The National Football League is in the market for a new agency partner.
Just over a month after naming former Activision Blizzard top marketer and 2013 Adweek Brand Genius Tim Ellis as its new CMO, the NFL issued both an RFI and an RFP regarding its overall marketing business, according to several parties with direct knowledge of the matter.
Those sources told Adweek that the NFL reached out to an original group consisting of 12 agencies, which has since been cut to seven as part of a larger review managed by consultancy Roth Ryan Hayes.
The group reportedly included incumbent Grey as well as competitors such as Wieden + Kennedy, 72andSunny and Droga5. Several parties said Droga5 declined to participate due to a conflict with client ESPN, while the other three shops remain in the competition. The review’s other participants are unclear at this time.
Spokespeople for all four agencies declined to comment, and Grey referred to the client. The NFL’s public relations team has not yet responded to requests for comment, nor has Roth Ryan Hayes.
According to one party close to the account, Ellis launched the exploratory phase of the review almost immediately upon beginning his new job in mid-September. Another source told Adweek the RFP concerns marketing both the NFL brand and NFL Media, the league-owned entity that includes NFL Network, NFL.com, NFLFilms, NFL Mobile, NFL Now and NFLRedZone.
Like every other media brand, the NFL has in recent years been forced to seek out viewership beyond traditional broadcast television.
Grey won all branding duties for the league (including media and apparel) in 2009, beating out incumbent BBDO as well as Ogilvy and TBWA\Chiat\Day. The WPP shop had already worked on some NFL-related projects the previous year.
Over the next nine years, Grey New York created a series of memorable campaigns promoting the NFL including, most prominently, the Super Bowl babies spots and last year’s Big Game ad in which Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. paid tribute to the film Dirty Dancing.
Portions of the business later went elsewhere. For example, in 2016 R/GA worked on some projects concerning NFL Media and the return of Thursday Night Football, but the agency reportedly no longer works with the league.
Wieden is a particularly interesting choice to pitch the account, given the attention paid to its recent Nike campaign starring Colin Kaepernick and that brand’s status as the official apparel provider of the NFL.
Despite the controversy sparked by the former 49ers quarterback, the league’s unwanted but unavoidable collision with the world of politics and a two-year slump in overall viewership, ratings for the 2018 season are up by 2 percent, according to Nielsen. Recent reports theorize that higher scoring, more competitive games, in addition to the end of a federal ban on sports gambling, may have contributed to this change.
The league itself also stated in an internal report that viewership of NFL games on digital platforms has increased 65 percent in the last year alone.
According to Kantar Media, the NFL spent approximately $68 million on paid media promoting the league and the NFL Network in 2017.