Farther Afield

NEW YORK Last October, the National Football League inaugurated its international series in London’s Wembley Stadium to a sold-out crowd. For title sponsor Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, the game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins was an introduction to global marketing.

The competition, known as the Bridgestone International Series, provided several marketing platforms for the sponsor: advertising units on Sky TV, on-air billboards during the telecast, pre-game tune-in spots the week before and advertising the day of the game. It was broadcast in more than 200 countries and in 21 languages via 39 media partners.

In addition to the NFL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all have stepped up their efforts to expand abroad. Their end game is to generate new revenue streams from foreign broadcast rights, licensing and sponsorships.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, sponsorships alone are poised to grow significantly worldwide through 2010. They will climb to $12.4 billion in the U.S., up about 17 percent from the $10.6 billion expected this year. Similar growth is expected in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with sponsorships and related fees projected to climb 16 percent to $10.7 billion. Thanks to the Beijing Olympics, deals in the Asia-Pacific region are projected to grow by 26 percent to $9.6 billion.

But to what extent the leagues will succeed remains in question. The NBA, for example, has probably had the most success outside the U.S., while the NFL has perhaps had the least. Remember NFL Europa? Created in 1991, the NFL’s initial strategy to grow in Europe was not exactly a hit. It disbanded last year.

“The sport became quite popular in Germany but has not taken off in other European countries, and there are no European players for those fans to follow,” said Jonathan Jensen, director of sponsorships at Publicis Groupe’s Relay Worldwide. “The hope is that by staging more games between U.S. teams in the U.K. and other European countries the sport will be able to gain more of a foothold, but it will never command the same interest as sports such as baseball in the Far East and basketball in China and Europe.”

Tom McGovern, managing director of Omnicom’s Optimum Sports, agreed. The NBA, he said, is already a global brand, while MLB and the NHL are regarded as international brands with limited appeal. “But, the NFL is neither an international nor a global sport. It’s an American sport. Football has a big education process ahead of it,” he said.

Soccer, of course, is a different matter. MLS has roots outside the U.S. in a sport that dominates Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world. But last July the league saw an opportunity to capitalize on the rivalry between the American and Mexican men’s national teams with SuperLiga, a tournament between itself and the Federation of Mexican Football. “We saw a strategic opportunity to feed off of that rivalry,” said David Wright, vp of partnership marketing for MLS’s Soccer United Marketing. The effort was driven in part by the league’s desire to align itself more closely with f