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

fleeing.

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

and healthy.

”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

inaccessible.

”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

elsewhere.

”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

college football?

”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

problematic.

As Grubman notes, timetables are different for different

marketing partners. The longest are for retailers and

manufacturers.

”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

programming.”

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

early August.”

Then what?

”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.”