Producers Pre-Sold Bud Light Integration on Their Own

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LOS ANGELES -- The "rock paper scissors" game isn't just for kids anymore.

A couple of Hollywood producers have formalized the playground game, created an official "sports" league around it and put it into an adult setting. They're filming contests around the country that lead up to a national championship, with the results set to air in a one-hour special on cable network A&E with Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light as an integrated partner.
Producers Matti Leshem and Andrew Golder scored a coup when A&E agreed to take the show and the brand integration deal they privately arranged with Anheuser-Busch.

Producers sell brand deal

In shopping the show for distribution, producers Matti Leshem and Andrew Golder accomplished a delicate but desirable feat in TV -- they already had the Bud Light integration as part of the special when they presented it to A&E.

Cable channels are often more receptive than broadcast networks to such business arrangements. Network ad sales executives continue to make it clear that they want all brand integrations to come through their divisions. It's a rare producer -- Mark Burnett, for instance -- who does his own integration deals. Cable channels have not been as strident in controlling integrations, allowing producers to seek out their own partners. Most of the marketers involved already advertise on the cable networks where their brand-embedded show will air. Otherwise, they're often required to make a media buy on that channel, much the same as network deals.

"Networks won't necessarily turn away a show that comes pre-packaged with an advertiser," Mr. Leshem said. "They're more open to it in general."

Mr. Leshem and his producing partner Mr. Golder have formed the USA Rock Paper Scissors League. As its co-commissioners, they've launched contests in bars and nightclubs around the country this month, looking for the cream of the crop in the game that traces its rather vague modern history back to 1800s England.

Local and regional contests

Bud Light is sponsoring these local and regional contests, with on-site signage, promotions and giveaways. The brand will be prominent in the one-hour special itself, which will be filmed at the House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and the marketing around it.

To juice the excitement of a game that has had no TV coverage in the past, the producers plan to give it some of the trappings of popular sports shows. There are three attractive "Girls of RPS," the game's version of cheerleaders, whose identities will be revealed soon on the league's Web site. There will be a sportscaster to do play-by-plays and a celebrity host, likely a comedian yet to be named.

A character who calls himself Master Roshambollah and claims to be "the Bobby Fischer of Rock Paper Scissors" will serve as a commentator on the strategy and skill behind the contest.

The finals of the competition will be held in April, and the winner will take away a $50,000 purse.

"This sport draws the most unpredictable, quirky people from all walks of life," said Mr. Golder. "There's a sense of comedy about it, and a certain tongue-in-cheek tone."

The new poker?

The "sport" follows dodgeball and kickball as kids' games that have made the transition to adult competitions. Some trend watchers are calling it the new poker, with rock paper scissors catching on at colleges and nightclubs with informal games and pseudo-organized leagues. Hip social site Myspace.com has been involved in recruiting players for local games.

A precursor to the U.S. competition in Canada drew hundreds of participants last fall. Dressing up the pared-down game, many contestants donned costumes and took on character personas. A lawyer from Toronto eventually won the International World Championship, pocketing $7,000. Mr. Leshem and Mr. Golder filmed the contest and sold a special to Fox Sports Network.

A&E recently announced to television critics that "Rock Paper Scissors" would be part of its lineup for the coming season, but executives have not yet set an air date. If it's popular, it could spin off into a regular series. Nancy Dubuc, A&E's senior vice president of non-fiction and alternative programming, called the show a "quirky, humorous way to bring to television a sport everyone can play."
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