ESPN Zone Inks All-Star Sponsor Team; J&J Passes on Olympics

Terry Lefton

Pepsi, Energizer, AmEx, MCI, JVC, Anheuser-Busch and Toyota have quietly signed on as promotional partners for Disney’s ESPN Zone restaurants, currently in Baltimore, but slated to open in Chicago July 10, New York in late August and Atlanta before next year’s Super Bowl there.

The sponsors get signage and varying degrees of exclusivity within the restaurant chain; AmEx’s deal, for example, gets the brand on the internal debit card. Disney plans to open 15-20 uber-sports bars within the next five years, with the on-premise signage expected to become an on-air bonus for broadcasts from the restaurants by Disney’s ABC Sports and ESPN.

“By the end of the year, we’ll have a network with different franchises in different cities, a lot like a league,” said Scott Dickey, a former NBA exec, now director of marketing and sales for Disney Regional Entertainment.

Promotionally, the Zones will be active on local sports scenes, pending a more national footprint. A forthcoming promo by the Chicago unit will invite consumers to pick the five greatest teams of the “Chicago Sports Century,” a string off ESPN’s year-long ‘Sports Century’ anthology series. Pepsi will link in its Mountain Dew brand with end-aisle display balloting and packaging splashes on 800,000 12- and 24packs encouraging consumers to vote via a toll-free number. ESPN radio and the local ABC TV affiliate will also contribute themed programming. Millsport, Stamford, Conn., is promo agency of record for ESPN Zones.

Johnson & Johnson has abandoned plans for an Olympic sponsorship it had been pursuing for more than a year. Industry sources said the HBA giant had concerns about cost and the ability to coordinate a multi-brand sponsorship, along with being somewhat spooked by the Salt Lake graft scandal.

Major League Baseball will get some big retail help heralding the return of its season, including expanded presence at Wal-Mart.

MLB, for its trading card licensees, has traded Wal-Mart up from basic distribution in a few hundred stores to special MLB-themed displays in all 3,000 units in the chain with a promotion to inaugurate them. To lure collectors to the No. 1 mass merchant, a limited edition “chase” set of 16 cards will be inserted randomly into packs of all brands of MLB cards–including Fleer/Skybox, Pacific, Upper Deck, Topps–but only packs sold at Wal-Mart, said Rick Platt, MLB’s director of national retail marketing. POP and in-store electronic media support. A four sided pallet displaying cards will be in every Wal-Mart, near the front of the store or near the toy department.

Meanwhile, Starter will use the star power of Cal Ripken in a May-June Father’s Day promo across 200 stores in 10-15 MLB markets. An enter-at-retail sweepstakes offers two separate grand prizes, a trip for four to the NI-Star Game in Boston or a spot at Ripken’s fantasy camp for a lucky dad, 30 or older. Local market prizes include a day at an MLB ballpark with the family. Print in local papers supports. Starter has yet to re-sign Ripken to an endorsement deal, but the sides are close enough that they feel comfortable working together, said Starter marketing manager Chris Stuart.

While a quick-serve restaurant is still missing from MLB’s national sponsorship roster, 300 Burger Kings in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trading off the equity of the champion New York Yankees in an early-season trading card promo. Between April 19 and May 10, BK will offer a different nine-card sheet weekly for 99 cents with the purchase of a value meal, or for $1.40 separately. Radio and TV support, via DMB&B, N.Y., is likely to star Yankee Darryl Strawberry. POP is also in the mix for the promo, handled by Ostern Sports Marketing Group, Wilton, Conn.

Absent from this year’s Final Four activities was Thomson’s RCA brand of consumer electronics, which quietly dropped its NCAA sponsorship last year. Sources said changes were being dictated by the French parent of the Indiana company. Even without an official NCAA designation, the brand will get plenty of Final Four exposure; college basketball’s championship is scheduled to be played in Indianapolis next year and in 2006, at a place called the RCA Dome.

Gatorade is eschewing its usual big-budget spring consumer promotion in favor of the kid-targeted “Slam It Jam It” promo, which offers a trip to L.A. to “hang” with NBAers Tim Hardaway and Gary Payton and Sony music acts. Entry is limited to e-mail and support is limited to Channel 1 and other in-school media. Compare that to last year’s big-bucks promo that offered a game of H-O-R-S-E with Michael Jordan as top prize and see if you believe the party line that the NBA lockout had nothing to do with the scaled down effort.

COPYRIGHT 1999 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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