PLAYER OF THE WEEK: NFL EXEC TO HELP SPONSORS WITH STRATEGIC GAME PLAN: JACOBUS TO ENTER NEW CATEGORIES WHILE WIDENING ACTIVITIES WITH CURRENT PARTNERS

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Gary Jacobus has spent the past six years successfully selling sponsorships the old-fashion way for the National Football League. Now, he's being asked to break into new categories with sponsorship deals, as well as help current partners get more out of the largest rights fees in all of pro sports.

Mr. Jacobus, 35, has moved to the new post of VP-corporate sponsorship development at NFL Properties, the league's marketing arm, from senior director-corporate sponsorship.

"Sponsorship has evolved from being a tactic to being a strategy [for marketers]. That has brought us to a crossroads, where we've moved from merely selling rights fees to getting involved in actual strategic planning," he said.

SEEKING INNOVATION, BIG IDEAS

"We're doing a great job tapping major categories," he said. "But at the same time, we want to look at innovative ways to get new sponsors, and to work with our existing sponsors to find for them their big NFL idea, to kick their programs to the next level."

Sponsors spend $425 million each season on league-related marketing programs. But beyond this, under President Sara Levinson, NFL Properties has been concentrating on developing for sponsors "their big NFL idea"-marketing programs that integrate everything the league has to offer, and end up benefiting the sponsor and the NFL's various businesses.

Last season, that focus yielded a resounding success: Coca-Cola Co.'s "Red Zone" promotion, which encompassed brand ads, a sweepstakes linked to ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football," point of purchase and a place within the NFL's GameDay retail areas in Wal-Mart Stores.

Coca-Cola will repeat the "Red Zone" promotion next season, and, Mr. Jacobus said, every NFL sponsor now wants its own "Red Zone" type promo. It's partly his job to help them develop one.

The NFL's sponsorship staff has begun meeting with each of the league's sponsors every four to six months to go through each other's yearly business plans and see where they could hook up. The big picture at the NFL is to assemble between 10 and 12 "big idea" marketing partners.

PROJECT WITH SPRINT

Sprint Corp.-the NFL's biggest sponsor at more than $20 million a year in rights fees-was involved in 50 NFL events on last season's promotional calendar. Now in the works is one big concept that can be milked throughout the year.

The "big idea" strategy also will provide new opportunities to new NFL partners, and currently NFL Properties is hunting for sponsors in the consumer electronics, computers, copiers and printers, and financial services categories. Mr. Jacobus said he believes all but the latter category could yield one of these major marketing partners.

Female-oriented categories are another new frontier. NFL Properties is making it a priority to develop the league's female fan base, which it says accounts for 40% of all NFL fans. Mr. Jacobus is looking at bringing aboard marketers that target women.

Before joining NFL Properties as a marketing manager in 1991, Mr. Jacobus was an international marketing associate at Bankers Trust Co.; he's also worked at American Express Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and Ricoh Corp.

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