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Marketers seek to score with mobile NFL tie-ins

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices, particularly smartphones as more stadiums add Wi-Fi connectivity, is helping drive mobile marketing efforts to new levels among retailers and brands. Some marketers are also cleverly tying their campaigns into social media, where football fans engage in real-time interaction in the heat of the season.

?We?re seeing an increase in mobile campaigns that take advantage of a captive audience,? said Damon Ragusa, CEO of ThinkVine, Cincinnati. ?Sporting events and concerts are great examples.? 

These types of campaigns are most successful when they cut across multiple types of media, and when they tie into a physical location, such as a store or demo site, Mr. Ragusa said. 

In-stadium mobile games 
This marks the second NFL season in which home-appliance retailer hhgregg will use a gaming app to engage football fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the NFL?s Indianapolis Colts. The retailer learned some lessons in the rollout of the Endless Blitz mobile app last year that helped shape its effort this season. 

?We learned interesting insights about how fans learn about the app and engage,? said Jeffrey Pearson, senior vice president of marketing at the Indianapolis-based retailer. ?First, downloading the game at the stadium can be a challenge because of the volume of people on the Wi-Fi network or cell networks. We adjusted the timing when we promote the app prior to the game so we can reach more people before they head to the stadium.

?Second, for engagement, we see very heavy usage during game time with people playing on their own devices, and we looked at ways to bring that experience to the crowds during the game. We?ve developed the game to run on an Xbox with kinect and brought in iPads to so more people can play and the crowd can watch.?

The retailer also added a new character to the game this year and a mini-game within the game called Flippy Football.

Fans can compete in the Endless Blitz game from hhgregg in the stadium during games.

Courtyard by Marriott, the official hotel of the NFL, also got its NFL tie-in off to a mobile start with a two-day social-media event Wednesday and Thursday in Seattle. That included such activities as Facebook contests, a Twitter chat with sportscaster Adam Schefter and meet-and-greets with NFL stars Lawyer Malloy and Shaun Alexander, among other activities leading up to Thursday night?s season opener. 

?It's #kickoff2014! Where are my #12s?! I'll be at Occidental Park with @CourtyardHotels today at 10:45am. Holla at yoboy!? Mr. Milloy tweeted to his 44,000-plus Twitter followers, referring to the 12th man ? Seattle Seahawks fans.

"This is the first year the brand is activating at the actual NFL Kickoff," said Nina Herrera-Davila, a spokeswoman for Marriott, Bethesda, MD. "As prescribed by the NFL, all sponsors in Gameday Village are using RFID technology for instant-win prizes such as gift cards."

Courtyard by Marriott is also partnering with the NFL for a social media campaign running through Oct. 23 involving trivia contests and prizes, including a trip to the 2015 NFL Pro Bowl. 

Then, beginning on Oct. 27 through Nov. 23, Courtyard will run an "All-Pro" challenge, asking followers to post a photo on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram of an action that best exemplifies their "All-Pro" look. Grand prizes are either a trip to Super Bowl XLIX or a trip to all of their favorite team's regular season road games for the 2015-2016 season. 

Campbell Soup Co. is planning a series of social-media tie-ins at various stadiums throughout the year for its Chunky brand. Its campaign will include social-media tie-ins with NFL teams and its first Tumblr blog. 

Chunky Soup's new Tumblr blog on mobile, where fans can watch the latest "Momma knows best" ads.

Google, meanwhile, launched an ad campaign around its new mobile search app at the NFL season opener on Thursday, illustrating yet another angle of mobile-NFL connectivity.

Brand recognition 
For brands like hhgregg, Courtyard and Campbell Soup, the NFL tie-ins serve as branding efforts that stand to be particularly effective on mobile because of the degree of engagement they can generate. 

?The core goal is branding hhgregg and letting people know the brands and products we carry,? Mr. Pearson said. ?A great example is LG?s support in-game this year and their own special power-up, the LG Tornado.? 

Fans who play Endless Blitz during the Colts games compete against each other for prizes and to see their names on the scoreboard. Prices include LG TVs, hhgregg gift cards and autographed Colts merchandise. 

Mr. Ragusa of ThinkVine said marketers need to be careful in such efforts not to cross the line between delivering a smart, entertaining mobile campaign and a gimmick. 

?Building a cool app is not a mobile marketing strategy, but building a cool app that drives a promotion is getting closer,? he said. ?Building a cool app that drives a promotion in a local market that may be harder to drive engagement from ? still not a strategy, but very cool. 

?If the cool app and local promotion fit nicely into an overall brand strategy and are supported by other media, then it is starting to look like a real mobile strategy that could be successful.?

Final Take
Mark Hamstra is content director on Mobile Marketer, New York