By Barry Janoff
January 24, 2017: Of all the components that will go into Super Bowl LI — among them, the New England Patriots meeting the Atlanta Falcons in Houston on Fox on Feb. 5 — arguably the least known is the name of the stadium where the Big Game will be played.
That would be NRG Stadium, which is located in NRG Park.
Perhaps even less known, except to customers and executives, is what NRG Energy does and why they have naming rights to the Super Bowl venue.
In a somewhat unusual move, NRG this week is breaking a humorous multi-media campaign to answer those and other burning questions.
The effort stars actor Tony Hale, who played Buster Bluth on the Fox comedy series Arrested Development and currently plays Gary Walsh, the personal aid to Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on HBO’s Veep, for which he has won two Primetime Emmy Awards (2013, 2015) for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series.
All of which somehow makes him preeminently qualified to explain the inner workings of a power and electricity providing corporation whose name is on the stadium that will host Super Bowl LI.
In a series of spots, Hale is invited to a NRG board meeting where executives are discussing the topic at hand: Explaining to the public "What is NRG and what do they do?"
Creative features Hale, real staff members of NRG and NRG crew and Houston Texans All-Pro J.J. Watts.
According to NRG, the spots also mark Hale’s directorial debut "as he took the lead on writing, producing and editing the creative treatments for all three spots."
Support includes Internet, social media and on-site activation.
Among the items we learn from the campaign: NRG Energy is a Fortune 200 company described as the leading integrated power company in the U.S.
The company traces its roots back to 1992 and Xcel Energy, but gained its new name in 2004 as part of a bankruptcy process. NRG is not an acronym but is pronounced "energy."
In May 2009, NRG Energy acquired the retail operations of Reliant Energy. In March 2014, NRG Energy revealed that the company would take over naming rights to what was then Reliant Park and Reliant Stadium, home to the NFL’s Texans.
Reliant acquired the naming rights for the stadium and other properties in what became Reliant Park in 2002 via a 32-year deal for $300 million.
NRG Energy now holds the naming rights to the NRG Park, which also includes NRG Center, NRG Arena and NRG Astrodome (the iconic stadium that introduce Astroturf to the world).
One tidbit we don’t learn: That the roof of NRG Stadium has its own Twitter account, @NRG_Roof, with 164 followers and the tag line, "Just living’ the high life in the H-town sky."
In the lead spot, "The Expert," Hale is escorted into a conference room in NRG Stadium, where he and his intern, George, meet members of the NRG Energy staff.
"We’re excited to have you introduce the NRG brand to people," says one of the women executives.
"Ohh, me too," says a belated Hale, covering up an obvious lie. "I have spent weeks researching NRG stuff. I probably know more about it than you guys. However, this is a learning experience for George so he’s going to ask some general questions."
"What is NRG?" George asks, as Hale also awaits the answer.
"We are the leading power company in the U.S.," they explain. "Our combined companies makes us the largest generator and electricity provider, serving nearly three million customers."
"That’s a lot of people," responds a glassy-eyed Hale as he tries to soak it all in.
Other questions from George reveal more about NRG, all of which is news to Hale. Ultimately, as the NRG execs see through Hale’s facade, he shouts out to change the subject, "This is going to be so much fun. Director!!!"
In a second spot, "Mad Man," Hale is looking for a catchy tag line to help sell NRG’s message to the general public.
"We can’t just say that NGR powers the mundane and critical moments of life," Hale offers, repeating what one of the executives said to him. "What does that mean?”
"We help people to power and improve their lives," explains another NRG executive, providing Hale with his tag line. "Energy is part of the lifeblood of society."
“Can you just settle down, Prof. Big Brain," responds Hale as the information goes over his head. "We can’t just tell people facts."
Fortunately for NRG, their message has already been shared with the public.
If history remains true to form, NRG should receive more than $30 million in media value on Feb. 5 from its signage on the Super Bowl LI venue, as well as on-air graphics and mentions during the Fox broadcast.
During Super Bowl XLIX, based on the value of 30-second spots, the University of Phoenix earned more than $57.7 million in game-day media value, according to Front Row Analytics, the former sponsorship analysis division of Comcast-Spectator.
The estimated media value topped the previous high of $37.6 million that Raymond James Stadium in Tampa received from hosting Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
Estimated media value for MetLife Stadium during Super Bowl XLVIII was $32.4 million, the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome during Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 was $30 million and Lucas Oil Stadium during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 was $33 million.
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