PepsiCo, Marriott, Ford, Bose making NFL decisions


Our reward for a week in sunny L.A. at the Super Bowl is a weekend in Cleveland for NBA All-Star festivities. Find me if you are there. I’ll be wearing a Sixers cap (no beard, yet).

“The good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who holds the NBA All-Star game appearance record with 19.

The end of the NFL’s season marks the kickoff of the league’s sales campaign for corporate sponsorships. It’s a busy renewal year, and in a week working the unofficial industry convention in L.A. in the week prior to Super Bowl, we gleaned the following about NFL corporate sponsors.

  • Marriott, battered as any brand by the pandemic, will return as an NFL corporate sponsor.
  • Pepsi/Frito-Lay/Gatorade will also renew — but sans its 10-year-old halftime show sponsorship commitment.
  • Ford, which has held NFL truck rights since 2016, will be driving away as the league looks to repackage autos and trucks into a comprehensive motor vehicle sponsorship that we’re told was initially priced at $50 million.
  • Bose, which has had its logo on NFL coaches’ headsets since 2014 when it replaced Motorola, seems doubtful to renew its pricey sideline deal, although the official word from those negotiating is “we’re still talking.”

NFL sponsorship rights run through the end of March, so the stretch run is now.

Here’s the skinny on the NFL deals, and our perspective after reporting from the intersection of sports and commerce at my 30th Super Bowl.

Ford, like all auto brands, is squeezed by supply-chain issues, exacerbated by a chip shortage. Consequently, any sponsorship spend in the that industry is under unprecedented scrutiny, especially since the autos will bear the brunt of ad rates that will escalate to pay for the NFL’s new media-rights deals, which take effect this coming season. “We just couldn’t see the value,” said an auto marketer involved in the renewal attempt. “Unless you activate significantly against Super Bowl, league marks aren’t that meaningful.”

While autos have long been one of — if not the biggest — buyers of NFL media, it’s a category that has lately not seen as much value in NFL IP rights. Hyundai, which signed on in 2015 following GM’s 14-year run as an NFL corporate auto patron, dropped its auto rights after the 2019 season and the league has not refueled the auto category since.

A wild card here is the emerging electric-car market. That’s an important enough development that some think it will redistribute market share within the category. Will that be enough of a disruptive force that one of the challenger brands would write an NFL-sized rights fee check? It’s worth thinking about, and we’re certain that NFL sales execs — for decades the industry masters at playing off rivals in competitive categories — are doing just that.

Ford has been the NFL’s offcial truck since 2016

There’s no doubt that Bose has elevated its brand and its distribution since taking over branding on NFL coaches’ headsets eight years ago. But there was an unusual absence of Bose marketers from this year’s Super Bowl week, as well as cutbacks on their usual activation. Those developments came along with the replacement of Bose’s CEO and the shuttering of more than 100 stores since its last renewal.

All that is easily attributed to the pandemic, but we’re hearing there’s more to it than that.

Bose has had major visibility on NFL coaches’ headsets

Few brands were as buoyant — or profitable — during the pandemic as Frito-Lay. With a bigger war chest, the PepsiCo brand was easily among the league’s most-active sponsors around Super Bowl week, mounting a “Road to the Super Bowl” TV campaign that included Peyton and Eli Manning.

There also was an effort around taking it to the streets with a “Calle de Crunch” experiential play adjacent to L.A. Live in the days preceding the Super Bowl, along with a couple of ads on the NBC telecast.

After 39 years, Gatorade is the NFL’s oldest legit corporate sponsor, and the thinking is it would never walk away from the NFL. So while we’re in a year when one wants to pay higher rights fees, “both sides want that to happen and it’s going to,” said one agency source.

The NFL received an offer including lower rights fees late last year, averred another agency potentate, and with rival Coca-Cola’s appetite for new marketing expenditures about the same as that of Bengals fans for Rams championship apparel — as well as Coke’s sports marketing budgets more influenced by procurement than ever — Pepsi will remain “the Right One, Baby.”

The NFL’s longest-tenured brand looks like it remain on the sidelines

After 10 years with Pepsi an entitled sponsor, NFL marketers are taking the Super Bowl Halftime Show to market as a tech/content play (as noted by my colleague Ben Fischer back in October). Sounds like that’s a pitch composed for a tech/media conglomerate, like Amazon, or an even more pure tech player.

“We’re having really interesting conversations, because every brand wants unique content more than ever,’” said NFL VP/Sponsorship and Business Development Nana-Yaw Asamoah. “It’s a platform with so many extensions, great appeal to youth, and you know everyone will consume it in great numbers.”

The Super Bowl Halftime Show is the most-watched portion of the NFL’s championship telecast. Agency sources told us the package is being pitched with a $40-$50 million per annum asking price, depending on whether the brand is an incumbent sponsor or not.

Verizon getting a piece of this year’s Pepsi halftime show has led to some speculation that it is a likely buyer

At SoFi Stadium, Marriott’s Courtyard brand was staging its seventh Super Bowl Sleepover contest, on hiatus last year because of the pandemic. Fans sent in video submissions on Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, with the winner getting to sleep at the venue the night before the Super Bowl.

But SBJ has been assured that no one is, um, “losing sleep” over whether that program will be repeated at future NFL championships. “The renewal is in a good place,” said one involved party. Sleep easy.

  • NASCAR President Steve Phelps called this the “most robust sponsorship landscape for NASCAR we’ve seen in a decade or more in terms of the number of conversations and deals getting signed,” per SBJ’s Adam Stern.
  • USA Swimming and USA Track & Field have partnered to sign a single agency to package and sell sponsorships and properties for both NGBs, reports my colleague Chris Smith.