Marketers score big with sports deals

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When the National Football League announced its new prime-time broadcast deals last month, the media spotlight focused on how "Monday Night Football" would move from ABC to Walt Disney Co. sibling ESPN after next season and how NBC would once again carry NFL games after an eight-year hiatus.

The media glare obscured an unusual b-to-b marketing wrinkle in the TV rights deal between NBC's parent company, General Electric Co., and the NFL. Along with gaining broadcast rights for Sunday evening NFL games, GE also became a "preferred partner" of the NFL, which will provide the corporate giant special opportunities to sell b-to-b products and services to both the league and individual teams. The products and services covered in the agreement include health care, security equipment, lighting and financial services.

"What this is essentially is an agreement to provide GE with various business and marketing opportunities with the NFL," said Brian McCarthy, director-corporate communications for the league, who added that GE would have access to, for example, owners meetings.

GE also crafted similar deals when NBC won the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games in 2010 and 2012. Such sales-oriented deals are becoming increasingly common between b-to-b marketers and sports associations, such as Major League Baseball, NASCAR and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

What is unusual about the GE deals is that they were part of broadcast rights agreements. In the other cases, the product sales agreements have been part of sponsorship packages that historically have focused on communicating marketing and branding messages.

For instance, shipping company DHL announced earlier this year a broad marketing agreement with MLB. The deal included several marketing and branding initiatives: DHL launched a series of baseball-themed TV spots, one of which includes Boston Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, and the company is sponsoring the "Delivery Man of the Month Award," which recognizes outstanding relief pitchers.

Through its agreement with MLB, DHL is also identified as the "Official Express Delivery and Logistics Provider" of the league. That is no hollow designation. Among other things, DHL generates revenue as the exclusive provider of shipping services for all retail purchases from The Shop section of

"It's something that we always look to incorporate as part of our sponsorship deals," said Jonathan Baker, DHL's director-corporate communications, who pointed out that the company has a similar arrangement with Formula One racing.

Nascar joins b-to-b race

Another auto racing organization, NASCAR, is aggressively pursuing b-to-b marketing and sales partnerships, and most b-to-b marketers are not aligned with NASCAR to boost brand metrics but to sell products.

MeadWestvaco's paper unit, which will be officially renamed as NewPage Corp. on May 2, has maintained a partnership with NASCAR since 2000 and the Penske South racing team since 1996.

For Greg Gruning, NewPage's VP-marketing, the arrangements are about generating sales. Through its NASCAR affiliation, the unit has sold literally tons of paper to fellow auto racing sponsors Caterpillar Inc., Precision Publishing, Nextel Communications and others.

"It's about leveraging our association with NASCAR to get to the decision-makers within these companies [which are fellow NASCAR sponsors]," Gruning explained. "It's really about compressing the sales cycle and allowing us to get in the door with these guys where it would usually take much longer."

NASCAR said other b-to-b marketers are using their affiliations with the racing organization in similar ways. Gulfstream Aerospace became a sponsor before the 2005 Daytona 500 in part for the opportunities to sell business jets to NASCAR teams and sponsors.

Waste Management has a NASCAR hospitality program for key customers, and its relationship with the organization has helped the company secure agreements to provide services to Talladega Superspeedway and other racetracks. And United Parcel Service of America, a big advertiser on NASCAR telecasts, formed UPS Trackside Services in 2002 to provide shipping services to fellow sponsors, teams and the media.

off to the races

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has developed a codified program to help sponsors sell products and services to members of the group. Through NTRA Purchasing, the organization's sponsors market and sell their products and services to about 1 million people involved in the equine industry.

The NTRA Purchasing Web site promises members who are in the industry various savings from partners: up to 23% off selected John Deere tractors, up to 16% off FedEx Corp. shipping services and up to 30% off Lexmark inkjet and laser printers.

The purchasing program was started in 1998 and has grown steadily, particularly over the past three years, according to Joseph Morris, president of NTRA Purchasing. "Our revenues have doubled every year for the past three years," he said.

"It continues to be a good growth opportunity for us," said Dennis Stewart, charter member John Deere's manager-agricultural national sales. "It has allowed our deals to be introduced into new clients [in the equine industry] where we had not had a good presence." 

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