There’s Surf, But No Turf, In Chowder’s ‘Challenge’

NFL stars tackle Caymans in new stab at branded content

In an effort to tout the country as more than just beachfront property, Chowder has linked the Cayman Islands with the NFL to produce the shop’s first branded-content effort, a TV show featuring players competing in water sports and other games that airs this week.

The NFL Cayman Challenge, brokered and co-produced by the independent New York boutique, stemmed from conversations between shop executives and a former colleague, Pete Murray, now the NFL’s vp of partnership marketing and corporate sales. The show, which debuts Wednesday on the NFL Network, promotes the Caymans as a destination that offers more than idyllic beaches, showcasing NFL players in competition without helmets and pads, said Jim Ritterhoff, a principal and co-creative director at Chowder.

Each team has four players and competes for $20,000 in charity prize money. For participating, each contestant also received $5,000 for his chosen charity. Players featured in the one-hour show include Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Green Bay Packers tight end Bubba Franks, Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams and Miami Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley.

Ritterhoff and co-cd Tony Kobylinski, former creatives at WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam and, before that, the now-defunct Bates, knew Murray from his days as an account handler at those shops from 1989-95. The executives brainstormed on the concept last fall, then proceeded with Caymans tourism officials’ approval.

Neither Chowder nor the NFL would discuss financial details of the deal other than to say it is part barter, part cash. An example of the barter process is Red Sails Sports, which provided water-sports equipment in exchange for name placement on the show. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, which raised the prize money, also paid a promotional-rights fee to the NFL.

Chowder’s co-producer was NFL Films, which supplied a crew of about 25 to scout locations and shoot the events. Chowder lined up a featured resort, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, and beach properties that served as backdrops. The shoot, which took place in May, lasted four days.

The show’s contests were designed to be “fun, lighthearted and safe,” said Murray, since the NFL did not want any of its stars to injure themselves. For example, athletes race each other in yachts and Jet Skis, and snorkel in an underwater scavenger hunt. “We tried very hard to identify events that really portray what the destination has to offer,” said agency principal Kim Ketchell.

The contests were sketched out, but the program is mostly unscripted. “It’s just sort of let the players go,” said Ritterhoff. Added Murray: “We certainly wanted to reveal their personalities.”

The NFL Cayman Challenge will be repeated in the build-up to the new season, which starts Sept. 9. Depending on the response, it may lead to another installment next year. “The best anecdotal evidence is that all the players want to come back,” said Ritterhoff.