NFL's ad playbook

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As teams in the National Football League broke huddle on another season Sunday, a variety of major NFL sponsors broke campaigns centered on opening weekend.

Visa USA, Miller Brewing Co., Prestone, Campbell Soup Co., Southwest Airlines, the nutritional supplement company EAS and the United Way, among others, all debuted spots as the NFL began its 82nd season. Advertisers are being drawn to the games despite falling ratings, and are benefiting from lower prices.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the average season broadcast NFL game registered a 10.7 rating or 15.7 million homes last year, down from an 11.3 rating and 16.6 million homes in 1999. Pricing on the games has fallen 5% to 10% this season, according to media buyers. Advertisers will spend an average $200,000 per 30-second spot during the regular season on Viacom's CBS and News Corp.'s Fox, and $300,000 on "Monday Night Football," several agency executives said.

The NFL, however, remains the nation's most-watched sport. "Because our spots are related to the fans, it's important to get in early," said Eric Webber, director-new business for Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, which produced the Southwest Airlines "Must Be Football" TV spots. "Advertising on the Super Bowl is more about advertising on the Super Bowl, as opposed to being part of football programming."

Clearly, some statistics play in football's favor:

n Even though its ratings have declined, Nielsen Media Research figures show the NFL's regular season average rating of 10.7 blew away that of the National Basketball Association (3.3), Major League Baseball (2.8) and the National Hockey League (1.1). "Monday Night Football," which returns to Walt Disney Co.'s ABC tonight was the top overall program among men 18-plus, men 18-49 and men 25-54 last year.

n According to License! Magazine, a New York-based trade magazine that covers the licensing industry, the NFL was the seventh-largest selling brand worldwide with $2.9 billion in sales in 2000. That figure covers retail sales of licensed goods. Disney was the best-selling brand at $13 billion while Major League Baseball came in just behind the NFL at $2.8 billion. Nascar was $1.8 billion.

The NFL is looking to draw more viewers with its own brand campaign with spots by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York.

"We have 120 million fans who watch our games on any given weekend, so we cut across every part of the population," said Jesse Ewing, VP-marketing and entertainment programming for the NFL.

Southwest broke three spots, including "Checker," in which a man in a supermarket grabs a pineapple out of his carriage and fires it into the chest of a checkout cashier who makes the unfortunate mistake of announcing, "I'm open over here."

Visa changes its "Everywhere You Want To Be" tagline to "It's Everywhere NFL Fans Want to Be" in a pair of humorous commercials from Omnicom's BBDO World-wide, New York, including one featuring the famed Washington Redskins fans, the "Hogettes."

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