Arena ball ads aim to entice sponsors

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

NBC has begun a pre-launch promo tease campaign for its Arena Football League game telecasts that will roll out in February.
Having gained valuable lessons on promo campaigns for NBC’s Xtreme Football League two years ago and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics last February, NBC and Arena Football officials are laying the groundwork for what the AFL’s Glenn Horine describes as a “grassroots-level” campaign. The plan includes integrated national and local promotions and marketing schemes to entice major advertisers.
The first phase of the campaign started with NBC’s Sept. 29 launch of on-air spots, featuring high-profile National Football League star quarterbacks Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams and two-time Super Bowl winner John Elway, touting the virtues of what the AFL calls “rock ‘n’ roll” football.
By airing the spots for the first time during the Ryder Cup golf tournament, and later in the season during NBC’s highly rated NASCAR telecasts, Vince Manze, who, along with John Miller, is co-president of the in-house NBC Agency, said the primary goal is to “educate” core male 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 sports fans on the Arena Football format.
“The whole theme, quite honestly, is about educating novice and hard-core football fans alike,” whose historical allegiance has been with NFL-style football, Mr. Manze said.
Given the indoor nature of Arena Football, where a hockey-rink-style boarded playing field confines the run-and-gun passing and running to a truncated 50-yard area (with a 35-yard width and no sidelines), 100-point-or-higher games are not atypical. The theme for the new campaign, Mr. Manze said, is “In the House,” accompanied by the musical score “My House” (by Crowded House).
In one of the spots, titled “Electric Football,” Mr. Manze turns back the clock to the 1960s-era appeal of those moving electronic football figurines, until Mr. Elway shows up with a chainsaw to cut the game board/football field in half-to convey the style of Arena Football.
In another spot, Mr. Elway, now a part-owner of the new Denver-based AFL franchise called the Colorado Crush, reminds a rookie player that the ball is still “live” after missed field goal attempts-just before the player is crushed by a swath of tacklers when he catches the ball off the field goal net.
“The AFL is football, but with some high-flying differences,” Mr. Manze said. “Because of the high-scoring, speeded up nature of Arena Football, we tried to have fun with the [promo] spots in a way that would reach the younger end of those adult demographics.”
Another goal of the spots, Mr. Manze is reticent to admit, is to grab the attention of perspective advertisers. Mr. Horine, the AFL’s executive VP of business development, confirmed AFL and NBC Sports Sales executives were just starting to make some detailed presentations to advertisers, though he declined to identify specific agencies or their clients.
“With the NBC Agency providing the promotional support, we’re also looking at [the new promo spots] as a trade campaign to get the word out that we’re making the rounds,” Mr. Horine said. Some of the earliest presentations, said sources, have been with such incumbent AFL sponsors as Ford Motor Co., the U.S. Army and ADT Security.
While he declined to provide much information on NBC’s and AFL’s media plans or ratings projections, Mr. Horine said some of the presentation “reinforces” the previous 16-year history, in which the AFL built a loyal fan base.
On that score, Mr. Horine noted that the AFL’s presence in local markets extends to 50 U.S. markets overall, with AFL franchise owners operating teams in 16 large to midsize markets, while the 3-year-old AF2 “developmental” minor league has teams operating in 34 midsize to small markets. He also hinted that a strong local market presence will allow advertisers to benefit from “integrated” marketing and promotion tie-ins with NBC-owned stations (in 13 markets) and other NBC affiliates in the remaining cities.
“Starting in August, all the NBC station people [within in the AFL’s 50-market coverage map] have been meeting with our executives to discuss ways we can offer joint marketing and promotion efforts,” Mr. Horine said.
Unlike with other major professional sports rights deals in the past, NBC entered into a four-year noncash rights deal with the Arena Football League as part of an innovative revenue-sharing arrangement-when it comes to advertising sales, ticket revenue and merchandising. But another incentive for NBC to promote the sport’s 71-game telecast schedule heavily (from February through June, including the playoffs and Arena Bowl) is the network’s share in the enhanced franchise value of Arena teams, which AFL Commissioner David Baker estimated has gone from $400,000 to $500,000 five years ago to a recent average of $12 million per team today.
Media watchers think NBC’s deal with the AFL could be a future business model for how other broadcast networks take on the telecast rights to major or minor sports leagues-due in large part to ever-escalating licensing costs for NFL, NBA and MLB rights. Even the NFL has become an equity investor and believer in Arena Football, also allowing several key NFL franchise owners buy accompanying AFL teams in their markets.