Spiking Profits


So much for the Super Bowl: The Green Bay Packers have already done the impossible by pushing the perennial champion Dallas Cowboys from their perch atop the NFL League merchandising mountain.

That’s no mean feat because the team that sells the most T-shirts, starter jackets and logo-laden shot glasses almost always gets a head start by playing in big towns like Dallas, Chicago or Los Angeles, where free-spending fans line up at cash registers.

And, as loyal Cheeseheads snatch up every bit of Packer paraphernalia in sight, the sports marketing industry is pondering other super-sized questions related to the big game that will be played Jan. 25 in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.


Big companies like Ford Motor Co. and Sprint, which have ponied up an estimated $125 million to serve as season-long NFL corporate sponsors, are wondering how their sizable investments will fare on Super Sunday.

Sports marketing gurus are busily handicapping which players--and, this year, head coaches--are most likely to turn gridiron glory into potentially lucrative marketing contracts.

And advertisers like Pepsi-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Volvo, which will pay a record $1.3 million for a 30-second commercial, are anxiously waiting to see if the moribund American Football Conference, losers of 12 straight Super Bowls, can keep viewers in the game beyond halftime.

Even in a year when sports fans will have World Cup soccer and the Winter Olympics to sate their appetites, the 32nd Super Bowl remains the $uper Bowl.

The event is strong enough to lure back Coca-Cola Co., which has been content to be an NFL sponsor but which hasn’t aired a national commercial during the lengthy telecast since 1991. The world’s largest soft drink company reportedly will butt heads with archrival Pepsi on Jan. 25 with a pair of commercials.

Big names like Miller Brewing keep coming back to the big game. And relative newcomers like Irvine-based Auto-By-Tel, an online auto broker, have used the game to create an identity.


Advertisers flock to the expensive telecast because “it’s more than just a TV show,” said Gary Hemphill, vice president of Beverage Marketing, a New York-based publication. “It’s a national event that people plan parties around, so it makes sense for consumer product companies like Coke to be there.”

Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report, a sports marketing firm, estimates that NFL sponsors like Oscar Mayer, Penske Truck Leasing and McDonald’s paid the NFL at least $125 million to be corporate sponsors of the football league.

Experts say it’s difficult to break out just what it costs to join in the fun on Super Bowl Sunday because professional sports leagues are seeking corporate sponsors willing to sign multiyear contracts.

“It’s potentially much more lucrative that way,” said IEG Vice President Jim Andrews. “Sprint, for example, has paid a huge, eight-figure fee for the overall season. . . . The NFL’s pretty smart. They figure, ‘Don’t just sell one piece of the pie; make them buy the whole thing.’ ”

The proposed return on investment is “that a corporate sponsor gets to build involvement year-round rather than with a one-shot deal,” Andrews said.

The NFL doesn’t release sales figures for licensed merchandise. But Andy Bernstein, news editor of New York-based Sporting Goods Business, estimates the value of apparel and souvenirs from last year’s Super Bowl at $130 million. The record revenue, Bernstein said, came at a time when other sports leagues--most notably major league baseball--face stalled or slipping revenue.


Green Bay’s rise to the top of the league’s merchandising heap--it finished the regular season in the top spot and, barring a disaster this weekend, will probably keep the title--began in earnest in the 1996 season when the team finished a close second to Dallas in the product licensing derby.

That’s heady terrain for the Pack, which cracked the merchandising top 10 just three times between 1979 and 1995. The Packers’ next challenge will be matching Dallas and Chicago, each of which spent five consecutive years on top.

Marketing experts agree that it’s an attainable goal if Brett Favre and the Packers keep on winning.

“Green Bay has replaced the Cowboys as ‘America’s Team,’ ” said Keith Bruce, director of sports marketing for Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco. “They do that ‘jump-into-the-crowd thing’ after touchdowns. They have a nice, strong relationship with the fans, and that’s important in an era when lots of athletes are alienating their fans.”

“Green Bay is what we call a ‘hot market,’ ” said Peter Seligman, a spokesman for Pro Player, Fruit of the Loom’s $230-million licensed sports apparel division.

From a merchandising standpoint, logos that sell best typically involve perennial playoff-bound teams; new franchises; teams that have updated their colors and logos; and teams that have returned to prominence after long absences.


