Although the annual pre-Super Bowl fan fair is still major league sports' biggest such event, the gap is narrowing as other sports' fan fairs mushroom and competition soars among interactive events offering live games, contests and entertainment for children and adults.
To keep a step ahead, organizers of the "NFL Experience" are trying some new strategies, including taking its act on the road next year and targeting women and teen-agers more aggressively to seed future interest in the National Football League.
HITTING UP TO 20 CITIES
NFL Properties this month announced a smaller, traveling version of the "NFL Experience" will debut in 2000, going to as many as 20 NFL team cities for weekend stops. The goal is to nurture existing fans on the local level and drum up more interest among non-fans.
"We're the leading entertainment brand in sports now, but people have more choices every year in how they spend their entertainment time and dollars, and we want to stay in front by reaching new audiences," said David Newman, VP-marketing and events at NFL Properties.
Dates and locations of the traveling version of the "NFL Experience" haven't been revealed, but Mr. Newman said several key sponsors "are showing interest and we expect to have a lot of local sponsor activity including support from TV, newspapers and radio stations."
A rising star on cable's MTV in the late 1980s, Mr. Newman was recruited by NFL Properties in 1991 to develop hands-on marketing initiatives for the league and has overseen the "NFL Experience" from its first incarnation in 1992, when it consisted of a handful of sponsors and a few thousand attendees.
This year's "NFL Experience" at Super Bowl XXXIV will be a four-day festival boasting more than 30 sponsors and an estimated crowd of 125,000 adults and children. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids; proceeds go to the NFL/Youth Education Town in Atlanta, an education and recreation facility.
COKE RETURNS IN BIG WAY
Longtime presenting sponsor Coca-Cola Co. returns this year, offering the biggest array of interactive activities, entertainment and product marketing, including areas for kids and adults to run, throw, punt, kick and pass footballs within the 15-acre fair's area.
Other activities include a simulated "NFL Training Camp," where fans can practice on an NFL team obstacle course; "NFL Quick Release," allowing fans to compare their throwing speeds against NFL quarterbacks' typical speeds; and "Sega's Make the Grab," where fans can attempt to catch a football passed from a life-size simulated NFL passer.
Several new sponsors have come aboard, including AutoNation, which is sponsoring an interactive football-theme activity called "The Drive."
New sponsor Motorola is showcasing its communications technology, including ears-on demonstrations of the cordless headsets NFL coaches use, and newcomer Hasbro will demonstrate dozens of interactive sports-theme games.
Another new sponsor is DK Publishers, known for its series of "Eyewitness" books for kids and adults. The company is sponsoring the "DK Play Football Kids' Zone," a 3-acre playground featuring licensed NFL equipment used by real teams.
For the second year, Topps Co. is sponsoring the "NFL Experience," a trading card fair the league says has quickly become the world's largest such event.
Another returning sponsor is Foot Locker, sponsoring the "Foot Locker NFL Team Shop," a 40,000-square-foot store expected to sell more than $1 million in merchandise from all 31 NFL teams.
For the first time, a ticket to the upcoming "NFL Experience" will include admission to a concert featuring a hot new music artist appealing to teens and young adults at a facility near the event.
"We've always had a wide appeal to adults, but this year we wanted to make a specific play for younger people," Mr. Newman said.
The "Super Bowl Concert Series," a separate event with tickets sold separately and music appealing to a broader adult audience, continues. The entertainment lineup for both shows will be finalized later this month.
TOURING FAIR A FIRST
NFL Properties has been steadily expanding its reach to fans through a variety of events throughout the year including the Quaker Oats Co.-sponsored "Ga-torade's Punt, Pass & Kick" series of grass-roots competitions in various cities; the NFL's "Under the Helmet" concert series; and teams' preseason training camps.
But the touring "NFL Experience" is the first time the organization has taken a single event on the road with an eye toward helping teams cultivate fans through new channels in local markets.
"We'll hold these events on Monday nights and weekends when teams don't have a game in town to build and heighten the interest of fans -- and families -- in the sport," Mr. Newman said. "Our long-term goal is to build the NFL brand in a variety of ways, and local promotion is crucial to that effort."