Major Sports Deals With The NFL, NHL, MLB, PGA Tour And IRL Prove That A Rolling (Bridge)Stone Gathers No Moss
If you are a company that wants to break free from tired marketing and create a lasting impact with millions of consumers, Phil Pacsi, vice president, North America Consumer Tire Marketing, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, explains why it's good to have official alliances with the NFL, MLB, NHL, PGA Tour and the Indy Race League and title sponsorship of two of the hottest events in sports.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted December 21, 2009)
Bridgestone is not just an all-star player in the tire industry, the company has also become an MVP in sports marketing. The Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations brand is the official tire of the NFL, NHL and PGA Tour, and sibling Firestone last week became the first official tire of MLB, adding to a roster that also includes the Izod IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyPro Series. Bridgestone is also able to reach millions of consumers and fans in the U.S. and Canada via sponsorship of two of sports hottest properties: the Super Bowl half time show and the NHL Winter Classic.
More than 150 million people worldwide are expected to watch the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLIV Half Time Show on CBS on Feb. 7, starring The Who, which will mark the company's third consecutive Super Bowl half time (tying a mark set by E*Trade during Super Bowls XXIV, XXV and XXVI).
Bridgestone also plans to air two new TV spots during the Super Bowl, from lead agency The Richards Group, Dallas; previous Bridgestone Super Bowl spots, including one starring Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, another featuring a screaming squirrel and one with Alice Cooper and Richard Simmons, are ranked among the most memorable by numerous marketing and advertising surveys. Bridgestone in 2007-08 had been title sponsor of the NFL's International Series but opted out in 2009 (and was replaced by Pepsi Max).
Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone also will be title sponsor for the second consecutive year of the NHL Winter Classic, to be played Jan. 1 at Boston's Fenway Park. Now entering its third games, the outdoor event has quickly proven to be a favorite among core and casual hockey fans and well as a TV ratings mecca. The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2009, played at Chicago's Wrigley Field, aired on NBC and attracted an average of 4.4 million views, the most people to watch a regular-season NHL game since 1975 and 12% higher than the previous year's Winter Classic.
Bridgestone recently extended its deals with the PGA Tour and the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational through 2014, which in 2009 was won by Tiger Woods for the seventh time. However, Bridgestone faces a challenging year in 2010. Its current deals with the NFL and NHL are set to expire, and Woods, golf's No. 1, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Tour to resolve personal issues. The economy also led Bridgestones' parent company in Tokyo to end its association with Formula 1 racing at the end of the 2010 season, where the company has supplied tires since 1997 and has been the sole supplier since 2008. Phil Pacsi, vice president, North America Consumer Tire Marketing, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, is Pacsi is responsible for product planning, forecasting, pricing, national advertising, motor sports and promotional programs. He spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about sports marketing, sports fans and consumer, Tiger Woods and The Who.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What were Bridgestone's marketing challenges and accomplishments in 2009?
Phil Pacsi: Obviously the economy was a huge concern. Balancing expenses versus what was happening in reality to make sure that we were spending our money wisely. One of the things we were very excited about, and the fact that our management was very much in agreement with, was that we have very long-term plans that we had set in place specifically with the Bridgestone brand. Growth of the Bridgestone brand and increase of awareness. We were able to that; we were able to keep a lot of our initiatives with the Bridgestone brand in place. That did not mean we were out spending frivolously. We cut costs, we controlled costs in other ways so that we were able to continue to move forward with key initiatives [such as aligning with Major League Baseball and having exclusive sponsorship of the in-stadium balloting for the 2010 All-Star Game].
NYSJ: Is a key factor driving these decisions the response Bridgestone's marketing alliances get from consumers?
Pacsi: Absolutely. The tire industry has been down. But we have been able to keep pace or show increases in sales throughout the calendar year of 2009. So that is saying that something is working. We look at some of the regular tracking and research that we do and we are seeing movement. People are recognizing Bridgestone more. People are asking more about Bridgestone: Where do I get Bridgestone tires? The awareness levels are also increasing. So those are all positive movements toward our goal of increasing awareness and sales.
NYSJ: The third NHL Winter Classic will be played on Jan. 1, 2010, and it will be the second with Bridgestone as presenting sponsor. What have you tried to do or seen differently between the Winter Classic played at Chicago's Wrigley Field this past Jan. 1 and the upcoming game?
Pacsi: The biggest thing is we made the decision for the 2010 Winter Classic much earlier than we did with the Wrigley Field Winter Classic. The Wrigley Field deal was done maybe a month or two prior to the event. We announced the renewal of our sponsorship for the upcoming Winter Classic well in advance of the 2010 event. So we were on board from the start of the NHL's announcement in July of the Winter Classic and the Fenway Park location. We have been able to take advantage and get the benefits from the point of announcement, including the name integration in the logo. If you saw any of the photos that came out during the NHL's announcement of the Fenway Park Winter Classic, they had a layout of where the rink would be and what Fenway Park would look like, and there was Bridgestone integration in that. So from the first announcement we were associated with the event, which is huge.