San Francisco, the other dominant team still in the playoffs, also is a solid draw in retail shops around the country, having finished in the retailing top 10 each year for the last decade, according to NFL Properties, the league’s licensing arm.

The merchandising picture isn’t as bright for AFC teams because the conference has booted 12 Super Bowls in a row.

What Denver and Pittsburgh bring to the mix are fanatical fans hungry for Super Bowl souvenirs and cold-weather climates that make it easier for licensees to sell pricier items, like fleece jackets and warmup gear.

The teams that will meet Jan. 25 won’t be determined until after this weekend’s championship games. But sports marketers are already combing through rosters looking for candidates with the magical combination of talent and personality needed to turn on-the-field heroics into marketing contracts.

“It’s the same as during the regular season,” said New York-based sports marketing attorney Martin E. Blackman. “Quarterbacks are primarily going to get the opportunities, followed by running backs, wide receivers and, sometimes, the star defensive player.”

“The only thing different with the Super Bowl is that it’s winner take all,” Blackman said. “So if John Elway is brilliant with 41 points, but Brett Favre has 42, then Favre is the guy Madison Avenue will have to pay attention to.”


Although Favre has the most to gain from a repeat Super Bowl victory, Elway is a potential dark horse. He’s made it to the Super Bowl three times--only to lose by a lopsided cumulative score of 136-40.

“If he can pull if off, then, bingo, he gets a landslide of recognition,” Blackman said. “But the opposite side works as well if he loses again.”

Two candidates for potential marketing contracts won’t even suit up: Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren and Pittsburgh Coach Bill Cowher, sports marketing experts agree, might be able to cash in if their teams win.

Holmgren’s droopy mustache and his guy-next-door personality “combines for a likable guy,” said Bob Dorfman, a senior writer with Foote, Cone & Belding. “He’s respected as a winner and, if he wins again, sponsors are going to start loving him.”

Cowher, on the other hand, “is from the Mike Ditka school,” Dorfman said. “He’s got a working-class appeal, and with that big-jawed face, he’s got a distinctive look.

So what can the NFL do to make the Super Bowl even more super for advertisers and corporate sponsors?


Bruce and Dorfman timidly suggest that the biggest bowl of all might one day join collegiate counterparts by adding a sponsor’s name. “How does the Qualcomm Super Bowl featuring the 3-Com 49ers and the Blockbuster Buccaneers sound?” Bruce asked.

“Corporate sponsors look for ways to maximize investments and a way to stand out,” Bruce said. “One of those ways might eventually be to add a title to the Super Bowl. But that’s hallowed ground, so you’d have to tread very carefully.”

* BUSINESS BOWL: The Rose Bowl will add a corporate sponsor for 1999. C1


Say Cheese

Football teams from big media markets typically dominate in the licensed goods retail arena. But, driven by free-spending Cheeseheads, the Green Bay Packers in November dislodged the Dallas Cowboys from the top spot in merchandise sales, which the Cowboys had held since 1992. The National Football League doesn’t release dollar figures for retail sales of licensed merchandise.

Rank: Licensed goods franchise

1.: Green Bay Packers

2.: Dallas Cowboys

3.: San Francisco 49ers

4.: Pittsburgh Steelers

5.: Miami Dolphins

6.: Philadelphia Eagles

7.: Kansas City Chiefs

8.: Carolina Panthers

9.: Denver Broncos

10.: Oakland Raiders

From Soup to Nuts

When it comes time for the Super Bowl, the National Football League grants licenses for everything from soup (Campbell’s) to nuts (Blue Diamond). In all, 50 corporations have signed on the dotted line to be official sponsors for Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego on Jan. 25. Among the corporate partners:

* Castrol motor oil

* Doubletree hotels

* E&J; Gallo wine and low-alcohol “refreshers”

* Ford Motor automobiles

* Helene Curtis deodorant

* Hershey candy, confections

* Kraft frozen toppings, coffee, cheese, cultured products, gelatin/pudding, dressings, pizza, Mexican dinners, powdered milk drinks

* J.H. Harland personal checks

* McDonald’s restaurants

* Sprint telecommunications

* Visa credit cards

* Warner-Lambert antacid

Source: NFL Properties, through November 1997