‘Monday Night Football’ Ads Make ‘Appeal to Bigness’

ABC enlists Hunt Adkins to build brand beyond the game

ABC seeks to broaden the appeal of Monday Night Football, whose ratings have sagged in recent years, with a new campaign tagged, “Everyone comes to play on Monday night.”

The initial commercials from Minneapolis-based Hunt Adkins star Britney Spears and break during ABC’s coverage of the British Open on July 17, said Cindy Vannoy, vp of advertising and promotions at ABC Sports.

The campaign’s tagline will not supplant the familiar “Are you ready for some football?” line bellowed during the game’s opening by Hank Williams Jr., said agency president Patrick Hunt. Rather, the effort is intended to build the MNF brand and position the program as more than football coverage, Hunt said.

The work will tout not only the season’s kickoff but also a lead-in prime-time special Sept. 4 with Spears and other artists, Vannoy said.

“This campaign is easily customizable through different demographics,” she said. “It can be about the athletes coming to play in the games. … It can be about the fans who make a big deal [of MNF]. It works on various levels.”

“If we did [promotional] stuff that was just football, we’d be selling it short,” Hunt said. “Monday Night Football is a brand in itself. We needed to appeal to that bigness.”

The new tag “works in conjunction” with “Are you ready for some football?” Vannoy said. “We’re focusing on the answer to that question,” she said.

MNF’s regular season kicks off Sept. 4, with preseason games airing in August. From 1996-2001, MNF household ratings dropped steadily, from a 16.2 to 11.0. The number inched up to 11.4 last year, according to Nielsen. In comparison, national games on Fox and CBS on Sundays last season earned 13.4 and 11.8 last year, respectively.

“The problem with Monday Night Football is all the other games,” said Wally Hayward, president of Relay Sports and Event Marketing in Chicago. “The NFL has added so many [televised] games in comparison to a few years ago. You’re kind of burned out on [football] unless it’s a great match-up.”

ABC Sports previously created most of its promotional ads in-house. Though it has at times used outside agencies, most recently tapping Fallon, New York, in 2000, Vannoy said having Hunt Adkins promote the entire season “is a rare collaborative effort.”

The shop last year pitched ideas on MNF following a recommendation from Mike Benson, an ABC programming executive who worked with Hunt Adkins while at VH1 in the late ’90s. When the network hit an impasse this year for promotional ideas, ABC Sports called the agency, Vannoy said.

Though Spears will star in the initial ads, the shop may look for other celebrities to appear in spots later this season, Hunt said.