- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

The Washington Redskins haven’t yet found a corporate sponsor for any of their mounting losses this season.

Little else happens at FedEx Field, however, without a corporation attaching its name and paying for the privilege. The Redskins may lag in the standings, but their revenue-generating prowess remains unmatched in the National Football League.

There is the McDonald’s Fan of the Game, a grown-up version of the Capri Sun Kid of the Game. There is the Kodak Fan Photographer of the Game, who sits a long lens away from the Solar Planet Cheerleader of the Game.

Even the Funky Four’s funk now comes with corporate accompaniment: The marching band’s percussion section dances on the field at every home game, heralded by a FedEx advertisement on the Jumbotron.

These game-day sponsors join a growing list of companies that pay millions to serve as official suppliers to the Redskins. In addition to providing the team with an official energy source (Dominion Power), the companies have helped push the franchise’s sponsorship revenue above $30 million per year, the highest in the league.

Meanwhile, the Redskins can laugh all the way to their official financial institution, Bank of America.

“Are we looking for every way to make connections with sponsors and enhance our relationships? Yes. Do we tinker with relationships sometimes to find new avenues of promotion? Yes,” said Karl Swanson, Redskins vice president. “None of that is really unusual.”

It is true that dozens of pro sports teams, as well as many TV networks, now sell corporate sponsorships for the smallest and most unexpected segments of a game or programming.

But the Redskins are better at it than most, and they are stretching well beyond the traditional categories of sodas, fast food, beer, cars, athletic apparel and financial services.

Which is where Solar Planet comes in. Solar Planet, unlikely enough, is the Redskins’ official tanning services provider.

“This has been a fantastic association for us, and something we’ve worked on for some time,” said Scott Shortnacy, owner and president of the Washington-area tanning salons. “This is a great way for us to be even more credible than we already are.”

The chain also sponsors the Redskins calendar and appearances by the team cheerleaders.

The sponsorship largess that gave the franchise an official chicken (Popeye’s), soft drink (Coca-Cola) and pizza (Papa John’s) might seem puzzling given the team’s record. The Redskins have made the playoffs just once since 1992, and this year’s team has a 4-8 record and is tied for last place in its division.

But simply being part of the NFL juggernaut has a strong appeal to advertisers. And, the Redskins’ long waiting list for season tickets and the high average household income of their devoted fans rank among the leaders in pro sports.

Since owner Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999, many fans have complained about the increasing — some say overwhelming — corporate presence at FedEx Field.

But attendance at games and TV ratings have not declined appreciably. And the additional corporate elements provide justification for Mr. Snyder to steadily raise sponsorship fees.

“For a lot of companies and many fans, these entitlements, such as being the ‘official’ whatever of the team, are pure window dressing,” said Chris Smith, chief strategy officer of the Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based sports and entertainment consultant. “But it’s all about generating revenue, finding additional opportunities to reach fans and creating new levels of exposure and value for sponsors.

“The activation of this type of marketing is tricky. Unless it really makes sense with your brand, it simply raises the level of clutter during a game. But you’re certainly going to see it continue unless and until we see a real backlash from fans.”

Until then, one sponsor offers fans a suggestion on how to drown their sorrows over the Redskins’ performance — by cracking open a bottle of Budweiser, the franchise’s official cold one.

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