When a $400M product placement goes wrong…

We who live in the USA naturally relate pro football television coverage to advertisements. The broadcasts’ combination of commercials, sponsors, and product placements makes the NFL season the ultimate stomping grounds of the biggest players in marketing. This makes a lot of sense considering the sporadic pace of the sport, which causes an hour of clocked game time to be drawn out over 3 to 4 hours, leaving plenty of time for advertisement. With the average cost of a 30-second Superbowl commercial at $4 million there is little room for editing errors by the NFL and their collaborative associations. Lucky for companies that do invest in these commercials, the NFL’s state-of-the-art technology is manned by top-tier editors that will rarely fail to properly air a scheduled commercial. This means that the largest risk in television advertising is in live product placements. The pressure to properly convey the content of the program is immense in all live performances, but even more so when the contract of a product placement has to be considered.


The net income of the NFL averages $9.5 Billion annually, but it is labeled a non-profit organization which is treated as a trade association. This summer Microsoft paid the NFL a hefty $400 Million to declare the Microsoft Surface “the official tablet of the NFL” and provide teams a Surface 3 Pro to be used on the sideline for reviewing clips and images during games. Prior to this agreement there was a rule prohibiting players from using any internet connected device for 90 minutes before and after games. Microsoft hoped this investment would help push the public image of their Surface tablets toward the level of Apple’s renowned iPad. This was a power move by Microsoft considering the high view count of NFL broadcasts and the tablet’s position as the official device shown being used by the coaches and players. With this deal being their most expensive product placement to date, I thought that the NFL would surely cover all their bases in implementing the contract. Unfortunately one group of the operation didn’t get the memo…. the announcers.

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In the first week of the season, ESPN’s Trent Dilfer made a joke about how long it took the Cardinals assistant head coach Tom Moore to “learn how to use the iPad to scroll through the pictures.” Within the next week, Fox Sports commentator John Lynch commented on the New Orlean Saints’ player Drew Brees using a Surface on the sideline saying that Brees was “not watching movies on his iPad”. Lynch attempts to cover for the mistake later by saying that the players have “iPad-like tools at their disposal”, but fails to use the words “Microsoft” or “Surface” at all. This is a common misnomer in the general perception of tablets, as iPads were the first well-known tablets to make a worldwide name for itself. Microsoft is trying to end the iPad assumption with this grand product placement, but that plan appears to have initially backfired completely; giving apple the initial publicity that Microsoft bought for $400 Million. This is a prime example of the importance of assuring that product placements are given extra emphasis to preparation of all aspects of the operation. Now that the announcers have been informed of the proper terminology there shouldn’t be any more of these mishaps, but the NFL will definitely be compensating Microsoft for accidentally promoting their biggest competitor.

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