last week. ”The demand is good, I think
strong. The platform of being with the NFL remains very valuable
”We have had losses (of potential new sponsors) that won’t
return immediately. With some of those, people have said they are
not signing with us because of the labor situation. Those dollars
have moved on forever, but those partners have not, I think. I
think when we get back to (playing) games, I like our chances to
get them back.
”We’re scratching and clawing to show them this, the value is
still going to be there.”
On the other side, NFL Players, the marketing arm for the
players association, says it has not lost any marketing partners.
Keith Gordon, the organization’s president, believes the worth of
its players to advertisers and sponsors could actually grow should
the lockout continue into the fall.
”While sponsors are hoping that football resumes in the fall,
they’re also positioning themselves to maximize player involvement
without games being played,” he said. ”The lockout provides
greater access to players at a time when they would normally be
”While unfortunate, it creates an opportunity for players that
would otherwise not be present.”
But those players already are in danger of losing money – aside
from what they currently are spending for medical coverage and what
they potentially will lose in salary and bonuses if training camps,
the preseason and real games are lost.
”In general, the most costly part of the lockout has been the
contraction of the commercial opportunities for players with NFL
sponsors,” Gordon said. ”In particular, those (sponsors) who have
either decided not to renew or those who have shifted dollars
”Sponsors usually spend the summer months working with players
and integrating them into creative (campaigns) for their
season-long marketing campaigns.”
One sponsor, Procter and Gamble, has said it’s making alternate
plans. Others surely are, as well.
”Of course, we hope that an agreement is reached soon and the
season commences as scheduled,” P&G spokeswoman Anne Westbrook
said. ”But we are planning with many contingencies in mind.”
So are the league’s broadcast partners, who might have the most
to lose without a new collective bargaining agreement soon. The
last thing ESPN, NBC, Fox or CBS wants is the loss of the cash cow
that comes with regular-season telecasts.
Forget the advance payments the networks already paid the NFL
that are being held up by Judge David Doty in Minneapolis.
Eventually, games will be played and the networks will get the
programming they paid for.
What they might not get, given a protracted labor impasse, are
the boffo ratings the NFL drew last year. They might not get their
money’s worth if fans are turned off to the NFL.
”Lots of contingency planning going on out there and an awful
lot of hand-holding,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based
sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., and a keen
observer of the league’s business side. ”Networks want to be able
to convey to advertisers they know what is happening and present a
calm approach so advertisers stay with the plan.”
ESPN, of course, can offer alternate programming for advertisers
tied to sporting events, but is that what advertisers will want?
There really is no substitute in sports (or most of television) for
the NFL and the eyeballs it attracts. Sure, ESPN has all that
college football inventory, some of which perhaps could be switched
to Sunday afternoons if the NFL is dark. Who’s to say that would be
worthwhile to NFL sponsors, some of whom already are involved with
”We are in contact constantly with our broadcast partners and
they are planning for a normal schedule and for contingency plans,
just as we are,” Grubman said.
”They have had the strongest market across the board they’ve
ever had. They have the opportunity to encourage advertisers to
compete with a full pile of advertising dollars. They are
absolutely worried about losing a great platform, but the pile of
advertising dollars is deeper this year.
”These are long-term partners already, and they have a natural
interest to promote what we have. I am confident they will be on it
as hard as we will be on it, promoting the partnership.”
If there is action to promote.
The NFL also partners with dozens of retailers, and they could
be the hardest hit as the lockout continues. For back-to-school
promotions that run from mid-to-late July, strict deadlines rapidly
are approaching. For the holiday shopping season, which typically
requires more lead time, a midsummer settlement could be
As Grubman notes, timetables are different for different
marketing partners. The longest are for retailers and
”For marketing budgets and advertising budgets, it’s not a long
a lead time,” he said. ”Advertising money, if they are hesitant
to commit, those are dollars they can shift to other
But the NFL is king, the only sport in America capable of
handling all comers.
”There are other expectations that are keeping the advertisers
and sponsors in the fold,” Ganis said. ”First, it is more likely
than not that an agreement that will cause most, if not all, of the
2011 season to be played will come together . … Early season
activities are at risk now. But there is an expectation that the
NFL will find a way to help the sponsors and advertisers make
themselves whole if their preseason and early season buys don’t
come through. That will work for a little while longer, perhaps to
”Contingency planning for many of these companies is being
done,” Ganis added, ”though they hope they don’t have to pull the
trigger on any contingency plans.”