PLAYTIME FOR NFL;EFFORT AIMED AT BRINGING ORDER TO GRASS-ROOTS PROGRAMS FOR KIDS

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The National Football League wants to draft your kid to "Play Football."

In what promises to be the most aggressive fan development effort targeting kids ever undertaken, the NFL this fall begins testing pilot programs that in 1996 will be expanded nationally and packaged into a larger, corporate-sponsored campaign dubbed "Play Football."

The three-to-five-year push, created by the NFL Properties marketing arm, will also involve the league's licensees and broadcast partners.

In fact, NFL Properties, NFL Films and Fox are developing a live-action, corporate-sponsored kids TV show that will air in January and could be the basis for a series. A separate "Play Football" TV special will air Jan. 20 on NBC.

With "Play Football," the NFL is trying to forge an integrated marketing mechanism that brings order to a messy playing field of disparate grass-roots football programs across the country.

"We're harnessing the power of the NFL to address some of the obstacles in the way of developing youth football like the expense and the various organizational structures," said Don Garber, VP-business development/special events at New York-based NFL Properties. "We want to create the easiest possible path for kids to play football."

New NFL youth director

NFL Properties has formed a youth football committee and hired Scott Lancaster, former Outside Kids publisher and U.S. Soccer Federation director of marketing, to be director of youth development.

"Play Football" kicked off with advertising that launched last month, part of a larger integrated ad effort designed to push NFL-licensed products. In fact, NFL Properties intends to restructure its kids licensing business around "Play Football."

Mr. Garber said the NFL is just now taking the campaign to potential sponsors. Likely candidates include NFL sponsors Coca-Cola Co., Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade, McDonald's Corp. and Nike, whose new five-year, $200 million sponsorship deal includes commitments to be involved in "Play Football."

Roster of new activities

The NFL will fold its approximately 20-year-old "Punt, Pass & Kick" youth marketing program into "Play Football." NBC will promote "PPK" with commercials and dedicated programming. Among elements of the pilot programs:

"Junior Air It Out," a version of the existing "Air It Out" flag football program, will target kids 8 to 15. The NFL will test the program in three cities this fall. Designated "Play Football Zones" will offer instructional clinics, a scaled-down version of the league's traveling interactive theme park and concerts featuring celebrity pop acts.

In New England, the NFL, former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and North American Sports Camps are about to begin testing youth football camps, stressing education and fitness over competition.

In Denver, the NFL is working with schools on an in-school flag football program, with equipment and instructional brochures provided by the league and its licensees. A similar after-school program is being set up in New Orleans that will also involve the YMCA.

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