Hyundai fights for NFL playing time by adding ‘SNF’ sponsorship

Hyundai’s NFL sponsorship has given the brand exposure during Super Bowl week activities.

In a sport defined by matchups and midgame adjustments, the National Football League’s official auto sponsor has made a game plan tweak of its own.

Hyundai, looking for a more visible game day presence during football telecasts as it kicks off the final season of its four-year league sponsorship deal this week, secured sponsorship rights for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football Kickoff” pregame show.

The Sunday play gives the brand exposure before prime-time matchups that averaged more than 18 million viewers and were among the most-watched programs on network TV last season. But it also highlights the difficulty Hyundai has had in making the most of a big-league sponsorship with a small-time ad budget.

Even with the official sponsor title — valued at as much as $140 million, sources close to the deal told Automotive News last year — Hyundai has had to spend millions of additional dollars to keep up in the ad race with deep-pocketed competitors.

The 2015 deal came with a bevy of perks, including permission for the brand and its dealers to use the logos of the NFL and its 32 teams. Hyundai also can use the term “Super Bowl” during promotions around the big game.

But the arrangement didn’t offer much direct advertising exposure during NFL games on mainstream networks such as Fox, CBS and NBC, which disappointed some in Hyundai’s dealer community. Neither did it confer official-sponsor rights for individual teams, which are negotiated separately.

Meanwhile, football fans have continued to get heavy doses of car marques and metal on game days from the likes of Ford, the NFL’s truck sponsor; GMC, a “Monday Night Football” sponsor; and Toyota, which previously sponsored the Monday halftime report in addition to its ongoing sponsorship of Sunday night’s halftime show.

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Toyota also picked up the halftime show slot for “Thursday Night Football” on Fox this season as it directs most of its TV budget to NFL programming. Such live sports programming has helped advertisers reach consumers who increasingly gravitate to commercial-free streaming services or fast-forward through recorded programs.

Marquee spot

The “Sunday Night Football” pregame connection, while a drop in the NFL sea, will give Hyundai a marquee spot it hasn’t had during the regular season.

“You can buy the sponsorship, and then if you don’t have enough money to run enough TV commercials, you almost don’t look like the sponsor,” Dean Evans, Hyundai Motor America’s marketing chief, told Automotive News. “We’ve tried to recalibrate that a little bit.”

Evans: Trying to “recalibrate”

He added: “When you’re watching football this year, it’s going to feel more like Hyundai is the sponsor.”

Hyundai says the presenting sponsorship of the Sunday night kickoff show will feature an array of branding elements, including logo animations, in-studio logos, a weekly feature and logo placements on the broadcast’s countdown clock and scoreboard, among others.

The pregame deal also comes with new creative. Hyundai is sponsoring a three-part digital series called “Cover 2” that will give fans a closer look at some league rivalries.

The series, produced by Hyundai’s ad agency, Innocean, will bring together a former player from both teams playing on Sunday night. They’ll discuss aspects of the rivalry that make it special to them, while driving around the home team’s city in a Santa Fe crossover.

A 30-second version of each video will air during the Sunday night broadcast, and fans will be directed to hyundaiusa.com to watch the full piece. The videos will appear during three broadcasts.

This season’s Sunday night slate begins Sunday, Sept. 9, with a division rivalry game between Chicago and Green Bay.

‘Better use of funds’

Andrew DiFeo, chairman of the Hyundai National Dealer Council, said the Sunday night alignment is a “much better use of funds than the NFL sponsorship.”

DiFeo had been critical of the NFL deal previously, saying that while it was nice to be associated with the league, the sponsorship didn’t have enough media weight behind it. But he’s a fan of the brand’s advertising audible this season.

“I think the company learned a lot from the NFL sponsorship. What it meant to be a sponsor of the NFL vs. just having media in the games,” DiFeo told Automotive News. “They’ve fine-tuned their approach.”

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