As 67 players opted out of the NFL season because of the coronavirus pandemic, corporate partners, sponsors and advertisers did the opposite.
They stood pat.
The league even added two major companies: Subway and Invisalign.
The truth is that not even COVID-19 has scared away the folks who, frankly, desperately need pro to get their sales pitches and promotions across to more than 187 million Americans who call themselves NFL fans.
So they have stuck around, which shouldn’t be surprising.
“The NFL just wrote new business with Subway, which is very unusual during the pandemic,” says Marc Ganis, co-founder of Chicago-based consulting group Sportscorp and a confidant of many NFL owners.
“Delivery service companies are gearing up for a load of business. People will order in a lot more now, so they are expecting a big blowout on the sponsorship side with the NFL back.
“Procter & Gamble and cleaning services, too.”
Across the board, though, the NFL has not had to deal with defections. Potential alterations in contracts, yes. But departures? Not really.
“We have not had those conversations (of companies departing),” says Tracie Rodburg, NFL Senior vice president of sponsorship. “But we’ve had real conversations about the messaging and how we come out together. We have been so close with our partners since March when this first started affecting everybody, and they are nonstop. Making sure we are providing them the right information so they can make the right decision for their business.”
Those decisions, naturally, have become more difficult to make during a pandemic that likely will last through the entire NFL schedule and playoffs.
“Corporate sponsors are doing risk assessments, understanding what the contracts are requiring,” says Mark Reino, CEO of Merit Mile, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based advertising, PR and sports marketing agency. “Are there out clauses, termination clauses, acts of God clauses that can enable them to perhaps exit these agreements?”
Reino points to the possibility of college partners turning to the NFL with the Big Ten and Pac-12 having canceled their fall seasons and other conferences trimming theirs.
“A lot of those conversations are being held now,” he says. “The decisions are not close to being made. What is happening in the overall sponsors/advertising landscape is a lot of information gathering. They have to leave at least 25% of that intake open as a result of the pandemic.”
So the NFL could find new or stronger revenue flows as companies involved with college head to the pros for more attention and impact.
They also might have benefited from timing.
“As you know we’ve been laser-focused on starting the season and that gives them the hope to plan, and we have been planning with them,” Rodburg says of the league’s corporate partners. “There are those partners of ours that have been experiencing what the other leagues have been, or the NCAA, and who were unable to finish their promotions. When it comes to us, they’re certainly thinking about the environment we are in while making decisions for their brand. They say, “We are all-in on the NFL.”
Rodburg points to some partners who have used their expertise to help the NFL keep things going heading toward the regular season.
“Take Oakley,” she says. ”They step up to create a new product, the face shield for players. Lowe’s has a concierge service for our clubs, and not just (providing) PPEs but partitions to build up offices for our teams.
“P&G has a wealth of products we haven’t tapped into before but now can. We have been using Visa to get to contacts and our cashless lists with our partners. They have been helping our clubs implement this.
“Then there are our sideline partners working hand in hand with our health and safety — making sure everything on that field is set up to play the game safely. How to clean the Microsoft Surface tablets and Bose headsets, for example. Making sure we are not sharing the Gatorade bottles. We’ve worked with them for storage systems — we’re calling them troughs and trees. Everyone will have a personalized bottle so there is no sharing.
“We partner with all of them from a marketing standpoint, but to really step in with them on the expertise side, have those experts to help our teams, that took so much time off the adjustments we’ve needed to make.”
As we get deeper into the NFL season — if the coronavirus doesn’t cause major delays or a shutdown — we also will get deeper into the calendar. And holiday shopping.
Again, the NFL appears well positioned because, well, it’s on top of the popularity mountain. But there could be a different scenario to all that shopping.
“The parties who will be hurt are the retail stores,” Ganis notes. “Consumers are comfortable with buying online anyway, and Fanatics has become the gold standard for online licensed retailing — and they are exceptional at it. It’s seamless, and that’s necessary now.
“Think about at the holiday time, people still could be reluctant to go to retail stores or might not be allowed to. They would not want to be among Christmas crowds. Mainly apparel and house goods buyers have gotten over feeling the product in their hands. They are fine with online.”
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