Football Kicks Off Its 2021 Season    

By John Licardi  | 

We’re still five months away from kickoff for Super Bowl LVI, but football fever has taken both fans and broadcasters by storm. NBC Sports recently announced that it has less than five 30-second ad spots left to sell for the February 13, 2022 game. Some sponsors paid up to $6.5 million for their coveted slot, which is more than the record $6 million originally sought by NBC earlier this year. “We have seen demand exceed our remaining inventory,” said VP Dan Lovinger. With NFL season now officially in full swing, brands are getting into the spirit of the sport via new campaigns. Here’s what you need to know.

Football Returns
Pepsi is promoting its Pepsi Zero Sugar soft drink while letting viewers know that football season is back via its new campaign, “Made for Football Watching.” Breaking Bad actor David Costabile stars in the 2:30 tongue-in-cheek hero spot, “Football Is Calling,” which starts with a group of friends leaving a watch party to run errands or attend brunch, until Costabile implores them to remain inside. Despite having missed outdoor activities and social connections for almost “two years,” football is a sacred ritual that can’t be skipped. “Now that fall schedules are beginning to fill up, we felt it was important to remind everyone to unapologetically prioritize their football watching time—even if it comes at the expense of social or household obligations,” said Todd Kaplan, Pepsi VP of marketing. The longtime NFL sponsor also partnered with NFLShop.com to market special cases of Pepsi Zero Sugar that unlock a variety of prizes, including a trip for two to next year’s Super Bowl.

Mars Wrigley, a fellow longstanding league sponsor, commemorated NFL season’s September 9 kickoff with its “Snickers Rookie Mistake of the Year” activation. Users were asked to submit videos, photos or written #SnickersRookieMistake accounts of small but embarrassing “rookie mistakes” they made for a chance to win shout-outs from NFL players, plus the ultimate prize: tickets to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. While previous Snickers campaigns focused on players, this year’s effort shines the spotlight on fans, as sports marketers attempt to keep engagement high given last year’s seven percent drop in NLF ratings and ongoing Covid-19 concerns sparked by the contagious Delta variant.

Betting is Back
As the online sports betting category continues to grow following the Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 decision to legalize sports wagering in most states, mobile betting app WynnBets (owned by Wynn Resorts) is capitalizing on that popularity. Their new campaign features spots starring actor and avid gambler Ben Affleck strolling through the Wynn Las Vegas casino. As he holds up a phone displaying his WynnBets selections, he interacts with celebrities and personalities like Shaquille O’Neal and Guadalupe Rodriguez, mother of his girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez. The NFL is investing more heavily in partnerships with sports-betting companies, and Wynn Resorts in turn plans to spend $100 million on WynnBets this football season.

Fellow sports-betting group FanDuel recently debuted its ambitious, first-ever national campaign meant to reach mainstream audiences as sports gambling becomes more accepted and the company builds its brand following a lucrative year. In 2020, FanDuel boosted its US revenue by 81 percent. Their sixty-second spot, called “Anthem,” cuts quickly through snippets of various sporting games and events, from basketball to tennis to golf to soccer, calling on viewers to “Make Every Moment More” while illustrating that FanDuel can be key to all sports experiences. Three additional national spots plus five ads containing NFL imagery will follow, running on TV, mobile, digital and out-of-home channels.

Targeting Younger Demographics
In a move meant to engage millennial audiences, Campbell’s Chunky recently joined forces with Sean McVay, head coach for the Los Angeles Rams. McVay is himself a millennial, and his youth and relative inexperience were once met with concern by some sports critics. The campaign, called “Lunchtime is Your Halftime,” plays on the fact that millennial professionals feel more pressure to not take a lunch break than their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts. In fact, according to a 2019 Tork survey, 37 percent of millennials view lunch as an obstacle to productivity. Campbell’s Chunky hopes to change that with spots that will run throughout football season on linear TV, digital streaming, social media and live-streaming platforms like Twitch, urging millennial viewers to take a proper break and fuel up for the second half of their day.

Jersey Mike’s Subs, meanwhile, is targeting younger fans with its college football tailgate tour, hosted in partnership with Fox Sports. The tour was cancelled last year as a result of the pandemic, but will make stops this year in 14 cities to promote the Jersey Mike’s mobile app. Trivia games enter fans in a sweepstakes contest for a chance to win Rose Bowl tickets, and Fox Sports is promoting the initiative by airing a series of 30-second spots.

Despite pandemic-related shutdowns and cancellations, the NFL made $3.3 billion in ad revenue for its TV partners during last year’s season, according to Standard Media Index. Now, after months of anticipation, football is back and spurring more excitement than ever. We’ll be watching as both games and ad campaigns ramp up ahead of next year’s Super Bowl!

John Licardi
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