NFL AD BLITZ TARGETS NEXT-GENERATION FANS: PLAY FOOTBALL INITIATIVE GETS ADDED SUPPORT

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The National Football League on Sept. 7 kicks off the largest ad push yet for its Play Football initiative, a blitz supporting new consumer products and grass-roots programs designed to turn kids into NFL consumers.

Instead of being confined to NFL game broadcasts, commercials will air throughout the fall in all TV dayparts, a perk included in the NFL's new $17.6 billion pacts with ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN.

FAVRE STARS IN TV SPOTS

The first spot, to debut on ABC's "Monday Night Football," has Green Bay Packers star Brett Favre joining kids playing two-hand touch football. Soon they are joined by a cross-section of people -- Chinese restaurant workers, a gospel choir, a couple of nuns -- before Dallas Cowboys star Deion Sanders appears.

Versions of the spot will have several different endings. After Mr. Sanders is told to sit on a bench, he bellyaches to a kid in one; is teased by Mr. Favre in another; and gets into a staring contest with an NFL team mascot in a third.

In another spot, a fictitious videogame character named Zortrac, self-proclaimed master of the Alpha Nine galaxy, reluctantly discloses that his universal omnipotence flags on sunny fall afternoons, when kids prefer playing football in the park to using a joystick.

A retooled commercial from last year starring Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders promotes a toll-free number for parents and kids to call for informational about local Play Football activities.

SPORTS WOO YOUTH

The new vigor in the NFL's youth marketing comes as pro sports leagues are getting more proactive in cultivating next-generation fans, whose options for recreation and entertainment are increasingly diversifying.

Prior to Play Football, the NFL had one youth-oriented program: Punt, Pass & Kick, which reached 300,000 kids a year. This year, its multitude of programs will involve over 3 million boys and girls, ages 6 to 14, said David Newman, VP-marketing and events, NFL Properties.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have set up a $100 million fund to support youth organizations that integrate football into their training.

SPONSORS ON BOARD

The league has lined up Ford Motor Co., Kmart Corp., Nike and Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade brand to sponsor flag-football-based leagues, clinics and educational programs in over 20 NFL markets.

This fall, the first products will come out of the NFL's six-year, $60 million alliance with Hasbro. Among them: an NFL Monopoly board game.

Hasbro will promote the products and tout its alliance in the "1998 Play Football Handbook Presented by Hasbro," the first-ever guide-to-the-season created for kids.

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