Southwest Airlines signs up for 3-year NFL sponsorship

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Southwest Airlines is determined to stay in the game.

The low-cost carrier, which spends more on advertising annually than any other airline, has agreed to a new three-year official sponsorship deal with the National Football League. The deal takes effect in 2001; financial terms weren't disclosed.

Southwest is in the final year of a four-year pact that allows it to use the NFL shield logo in its promotions and bill itself as the official airline of the Super Bowl.

TERRIFIC PARTNER

"We look forward to extending the relationship," said Steve Phelps, NFL VP-corporate sponsorship. "They're a terrific partner for the NFL."

Meanwhile, the airline is in discussions to marry pucks with pigskin. Southwest is in serious talks with the National Hockey League to serve as the league's official airline, according to an executive familiar with the situation. Southwest executives would only confirm the carrier is in discussions with the NHL.

Southwest, which measured figures show spent $112.7 million on media last year, buttresses its NFL sponsorship by advertising on ABC/ESPN, CBS and Fox coverage of the league; it also serves as the sponsor of CBS' "NFL Today" pre-game show. Following that pattern, the airline hopes to strengthen the likely NHL sponsorship; it already has had talks with media outlets about a possible linkup.

With the renewed NFL sponsorship deal, Southwest, based in football-mad Texas, reaffirms its commitment to the sport as a principal element of brand-building. Southwest, however, won't produce any new spots in its popular "Must be football season" campaign from GSD&M, Austin, Texas, to air this fall.

In the past two years the airline annually produced a set of four spots, each featuring humorous scenes where people display their passion for football in everyday life. A 1998 spot saw exuberant guests dump a punch bowl on a bride and groom, while a spot last year had a woman boot a shoe in a shoe store as if she were kicking a field goal.

For this year, the airline will launch a best-of campaign scheduled to include four to six of the spots from the last two years.

Executives declined to reveal which spots might make the cut.

MADE LAST YEAR

The initial decision to go without new "Football" spots was made late last year as executives felt the spots still had legs.

The actors strike then played a minor role, deterring Southwest from shooting new commercials as the airline revisited its decision this spring.

But the decision has been fortuitous as rising fuel costs have trimmed profits across the airline industry. Figures from the Air Transport Association show fuel prices have risen 63% so far this year over 1999, adding an annual cost of more than $5 billion to the industry.

For Southwest, the rising costs contributed to a slight dip in first-quarter earnings. Second-quarter earnings are scheduled to come out this week.

"It wasn't really a year for me to go ask for a big budget to do more production," said Joyce Rogge, Southwest's VP-marketing.

If the NHL deal goes through, GSD&M would also create advertising around that sponsorship. The agency wouldn't elaborate on any of its creative plans.

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