5 Brand-Name NFL Sponsors With a Lot to Prove This Upcoming Season

With the NBA season now officially over and the Miami Heat capturing their second consecutive championship, all eyes are now set to turn toward the upcoming NFL season (no disrespect to baseball or hockey fans, of course).

Simply put, football is the most-watched sport in the United States. It's therefore one of the strongest venues for big corporations to gain consumer impressions through online, mobile, and televised advertising. Some companies do a marvelous job of attracting views and driving product growth while others fail to hit their mark and waste quite a bit of cash in the process. While it's often difficult to gauge how companies have done with regard to "hitting the mark" with viewers, Turnkey Intelligence, working with SportsBusiness Journal/Daily, conducted its seventh annual NFL sponsorship awareness survey in March and made this comparison as clear as day for investors.

The survey asked the same question across 10 consumer categories: "Which of the following is an official sponsor of NFL?" Aside from revealing some incredibly surprising results, it also shed light on which big brand-name companies have failed to turn those advertising impressions into a recognizable association with the NFL and, therefore, drive sales. Here are five big brands that have a lot to prove this upcoming season -- especially with consumers who described themselves as avid NFL fans. 


General Motors (NYSE: GM  )

Automotive Company

2013

2012

2011

General Motors

21.4%

22.2%

21.7%

Ford

18.4%

16.8%

18.2%

Chrysler

5.5%

5.9%

1.5%

Toyota Motor

5%

11.3%

5.6%

I'm not sure

46.8%

41.9%

52%

Source: Turnkey Intelligence; % of avid viewers identifying primary NFL automotive sponsor.

Source: Sarah Larson, Flickr.

Car maker GM certainly has a lot to prove to investors following its bankruptcy and reorganization just four years ago. Despite being the NFL's automotive sponsor, more than twice as many avid fans had no clue who the automotive sponsor was than correctly selected GM. What's more, its main U.S. rival, Ford, sat only 3 percentage points behind GM, primarily because of its eco-friendly EcoBoost engines, which are rapidly growing in popularity. GM has a shot at gaining market share back from Ford in truck sales with redesigns of the Silverado and Sierra on the way, but it'll really need to push its advertising, fuel-efficiency, and branding this year in order to make that happen.


McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  )

Quick-Service Restaurant

2013

2012

2011

Subway

25.4%

16.8%

22.2%

McDonald's

12.9%

11.8%

10.1%

KFC

6%

2%

4%

Taco Bell

2%

3%

5.6%

I'm not sure

46.8%

46.3%

47.5%

Source: Turnkey Intelligence; % of avid viewers identifying primary NFL quick-service restaurant sponsor.

Source: Alexandre Normand, Flickr.

McDonald's may be the progenitor of the snack wrap and healthier foods for quick-service restaurants, but it is lacking in a big way when it comes to connecting with the NFL's most-faithful viewers. In fact, McDonald's was the only current NFL sponsor not to be correctly identified as such by fans, with nearly twice as many assuming Subway was its quick-service restaurant sponsor. It's not hard to understand why, either, because Subway has easily recognizable ambassadors like Washington Redskins QB phenom Robert Griffin III, and has grown its stores at a rate seven times faster than McDonald's over the previous decade. For McDonald's to connect with fans, it's going to need to freshen up its marketing, introduce newer ambassadors, and hit home with its wide menu options.


PepsiCo  (NYSE: PEP  )

Soft Drink Company

2013

2012

2011

Pepsi

36.3%

37.4%

45.5%

Coca-Cola

23.9%

23.7%

19.2%

I'm not sure

28.9%

30.5%

28.3%

Source: Turnkey Intelligence; % of avid viewers identifying primary NFL soft drink sponsor.

Source: Israelavila, Flickr.

Despite clearly being identified by avid NFL fans as the primary sponsor, Pepsi's command is clearly fading, with Coca-Cola closing the gap between 2011 and 2013 to just 12.4 percentage points from 26.3 percentage points. Like Subway, Coke has connected with consumers by aligning itself with popular ambassadors. It's also difficult for Pepsi to compete against Coke -- even on the biggest stage, the NFL -- because of Coke's enormous advertising budget. In order to regain its status among the NFL's avid fans, Pepsi will need to introduce innovative new drinks and brighten up its image among millennials, who have become its core customer.


Verizon (NYSE: VZ  )

Wireless Service Company

2013

2012

2011

Verizon

34.8%

33%

24.8%

AT&T

10.4%

14.3%

7.6%

Sprint Nextel

9%

4.4%

10.6%

I'm not sure

38.8%

40.4%

49.5%

Source: Turnkey Intelligence; % of avid viewers identifying primary NFL wireless service sponsor.

Source: Zac Bowling, Flickr.

I definitely have to give credit to Verizon for vaulting its sponsorship awareness among avid NFL fans to 34.8% from 24.8% in just two years. In fact, relative to AT&T and Sprint Nextel, Verizon was a runaway selection. However, it's incredibly disconcerting, from Verizon's perspective at least, that more people were unsure which wireless service provider was the NFL's sponsor than correctly guessed Verizon. Verizon has more 4G LTE-capable cities in the U.S. than AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile combined, which is a fact it needs to really strike home with NFL crowds if it wants its growth trend to continue. Look for Verizon to really push its marketing toward millennials in the upcoming year.


Marriott International (NASDAQ: MAR  )

Hotel Company

2013

2012

2011

Marriott International

18.4%

13.3%

9.6%

Holiday Inn

5%

6.9%

7.1%

Hilton

3%

7.4%

5.1%

I'm not sure

67.2%

64.5%

74.2%

Source: Turnkey Intelligence; % of avid viewers identifying primary NFL hotel sponsor.

Source: Prayitno, Fotopedia.

Marriott absolutely deserves credit for doubling its figures since 2011 in terms of being identified as the NFL's primary hotel sponsor. Statistically speaking, Marriott is head and shoulders above its peers based on these figures. However, the astronomical number of "I'm not sure" responses also alludes to a gigantic missed opportunity for Marriott. Understandably, hotels aren't as immediate a need as say a Pepsi or burger, but it also signals that Marriott isn't connecting with consumers. If Marriott hopes to be successful moving forward and expects these impressions to translate into increased business, it's going to need to produce memorable ads that stick with people as well as emphasize its value relative to its peers.

The takeaway
Sometimes getting ad impressions in front of the biggest audience simply isn't enough to translate into bottom-line results. Although these five companies boast impeccable brand names that in some sense help their product sell itself, none looks to be doing all it can to secure more market share and hit its core customer through its NFL sponsorship. While all five certainly have the tools to fix their aforementioned shortcomings, it remains to be seen whether these fixes will ultimately translate into better brand recognition by fans.

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