The last time the NFL had an official automotive partner, the New England Patriots had just won their sixth title, defeating the Los Angeles Rams in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever in February 2019.
Back then, Hyundai was the official vehicle, SUV and luxury vehicle sponsor of the league in a four-year, estimated-$50-million-a year deal signed in 2015. The company announced it would not renew that agreement weeks before Bill Belichick’s Pats met Sean McVay’s Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Four-and-a-half years later, Toyota has stepped in to become the NFL’s automotive partner, giving it exclusivity in the car, truck and SUV categories. (Ford, which became the league’s official truck in 2016 did not renew its sponsorship following the ’21-‘22 season.)
When Hyundai declined to renew, its then-CMO Dean Evans was not shy about the challenges the company faced in earning a return on its investment—the primary obstacles being lack of dealer support for the program and the clutter of so many competitors advertising during NFL programming.
Speaking about the sponsorship in an interview with Automotive News, Evans said, “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.”
So how might things be different for Toyota? Although it faces some headwinds similar to Hyundai’s, it enters its agreement with a number of factors in its favor, including:
- Locking up the auto, SUV and truck categories should limit consumer confusion and help raise awareness of Toyota as an NFL partner
- Local dealer advertising associations already have sponsorships with 11 NFL teams, giving Toyota the ability to bolster league benefits with locally relevant activations in key markets and making it less likely that dealers will object to the national partnership
- Given that the category was unsold for a long time, Toyota likely was able to negotiate an advantageous agreement in terms of the rights and benefits it was able to secure, as well as the price paid. Some reports say the company is paying $50 million a year, which would represent no price increase over the deal Hyundai signed eight years ago.
- Toyota has an experienced sponsorship team that has successfully activated major partnerships, including its worldwide Olympic partner status with the IOC.
That is not to say that Toyota’s road to success is wide open and smooth. Challenges remain, including:
- The automaker will have to contend with the ad clutter Evans addressed, which has not gone away and may have grown in the last four years. Hyundai itself has increased its NFL ad spending this season, including a first-time investment with Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football that includes custom content produced by Amazon and presenting sponsorship of NBC’s Sunday Night Football Kickoff Show for the sixth consecutive year.
- The NFL has retained the right to add an official luxury car partner, potentially adding even more competitive noise.
Toyota knows what it is facing and it will be interesting to see how it goes on offense now that it has the NFL ball. As Toyota North America group manager of sponsorship strategy, integration and auto shows Dedra DeLilli said to Sports Business Journal, “We do not enter into these partnerships lightly, and when we enter these partnerships, we go all in.”