NYSJ: Have you found both internally at the company and the response from consumers that the Winter Classic has gone from an oddity to a major property?
Pacsi: Absolutely. It is huge. And it is a crown jewel in the NHL's arsenal of events. We are very excited to be part of it. I believe it was Bob Costas at the 2009 Winter Classic who made a comment during the pre-game show on NBC that the event has quickly become the new standard for entertainment for a sports event on New Year's Day. And we at Bridgestone believe that's true.
"The best-case scenario for us moving forward is to have partnerships with [MLB, NFL and NHL]. That is our intent. We like the performance they are giving us and the positioning with the brand."
NYSJ: The NHL will not have an All-Star Game in 2010 due to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which also will be on NBC, and the U.S. Olympic Committee is using the Winter Classic broadcast to unveil the players for the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team. What does this say about the impact the event can have on fans, consumers and marketing partners such as Bridgestone?
Pacsi: The importance of the Winter Classic is becoming more pronounced not just to the NHL but to Bridgestone, NHL marketing partners, NBC, the Olympic community and others. It is not just a one-day game, but an event whose importance is being recognized more long-term by more fans, which has enabled us to leverage the property.
NYSJ: Have you been working with the NHL to expand the events surrounding the event?
Pacsi: We have. There will be a Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Spectator Plaza on Dec. 31 and the day of the game, with interactive events and hockey-themed activities. Bridgestone has been sponsoring a Webcam at NHL.com where you can see the inside of Fenway Park and watch people skating on the rink that will be used for the game. So the event and the surrounding activities have grown and expanded.
NYSJ: Have you been able to make a direct connection between people who watch the Winter Classic and those who buy your products?
Pacsi: We aren't able to delve that deep as yet on that consumer movement, but we are seeing general movement. Bridgestone has been the official tire of the NHL, NHL Players Association and the Hockey Hall of Fame since 2008. We believe that the hockey fan really parallels very nicely with Bridgestone demographics. They are a more tech-savvy fan than any other sport, and we like how that matches up with the technology of our tire brand. And this is not just in the U.S. but also in Canada, which is a huge market for us. So I would say that awareness is definitely up among hockey fans and we feel it is a strong factor in driving sales.
NYSJ: Would Bridgestone want to continue its association with the NHL and the Winter Classic in 2011 and beyond?
Pacsi: Our current deal with the NHL expires after the Stanley Cup this season, and we are in discussions for an extension. We are in negotiations with the league and would want to continue our alliance if it again proves to be beneficial for both sides. It involves not just the Winter Classic but many NHL properties.
NYSJ: The NHL is strongly considering adding a second annual Winter Classic, and there are cities that want to host the game. Would this strengthen or dilute the event?
Pacsi: Adding another Winter Classic is a league decision. Many people would like to have it. But then you have to question if you have one and it has done very well and has been received very well, if you add a second or a third would that dilute or diminish the event? Right now, I don't know. But right now we are very happy to be affiliated with it.
NYSJ: Bridgestone will be title sponsor of the Super Bowl XLIV half time show for the third consecutive season. What will it be like having The Who after Tom Petty at Super Bowl XLII and Bruce Springsteen at Super Bowl XLIII?
Pacsi: We're getting more and more excited about that as it gets closer, and more people I speak with have very big expectations about this half time show. Both with the Winter Classic and the Super Bowl, the biggest problem I personally have is the number of people asking me for tickets. I don't have tickets to give to people. The Winter Classic and the Super Bowl are both difficult to get.
NYSJ: This is Bridgestone's third consecutive Super Bowl half time, which ties a record set by E*Trade (Super Bowls XXIV, XXV, XXVI). Has the impact lessened at all?
Pacsi: The Super Bowl and the half time show have enormous power. People talk about the Super Bowl almost all year, and besides the game itself, they talk about two things: The commercials and the half time entertainment. These elements create a lot of buzz, and to have the Bridgestone name associated with the half time show is an incredible opportunity.
NYSJ: Bridgestone also has had TV commercials during the Super Bowl. Will your new spots during the next game create buzz?
Pacsi: They will. We will have two new commercials [from lead agency The Richards Group, Dallas], and we plan to have some teasers in early January [during the Winter Classic and NFL playoffs] to get the buzz going.
NYSJ: The Winter Classic has gone from zero-to-60 in three years, but the Super Bowl half time show as a major entertainment and marketing event can be traced back to Super Bowl XXVII when Michael Jackson performed. Does it still have room for growth and continued marketing support?
