Honda, P&G leave XFL huddle

Feb 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Two of the blue-chip marketers the XFL had touted as advertising on its games, American Honda Motor Co. and Procter & Gamble, have already bailed, according to executives familiar with the situation.
In fact, the P&G buy was actually a “hold,” and not a firm buy, according to Bob Reardon, the XFL’s vice president of advertising sales, and the marketer never did buy airtime for commercials. Many times, a marketer will have its media buyer negotiate a purchase of airtime for commercials and then put a hold on it while final details are worked out. In this instance, P&G dropped the hold and hence did not buy any national commercial time on the XFL.
Mr. Reardon said the reason P&G decided not to advertise on the XFL had to do with the packaged-goods giant’s cutting back on its ad spending. Indeed, P&G is said to have pulled $25 million in ad spending in the second quarter.
However, another executive claiming familiarity with the situation said P&G decided not to advertise on the XFL “because, ultimately, they were skittish about what the broadcasts were going to be like.” The XFL is being presented by World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, the same company that produces “WWF Smackdown!”
P&G did not return phone calls for this story.
Mr. Reardon said no advertisers that bought schedules on the XFL have bailed. But sources said Honda, whose spots appeared on the first game, will not be returning as a national sponsor.
Chuck Bachrach, executive
vice president, director, media resources and programming at Honda ad agency Rubin Postaer and Associates in Santa Monica, Calif., declined to confirm or deny a Honda pullout from the XFL.
Personally, though, Mr. Bachrach said he is indeed not happy with the XFL broadcasts.
“I think Bob Reardon and his team are doing a great job in the sales arena. But I have issues with NBC Sports management and [WWFE Chairman] Vince McMahon, who don’t seem to be communicating with Bob and his ad sales staff. There seems to be less and less of a separation between church and state on the programming side, and the broadcasts already seem to be moving more and more like the WWF. I’m very disappointed in what NBC has done.”
Specifically, Mr. Bachrach said he was bothered by the NFL-bashing in a scripted opening to the XFL broadcast on Feb. 10, and an emphasis on XFL cheerleaders. Paraphrasing a Jay Leno joke about the XFL cheerleaders, Mr. Bachrach said, “It looks like the last time they danced was on a table.”
Indeed, Bonnie-Jill Laflin, a cheerleader with the XFL’s Los Angeles team, Xtreme, recently complained on an adult magazine Web site, “I decided to do the XFL because for me it was great exposure, and I hoped it would help with my sports broadcasting career. But what they have shown so far on national TV is girls looking like strippers.”
On the plus side, Mr. Bachrach said he was very impressed with some of the camerawork during the game. “It’s been far more innovative than what we’ve seen in the NFL, and I would hope that the NFL would adopt some of this innovative camerawork.”
Mr. Reardon said he took exception to the idea that he and his sales staff were not in the loop as to what is shown on the XFL broadcasts. “I have daily conversations with those in charge of the broadcasts,” he said. “I would ask every advertiser to just take a deep breath. This is a work in progress.”
While he said he was not interested in letting advertisers dictate the content of the XFL broadcasts, “I do have a sensitivity to their concerns.”
Addressing Mr. Bachrach’s specific complaints, Mr. Reardon said the NFL-bashing would stop, and there would be less emphasis on the cheerleaders.
At least one major New York ad agency sports buyer was surprised by the Honda pullout. “I haven’t heard about it, and I don’t know why anybody would have [pulled out], knowing what they are buying into is essentially Vince McMahon’s vision of football, WWF-style. I actually think the football is milder than I expected, both on and off the field.”
In fact, this buyer applauds any move to make the XFL broadcasts more like the WWF telecasts. “One thing that McMahon promised is that it is going to be real smash-mouth football. I imagine that he will try some stuff on the sidelines and in the locker rooms if the ratings keep heading south. I think he would try to tweak and make it more titilating.”
However, “The loss of any advertiser is not good, but the loss of any automotive is especially bad, because they usually make multiple unit buys,” this buyer said.