Microsoft, Nationwide Hope to Round Out Brand Stories With NFL Honors

    • With a massive investment as NFL partners, brands hope to align with awards to share a deeper message.
    • Sponsored awards aim to bring in fan engagement while showing players off-the-field endeavors.

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Microsoft and Nationwide are among a select few NFL partners that have taken on efforts to align with player awards at NFL Honors, hoping they can help tell deeper brand stories.

Microsoft is extending its omnipresent NFL partnership with the Anything But Ordinary Player of the Year, while Nationwide is expanding its off-the-field story by sponsoring the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

The awards, which hinge on fan interaction and voting, will be presented at Saturday’s NFL Honors event, which also includes Associated Press awards like AP Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year and Most Valuable Player. The show also includes other sponsored and fan-involved awards, like the Pepsi Rookie of the Year, Bridgestone Clutch Performance Play of the Year, and FedEx Air & Ground Players of the Year. 

For Microsoft, company executives want to expand on how the Microsoft Surface is more than just a product on the sidelines and align it with how players spend their off-time, whether it’s Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett writing poetry or Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller tending to his chicken farm.

“There’s so much going on during [Super Bowl] week, so many brands activating, how do we stand out?” Dustin Sedgwick, Microsoft director of integrated marketing and partnerships, said. “Most people know the partnership with all the tech on the sidelines and in broadcasts, but there’s a ton on the backside, from players using it to study film or watch Netflix, scouts and coaches and front offices using our devices.”

“There are so many aspects outside the 60 minutes on the field, and so many things players are interested in that’s non-football. So we’re focusing on how to represent that narrative,” he said.

A partnership with the NFL involves a massive investment from brands – as partners since 2014, Microsoft’s deal is reported to be north of $400 million – so Sedgwick said it’s important to view these individual activations as a sum larger than the parts. That includes the impression volume and engagement of seeing player, coach and broadcaster usage and storytelling elements on social media from campaigns like the Anything But Ordinary Player of the Year. 

“For a partnership like this, there are multiple goals,” Sedgwick said. “Everything from top of the funnel metrics, brand awareness and affinity to moving down a direct attribution of trying to sell products and we have ways to track the ROI of sales, but we’re also looking at continuing moving the needle for innovation.”

“We like partnering with companies looking at the future from a digital perspective, infrastructure, and exposed to a brand that thinks like a team, player, or league level.”

Nationwide hopes its sponsoring of the Walter Payton Award can further shine a light on the insurance company’s brand mission, Nationwide Chief Marketing Officer Ramon Jones said. Aside from NFL Honors and a community service event at a Miami Beach Boys & Girls Club, Nationwide won’t have any other active footprint during Super Bowl week. Nationwide has also been an NFL partner since 2014.

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“Awareness of the brand is always important, and that’s the purpose of a partnership with the NFL,” Jones said. “But at a high level, our mission is to support our policyholders and community. If we’re able to demonstrate that with this award, which supports the charitable work athletes are doing, that’s a great alignment for us.”

The Walter Payton Award is driven by social media, and as a piece of the activation, the Charity Challenge pits nominees against each other in to draw the most attention to their charity of choice, which Nationwide then financially supports. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton won the challenge this year with more than 600,000 votes supporting the Cam Newton Foundation, which then received $25,000. 

For the actual award, each nominee’s foundation receives $50,000 with the winner’s foundation receiving a $250,000 donation from Nationwide, United Way and NFL Foundation. In its commitment to support the Walter Payton Award, Nationwide has donated more than $1.2 million.

Microsoft told its stories through much of the season, with Miller’s chickens making their way through the social media noise. 

Sedgwick said players across the league are interested in different activities that make them more than just a football player, from creative and literary arts to entrepreneurial endeavors to community work. The award is a way to show off those players and connect it to the Surface, which Sedgwick said helps show that it’s a tool to help do what the players want to achieve.

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“We’re not necessarily putting the product front and center, it’s celebrating human stories,” he said. “It’s a different approach, but we’re still telling our brand story where the products play a part.”

Rather than straight selling, brand awareness, and product placement, Microsoft and Nationwide executives are hoping the fan engagement and award missions from NFL Honors help round out a broader story.