Playing Nice

At En Japanese Brasserie, a hip restaurant in TriBeCa, a sushi chef concentrates on his art. He carefully places a roll of sushi on an oval brown platter. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a football player in a New York Jets uniform bounds onto the counter and kicks the platter, which in fact resembles a football.

Dressed in jeans and a black long-sleeve shirt, director Peter Darley Miller of surveys the action on the set of a two-spot campaign for the Jets touting the proposed New York Sports and Convention Center, the West Side stadium that would be the Jets’ new home. The stadium is a highly contentious issue in New York. Cablevision has created ads questioning the proposed use of city funds to build it. The mayor’s office has fired back, saying that Cablevision, which owns the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, is trying to protect its interests in Madison Square Garden.

In the center of the controversy are the Jets, who would, of course, benefit from a move from Giants Stadium in New Jersey to their own facility in Manhattan. The team has commissioned this campaign to show what the stadium might offer besides football. The effort will soon join a second Jets campaign, created in-house, that shows Olympic athletes and fans voicing support for the stadium.

“We wanted to dimensionalize the features and things at the stadium beyond the football games,” says Vicky Vitarelli, director of marketing for the Jets. “It’s going to be a destination for all kinds of events.”

The campaign will break Dec. 1 on New York network and cable stations. The first commercial, the one with the sushi chef and the placekicker, touts the plan to open a Nobu restaurant in the center. The tagline makes the point plain: “More than just a stadium. More for New York.”

“The brief was simple: to get over this aspect of more than just football,” says Tim Mellors, chief creative officer at Grey in New York, which is creating the spots. “We wanted to make the spots as simple as the brief.”

A second spot, shot the same day, focuses on the kinds of events that would be held at the NYSCC. Shot at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the West Side, it opens on an auction, as a man buys his wife a Faberge egg, which also resembles a football. As she picks it up, she fumbles and drops it—and several footballers jump on it as though to recover a fumbled ball.

Mellors, who arrived from Grey’s London office in August, until recently knew much more about rugby than American football. Yet his British background helped him understand the controversy surrounding the stadium. “Whenever you do something as radical as this, there are going to be some people against it,” he says, dressed in a striped shirt and a suede jacket on the set. “In England, Wembley Stadium is the biggest piece of news in the past 10 years. There was a similar political outcry, but as it’s nearing completion [it’s set to be finished in 2006], there’s an immense amount of excitement about it.”

The Grey creative team, including copywriter Mike Ryniec and art director Mark Catalina, say they wanted to steer clear of delivering an overtly political message and instead keep things lighthearted. “Other ads are more political. We’re not so much involved in that,” says Ryniec. “We’re letting people in on the scope of the center. If we can do that with a smile and a little bit of humor, that seemed the way to go.”

The shoot was put together just a week before, but the simple execution made pre-production easier, says Nancy Axthelm, evp and director of broadcast production at Grey. “It’s clean and focused,” she says of the concept. “It’s clear what they’re trying to say.”

Axthelm says Darley Miller, based in Santa Monica, Calif., was a good fit for the job because of his economical style. That was most evident in the pared down “Map” spot for Delta, created by BrightHouse in Atlanta, which shows a man tilting a container of tacks in front of a fan, causing the tacks to fly across the room and land on a map posted to the wall. “It was just the right underplay of humor and clean sensibility,” Axthelm says.

In turn, Darley Miller (who also directed the “Sheepinator” PlayStation2 commercial for TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif.) says it was the humor that got him interested in the spots. “The boards were smart and funny,” he says.