NFL brands foreign first downs

PVI generates virtual signage for sponsors of international Super Bowl broadcasts

Virtual-insertion firm Princeton Video Image will add sponsorship logos to its virtual First-Down Line for international feeds of Super Bowl XXXV, marking the first time the Princeton, N.J.-based company has branded the virtual effect.

As the exclusive provider of virtual advertising and imaging to NFL International, PVI has inserted virtual signage into international feeds of the last three Super Bowls. It will do so again for the Super Bowl XXXV broadcast on Jan. 28. The virtual advertising insertions have traditionally appeared when the U.S. broadcaster went to commercial break and consisted of a virtual logo in the end zone or a virtual sign hanging from the first mezzanine level.

Since CBS is the Super Bowl domestic-rights holder this year, PVI is providing a non-branded virtual first down line for the U.S. market, as it has done for all CBS NFL games since November 1998. For international Super Bowl feeds, the company is partnering with NFL International to add an advertiser's name or logo that will appear near the top or bottom of the line. CBS' domestic feed will continue without first-down branding and virtual signage.

"This is the most [the NFL has] let us do, with the line-branding of international," says PVI Vice President of Business Development Sam McCleery. "But it's a step."

According to McCleery, the virtual first-down placements are selling for $50,000 to $100,000 per market per quarter. "FedEx is looking forward to having our brand featured in 200 countries during the Super Bowl broadcast," says Kevin Demsky, managing director of sports and event marketing.

Other, more geographically targeted customers include Can West Global Television in Canada, which will show General Motors logos to Canadian viewers; and Televisa in Mexico, which will show logos for Banca Serafin, Mexico's third-largest bank. Other, lesser-known brands are also expected to appear in those targeted markets, says McCleery.

"In-game positions for the advertiser are the most compelling new inventory we have to offer," says Ken Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Global Television.

"We believe that, in this new electronic world, where commercial deletion is a reality, the future is in electronic product placement."

So far, the NFL hasn't allowed PVI to insert virtual signage into regular-season domestic NFL broadcasts. But that may change in the future, says McCleery, pointing out that Major League Baseball already allows ESPN to insert virtual signage behind home plate during its Sunday Night Baseball
coverage. And of course, the NFL has wholeheartedly accepted the virtual first-down line effects from PVI and competitor Sportvision, which provides its "1st and 10" system to Fox, ABC and ESPN.

"Most people think virtual imaging is relegated to smaller events, but the two big leagues eventually embraced it," says McCleery, who adds that PVI is having "select demos" of first-down branding for U.S. clients.

Sportvision CEO Bill Squadron isn't as optimistic about virtual signage in the NFL. "I don't see [the NFL's stance] changing anytime soon."