NFL Lockout Threatens In-store Promos for Pepsi, Mars, P&G and More

TV Buyers Can Shift Spots but Grocery Programs Have Limited Window

By Published on .

If you think the TV advertisers are sweating the NFL lockout, try talking to the in-store marketing folks.

An NFL 'cheesehead' display
An NFL 'cheesehead' display

After spending millions in advance on multibrand, in-store promotional deals with the National Football League, Procter & Gamble, Mars and PepsiCo, among others, now find themselves faced with the possibility of a truncated season that could do more damage to their plans and brands than those of the networks and TV buyers.

Networks can schedule alternate programming and marketers can apply media analytics to follow their target audiences wherever they go when they're not watching NFL football. But shopper-marketing events have calendars set a year or more in advance. Product has to be produced and displays have to be filled, regardless of whether games get played.

NFL sponsor Snickers is plowing ahead with its in-store promotion plans, although Debra Sandler, chief consumer officer for Mars Chocolate North America, said there's a chance the marketer could "scale back a few accounts."

"There is going to be a season," she said. "The issue is how late it will start and how it will impact our business." Normally, Mars uses TV ads to plug in-store promos, but the media buying will get tricky if the season is delayed.

Mars and other heavy in-store spenders -- along with their retailer counterparts -- will be watching intently next week for a ruling following a June 3 federal appellate-court hearing that would effectively end the lockout. NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell said May 25 that at least part of the season is already in jeopardy if the lockout doesn't end soon -- and the history of other similarly fraught sports-labor confrontations suggests a high likelihood of brinkmanship, which would lead to the loss of at least a few games.

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"Of course, we hope that an agreement is reached soon and the season commences as scheduled," said P&G spokeswoman Anne Westbrook. "But we are planning with many contingencies in mind."

Jon Kramer, CMO and managing director at ShopperGauge, a unit of retail merchandising display manufacturer RockTenn, hasn't seen signs of retailers bailing out on NFL-related programs. But he said, "We've probably got a 60- to 90-day window left."

The biggest impact so far is that every marketer has had to do "double planning," said Jason Dial, a Cincinnati-based sports-marketing consultant who was director of global sports marketing for P&G at the time it reached its multibrand deal with the NFL last decade. Either way, he said, retailers have a hole in their calendars and stores that has to be filled. "You still can swap in other things with some of the items and promotions," he said. But some NFL-themed merchandise or displays might go through, season or no. "If it's a long-lead item with print where it is locked in, it still might run," he said. "It's still a question of how relevant is it."

Regardless of any ultimate settlement, even one that saves the season but taints some early-season promotions could affect long-term planning and league revenue. "

When it comes up on renewal time," Mr. Dial said, "That weighs into the ability to renew. You're saying, 'Well, did we really get the returns we thought we would?'"

P&G, for example, was aware of the potential for a labor dispute when it negotiated its deal, he said. And one factor behind doing it anyway is the belief that the NFL brand is strong enough to survive "well beyond a game or a few games or even part of the season," he said.

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