By Brian Steinberg
Are extreme-sports fans eager for a taste of Red Bull when they watch their favorite rounds of snowboarding, bicycle motocross or mountain-biking? NBC Sports is betting that fans’ thirst for such events on mainstream TV will keep them from getting too antsy about an advertiser’s having an outsized presence in a significant portion of sports programming.
Under a partnership established earlier this week, Red Bull’s media-production arm will provide 35 hours of action-sports programming — the "Red Bull Signature Series" — to begin airing on both NBC and the NBC Sports Network in January. As part of the deal, Red Bull is likely to be featured prominently, not just in the commercials and on-air graphics that surround them.
"This is far from a Red Bull infomercial or anything related to that," said Rob Simmelkjaer, senior VP-NBC Sports Ventures. "It’s about the sports." That said, Red Bull will be integrated into much of the program, and many of the athletes featured enjoy Red Bull sponsorship.
For years, TV sports has been one of the first breeding grounds for alignments between marketers and TV content. Where the mixing of ad messages and sports contests was once viewed skeptically, it’s hard to find a mainstream TV-sports broadcast these days that doesn’t have logos hanging off graphics with scores and stats, or a familiar figure, like Subway’s Jared Fogle, holding forth with hosts during a halftime show.
Yet the partnership between Red Bull and NBC Universal appears to take the model a step further. Red Bull and NBC will share in revenue derived from the programs.
"This is not a time buy," said Mr. Simmelkjaer, referring to cases in which an advertiser pays a network for a time to run its own program. NBC will look to sell ads to other sponsors.
Red Bull has long produced content aligned with its brand image that it can distribute with the aim of reaching its customers in relevant fashion. About 20 hours of "Red Bull Signature Series" will air on NBC, and 15 hours will run on NBC Sports Network. The events include the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship — billed as "a combination of ice hockey, downhill skating and boarder-cross" — and the Red Bull Cold Rush, a three-day invitation-only event focused on daredevil backcountry skiers tackling steep mountain runs.
The deal brings NBC Universal a good chunk of programming attractive to young men, one of the hardest demographic groups for advertisers to reach. NBC is heavily involved with "The Dew Tour," the action-sports event bolstered by PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew soda, as well as with motocross. The Red Bull events will be taped initially, but the expectation is that many will eventually be broadcast live, said Mr. Simmelkjaer.
The agreement comes as NBC Universal hopes to bolster its presence in TV sports. It is turning the relatively small Versus cable network into the NBC Sports Network, then will make a play for the many dollars that go to sports-media juggernaut ESPN.
Both NBC and the NBC Sports Network "want as much action sports as we can possibly get, to make us a destination, especially for young fans," Mr. Simmelkjaer said. The Red Bull series "is going to bring in a young, hip audience to our networks consistently in 2012, and that’s extremely important from an advertising standpoint."
ESPN has shown the "X Games" — action-sports contests that include skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding — since the mid-1990s. Though Red Bull is making a significant investment in NBC Universal, it continues to place ads elsewhere. ESPN will ring in 2012 with "Red Bull: New Year, No Limits," a show in which snowmobiler Levi LaVallee and motocross rider Robbie Maddison will simultaneously attempt to jump over 300 feet of water at the Embarcadero Marina Park, in the downtown area around San Diego Bay.