By Barry Janoff
May 28, 2013: FedEx absolutely, positively delivers packages, parcels and freight, and provides a myriad of companies and customers with solutions and logistics to transportation, e-commerce, printing and business challeges.
FedEx also delivers sports. FedEx is an official sponsor of the NFL, and FedEx Field is home to the NFL's Washington Redskins; FedEx Forum is home to the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers; the FedEx Racing Team is led by driver Denny Hamlin; and the FedEx Cup is now in its seventh season in association with the PGA Tour.
The alliance with the NFL, which began in 2000, was recently renewed for four more seasons. Naming rights for FedEx Field date back a year earlier and will run through 2026. Activations with the league range from the FedEx Air & Ground Players of the Week and Players of the Year (Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, respectively, for the 2012 season) — which is overseen in conjunction with the NFL Players Assn. and voted on by fans — to a FedEx Lemonade Stand at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans this past February.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Seth Fishbein, marketing specialist advisor, sports marketing for FedEx, at the recent NFL Players Assn. Rookie Premiere four-day event in Los Angeles, about the NFL, FedEx Field and a couple of athletes named Robert Griffin III and Tiger Woods.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you assess the relationship between the NFL and FedEx?
Seth Fishbein: Very strong, and evolving. We have been an NFL sponsor since 2000. We recently signed a four-year renewal. Part of where we are going is to build more credits into our deal with the NFL so that we can activate more, have more working dollars with the NFL. What that means, and NFL Players Inc. (the marketing and licensing division of NFLPA) can tell you this, as well, is for us have the ability to go out and use more players for NFL calendar events and for our high-proprietary events with an NFL tie-in. So we are looking at more working dollars, more activation around NFL events, the use of more players at large and smaller functions and other activations using players in social media.
NYSJ: Excuse me for using an obvious cliché, but how is FedEx thinking outside of the box with activations?
SF: [Laughs.] That's not the first time I've heard that. We are looking at different ways to utilize our NFL relationship beyond the standard chalk-talk. For example, we recently had a member of the San Francisco 49ers deliver a package to the house of a customer before an event as a way to reward one of our loyal customers. You will see more activations that would be considered anything but traditional.
NYSJ: How important was it for FedEx to be at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, where 40 first-year players — including Geno Smith, Manti Te'o, Matt Barkley, E.J. Manuel and Denard Robinson — were attending marketing, financial and media seminars, and getting their first trading card photos taken by Panini and Topps?
SF: One of our big initiatives this year is to put together a player-shipping program. We know from all of the time we spend with players and with the NFLPA that whether they are signing contracts, shipping equipment and other things, what our services can mean to athletes. We want the players to understand that FedEx has many services they can utilize. And not just them, but also their families, friends and agents. At the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, we set up a FedEx Shipping Lounge, where the players were able to bring things they may have gotten — equipment, a box of trading cards, other items — to ship them home. And we also were offering to set up accounts for the players to have when they are on the road. They'll be shipping things home all season, so we explain to them, Why not let FedEx do it.
NYSJ: How important is it to be visible to athletes to establish that relationship between the NFL and FedEx?
SF: Very strategic. If we can meet players as rookies, and show them how we work with the NFL and how we can work with them, that can establish a relationship that might last well beyond their playing career. I would describe FedEx as a 'middle of the road' sponsor. When you look at how much we spend with the league, we actually utilize players a lot for a sponsor our size. The players are really our spokespeople. Many of the young players may not know who some of the NFL sponsors are or what they do. So meeting them at events such as the NFLPA Rookie Premiere is a natural fit for us.
NYSJ: What is the key strategy driving FedEx alliances with the NFL, the PGA Tour and Nascar?
