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October 21, 2014

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Why you won’t see Las Vegas ads during the Super Bowl

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COURTESY OF R&R PARTNERS

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority decided not to air ads on the national broadcast of the Super Bowl, opting for regional outlets.

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Printing and selling T-shirts with the phrase “Who dat in the Super Bowl?” will get you a cease-and-desist order from the National Football League. The NFL considers the phrases “Who dat?” and “Super Bowl” its intellectual property. Nevermind “Who dat?” was part of the Louisiana vernacular long before New Orleans Saints fans adopted it as a battle cry for their team, which will make its first Super Bowl appearance Sunday.

Las Vegas is well-versed in the NFL’s heavy-handed approach to protecting its brands. Several years ago, the league jumped on resorts that used “Super Bowl” on marquees. That’s why print ads and radio spots for events related to the Super Bowl reference “the big game” or “championship Sunday.”

There are so many references to “big game” in this town you would think the league’s championship was an African safari.

Among the theories on why the NFL — referred to by cynics as the “No-Fun League” — is so gung-ho about protecting the Super Bowl brand is its well-known contempt for gambling, legal and otherwise.

Some say wagering and point spreads make the NFL so popular. But the league denies that, even though NFL-sanctioned entities make occasional references to which team is the “favorite” and which is the “underdog.”

Inconsistencies in the league’s gambling stance aside, the NFL could make a lot more money and generate considerably more goodwill — and a boon for tourism — if it reconsidered some of its business philosophies, chief among them the advertising policies for Super Bowl Sunday.

Several weeks ago, the NFL announced that it was relaxing some policies and would allow Las Vegas to advertise during the Super Bowl, lifting a ban that has existed for years.

In 2003, the ban ended up drawing far more attention to the city than any 30-second spot during the game ever could. News outlets nationwide ran the ads or portions of them in stories reporting on the controversy over the NFL policy. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was ecstatic.

This year, the authority had to decide whether to shell out $3 million for 30 seconds during the Super Bowl broadcast. It decided against placing an ad.

Vince Alberta, vice president of public affairs for the authority, said officials determined an ad wouldn’t have delivered enough return to the city, particularly considering that the NFL would not allow it to show Las Vegas hotels or gaming icons.

Instead, the authority planned a few, less expensive regional broadcast ads and some national cable buys in the two-week run-up to the Super Bowl. The authority purchased time in markets such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix and Denver. It spent $1.3 million on ESPN and the Fox Sports Network and in USA Today. Online, the buys were made on ESPN, Versus, NBC Sports and Yahoo.

Alberta said the authority is marketing Las Vegas with a sports and spa theme, selling the city as the best place to watch sports.

One thing apparently lost on the NFL over the years it has fought with Las Vegas, is that the city can and has successfully teamed up with other sports leagues and entities.

The National Hockey League brought its annual sports awards program to Las Vegas for the first time in June. NASCAR brought its annual sports banquet to Las Vegas in December.

NASCAR and the NHL capitalized on the Las Vegas brand, drawing additional fan interest to those sports because of the venue. Las Vegas, meanwhile, benefited by being the dateline for stories about the awards.

Hopefully, the NFL is taking note now, but it would take a lot of relationship building before the league would partner with Las Vegas.

An important first step would be for the NFL to acknowledge the existence of legal gambling and adopt an ad policy that doesn’t discriminate against the gaming industry.

Until then, we can look forward to Las Vegas slapping a cease-and-desist on the NFL in 2021, when the 55th edition of the Super Bowl is played.

Rendered in the requisite Roman numerals, that will be Super Bowl LV.

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