Pacsi: I really think it does. I know that the NFL has been looking at, and continues to look at and access, where it can go and where it needs to go, what should the half time entertainment be. The NFL is looking at Super Bowl L as a milestone event, so I think they are planning a half time show to be a milestone as well.
NYSJ: The NFL moved the Pro Bowl to Miami the week before Super Bowl XLIV, so will that add anything to the Super Bowl buzz?
Pacsi: It will be interesting to see how that works out. Until they see the results, I think the jury is still out on that.
NYSJ: What is Bridgestone's status as the official tire of the NFL and the company's association with the half time show moving forward?
Pacsi: We became the first official tire of the NFL in 2007. Our current deal expires at the end of this season. We are in negotiations with the NFL at this point.
NYSJ: John Baratta, president of consumer tire replacement sales for BATO, said that the new alliance with MLB could elevate the Firestone brand to "new heights of consumer awareness and visibility." Would that be a significant replacement should Bridgestone not remain the official tire of the NFL or the NHL?
Pacsi: The best-case scenario for us moving forward is to have partnerships with [MLB, NFL and NHL]. That is our intent. We like the performance they are giving us and the positioning with the brand. There is always room for improvement but these are things in which we can mutually work together.
NYSJ: Bridgestone is not officially aligned with Tiger Woods. But Bridgestone Golf has a major presence in the sport and Bridgestone recently extended deals as the official tire of the PGA and also as title sponsor of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, held in August, where Woods is defending champion and has won the title seven times. If he does not play in 2010, what impact would that have on the Tour?
Pacsi: We've already seen the impact when he missed a significant part of the season in 2008 to recover from knee surgery. It would have a big impact on the TV ratings and on overall awareness. But it is commensurate of the PGA Tour to try to see what they can do keep awareness and interest high, whether it is to build on the other players or in other ways to counteract that Tiger effect and keep their viewers and fans involved.
NYSJ: Bridgestone is heavily involved with sports but alliances tend to be more with events than specific athletes, although you do work with Mark Messier, who is retired. Given what has happened over the past year with Woods, Michael Phelps, Manny Ramirez and others, how do you feel about that strategy, and do you feel that athletes have the power to actually influence consumers?
Pacsi: When we were making our decisions about what we were going to do for the brand, we very seriously looked at individual athletes, we looked at leagues and we looked at high-profile events. For our purposes we felt that the league affiliations and the high-profile events was the position where we needed to be with the brand to get the overall umbrella effect.
NYSJ: Even given the current situation with Woods, are there still positive aspects in aligning with individual athletes?
Pacsi: Using an individual player or endorser does have some benefit, especially when you can look at integration into your product. For instance, our golf division does have some players, and they use the golf equipment. Fred Couples and Brandt Snedeker, who was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2007. When they do well in tournament play, you receive a lot of brand awareness and you get a lot of exposure. In July the Bridgestone Golf division signed Lee Trevino, who is an epic star in the golf world and has brought some very nice movement to the gold brand. in hockey, our alliance and allegiance with Mark Messier, with whom we sponsor the Mark Messier Leadership Award Presented by Bridgestone (which recognizes an individual as a superior leader in hockey, and as a contributing member of society) and the Mark Messier Youth Leadership Award (to encourage leadership, community spirit and to reward youth hockey players or mentor/coaches for their contributions to youth sports or education). He is a great person and the awards are nice tie-ins to everything that he exemplifies both on and off the ice.
NYSJ: What have been the major shifts in Bridgestone's marketing strategies when looking at ways to reach consumers?
Pacsi: Everything is fair game at this point: traditional marketing, new media, Twitter, Facebook, especially moving into 2010. We put out some feelers into different areas this past year. We are taking it slow, but in 2010 there will be movement into more non-traditional media. That is where everything is going. Our belief has always been that we don't want to put something out there to support a product and not do it right. We may not always be the quickest to respond to new trends but when we do it's the right way. Whether its Facebook or Twitter, we are not just putting a site out there and not have it updated with new information on a regular basis. Many companies do that - the upload a site and then forget about it. But it is dynamic. It constantly needs to be monitored, upgraded and changed.
NYSJ: Looking ahead to 2010, what are Bridgestone's marketing challenges and goals?
Pacsi: We are working on renewing with the NFL and NHL. That is high on the list. The challenges in 2010 will not be unlike those in 2009. We will still feel the effects of the economy. Our goal will be to continue to keep our awareness of the brand out there. Ultimately at some point things are going to break free. We akin buying tires to going to the dentist. It's not something that people want to do - it's something they have to do at times. What we do know is that people are putting off their tire purchases. We hope that when the need does arise that they will remember Bridgestone, put us or keep us in their considerations and be there. We definitely have been reminding people with the things we do that we are out there.