SF: B-2-B shipping isn't always the most exciting industry. But when we utilize our relationship with the NFL, for example, bringing customers into a stadium or having a player meet a group of our business customers, that really amps up the wattage. We have a great relationship with the NFLPA. I'd say we secure many as 90 players a year for FedEx events. With the FedEx Cup, we can talk about golfers shipping their clubs from event to event, and, as with the NFL situation, bring in our clients to meet pro golfers, talk with them, shoot a few rounds of golf.
NYSJ: The company has naming rights at FedEx Field home to the Washington Redskins, via a 27-year deal signed in 1999 (valued in excess of $205 million). How would you assess that alliance?
SF: That relationship is extremely important to us. We have been there a long time, and it's been a great property for us. The Redskins are an exciting team. It is a great venue to host our government clients and other government partners. So it is an extremely important platform for us.
NYSJ: What impact has the arrival of Robert Griffin III had on FedEx?
SF: It certainly doesn't hurt that the team has bounced back, has a great quarterback and is going through a whole revitalization program. That has been great for us. The Redskins had been going down a path where they were looking for an excitement factor, and that happened when they signed RG3. It has been a lot of fun for us to activate there. For a time, we really had not been doing anything there. But now there are a lot more opportunities, and we are looking forward to activating even more than we did last season.
NYSJ: FedEx has had some creative and humorous TV and marketing campaigns. How does that align with the traditional image of a company involved in shipping and delivery?
SF: We like working with [lead agency] BBDO, New York. We have messages that are humorous in nature, but which keep the focus on what FedEx does and what the company is about. The marketing never takes the company or the employees lightly, but manages to show us in a lighter tone that complements what FedEx the company is all about.
"FedEx Field is an extremely important platform for us. And it doesn't hurt that the team has a great quarterback and is going through a revitalization program."
NYSJ: Super Bowl XLVIII will be outdoors in MetLife Stadium this February. Could we be looking at a FedEx Super Bowl down the road?
SF: Why not!? What's going to be interesting about Super Bowl XLVIII is that it could open up many opportunities for any open-air cold-weather stadium to host the event. FedEx Field would be a great venue. it's located outside of Washington, D.C., so the NFL would have some room to operate and set up their events. I'm from Boston, so I'm a cold-weather guy. I see no problem in having the Super Bowl in New York, New England, FedEx Field. We'll see what happens. I see no risk in having a cold-weather Super Bowl and I applaud the NFL for doing it and embracing it. If there is some snow, cold weather, we'd see that as a great tie-in for FedEx. We deliver packages no matter what: rain, sleet, snow, cold weather.
NYSJ: When you are taking about NFL events, the league has extended itself well beyond the regular season, with the Scouting Combine, the Draft, other pre-training and pre-season events. How does that tie-in with FedEx's NFL strategy?
SF: We've been looking for ways to extend our NFL season. Our [in-house] football team used to be relatively quiet during the NFL off-season, doing some planning and having some strategy meetings for the upcoming season. But we no longer have that kind of year or down-time. It's 24/7, when you think about all of the NFL calendar events you mentioned plus other activations that FedEx is adding to support our NFL alliance. There is no break for us, but it's all good.
NYSJ: How does that align with the company's other sports-related activations, such as the FedEx Cup and FedEx Racing?
SF: The way we take on the challenges of shipping is the way we take on our extremely active sports alliances: We embrace them. Our sponsorships give us a year-round activation, a way to be active in front of teams, athletes and customers 12 months. Racing is year-round. Golf is year-round. And the NFL is becoming year-round. We are reaching people all year. We are putting ourselves in the mix with sports people and also with those people and companies associated with sports. What's interesting that that the FedEx brand is extremely recognizable. People know what the company is about without any explanation. Now we are working on extending the sports relationships, so that if people want to ship their golf clubs, for example, or players want to ship their equipment or other items, they think FedEx. And, in turn, companies and people who are associated with the NFL or the PGA Tour also think FedEx first.
NYSJ: And it doesn't hurt when Tiger Woods is at the top of the FedEx Cup points chart?
SF: No. Not at all.
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