The NFL and the maverick Dallas Cowboys owner continued their ugly and public feud over marketing matters last week, with the league slapping Mr. Jones with a $300 million lawsuit for striking ambush marketing sponsorship pacts with NFL non-sponsors Nike and Pepsi-Cola Co.
The action taken by the NFL may have derailed Mr. Jones' marketing efforts for the moment. Sports marketing executives tell Advertising Age that the negative publicity has prompted American Express Co. to reconsider its proposed deal with Mr. Jones to become a sponsor of Texas Stadium. The multiyear deal has been said to be worth $15 million to $20 million.
Calls to the Dallas Cowboys and the teams' marketing executives weren't returned. AmEx continues to deny that any deal is in the works.
Meanwhile, sponsors and media partners pace the sidelines concerned that the negative publicity will alienate fans, but certain that Mr. Jones' way of doing business-with teams marketing themselves instead of NFL Properties, the league's marketing arm, doing it for them-wouldn't be best for them.
The next few weeks will see NFL Properties, sponsors and media partners argue this point with some impressive examples. The highlight: a Visa USA-Fox team-up that represents the most integrated national promotion NFL Properties has ever attempted.
"Call for Quarterbacks" will make a sweeps month run Nov. 22-26 during Fox's prime-time programming. Each night, a different celebrity quarterback-Steve Young, Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe, John Elway or Brett Favre-will guest star in a Fox program.
In a promotion preceding each show, the quarterback will plug a contest that will give the winner the opportunity to be an honorary backup for that night's quarterback at an upcoming game. To enter, contestants will have to call an 800-number; the winner will be chosen that night.
Moreover, Visa will run a spot each night from BBDO Worldwide, New York, featuring Mr. Young promoting the grand prize, an honorary backup quarterback slot at Super Bowl XXX in January. Contestants will be automatically entered when they use their Visa card to purchase NFL-licensed merchandise.
Fox will heavily tout "Call for Quarterbacks" with TV spots and print ads, created in-house, in the weeks leading up to the promotion.
"We set out to create an unprecedented program that brought together our sponsorship, licensing and television concerns in an entertainment marketing effort designed to move NFL merchandise in our key selling season," said Sara Levinson, president of NFL Properties.
"This is promotion that we want to point to as a standard," she said. "We are working with our sponsors to achieve a greater level of integration and give these programs a larger-than-life, eventlike feeling."
Ms. Levinson wouldn't comment on the NFL-Jones dispute. Despite reports that his ideas were supported by a handful of owners, Mr. Jones walked away from last week's owner meeting with no allies to combat the league's lawsuit. He nixed a potential compromise suggested by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft by insisting that he himself manage marketing of the Cowboys marques and logo. Mr. Kraft had proposed recalculating the NFL's revenue sharing formula while keeping intact the powers of NFL Properties.
But sponsors say the value of the rights they own would be diminished if their deals didn't cover all teams. Moreover, sponsors say owners would be fooling themselves if they think they can individually get the kind of deals the Cowboys have gotten. The conventional wisdom is that Pepsi and Nike wouldn't have paid what they did if Coca-Cola Co. and Reebok International didn't hold national rights.
Just practically speaking, Mr. Jones' way of doing things isn't best for marketers. Take licensing. Sales of NFL-licensed products hit $3 billion last year. NFL Properties sells the rights and handles national and local marketing and promotions, quality control and trademark protection.
"If those tasks reverted to teams, it would wreak havoc on the licensing business from which it may never recover," said Frank Vuono, president of sports marketing company Integrated Sports International, East Rutherford, N.J., and a former high-ranking NFL Properties licensing executive. "The staff they'd have to hire would cut into any financial advantage they'd gain. This is much more complex than Jerry Jones lets on."
If sponsors and licensees were denied one-stop shopping, a "Call for Quarterbacks" promotion would require Visa to do 30 separate deals instead of one. Same goes for True Value Hardware, which is teaming with vendors to create products bearing the marque of each market's team.
"There's an economy of scale in dealing with all 30 teams through one office," said Chuck Kremers, VP-marketing at True Value, which has a three-year, $25 million deal.
Decentralization would also undermine cross-promotions among sponsors and TV networks, most of which are initiated by NFL Properties. The Visa-Fox program or Shell Oil Co.'s "Drive to the Super Bowl Sweepstakes," a joint effort with Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Co. and Fleer Corp. trading cards, would be more difficult, if not impossible.
Moreover, sponsors say a decentralized system would allow for shortcuts to create national programs like using a single team with national appeal, or just focusing on teams in big markets. Or worse:
"If several of our competitors are able to get in, we might just get out altogether. We'll just save the money and do something else," said Rob Baskin, director of public relations for Coca-Cola, in the third year of a five-year, $250 million deal.