5 NFL Sponsors Being One-Upped at the Super Bowl

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The National Football League's shield logo doesn't protect its official sponsors from attacks by their fiercest rivals during the Super Bowl.

The NFL has an official soup sponsor, a tire sponsor, a hot cereal sponsor and even a grooming products sponsor. What it doesn't have is sponsor exclusivity for Super Bowl ads, which allows 2014 Super Bowl broadcaster Fox to let any advertiser in on the game that it wants and open the door for non-sponsor "ambush". advertisers.

It also squeezes the NFL's official sponsors for even more cash just to maintain their association with the league's brand. According to Kantar Media, the Super Bowl has generated $2 billion in ad sales since 2004. Total ad spending climbed from $149.6 million a decade ago to $292 million just last year. The cost for a 30-second ad also skyrocketed, from $2.15 million to $4 million during that span.

Anheuser-Busch InBev paid the NFL $1 billion a couple years ago to wrest the league's official beer sponsorship away from MolsonCoors. It's also spent nearly $250 million during the past decade to not only air ads for Budweiser and other brands during the Super Bowl, but to buy exclusivity deals from CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC that prevent all other beer companies from buying big-game airtime.

This year, A-B is sinking at least $28 million into Super Bowl ads alone. That's just how high the stakes have become. The amount of Super Bowl commercial time has increased from 41 minutes and 55 seconds in 2004 to 51 minutes and 40 seconds last year, while the number of commercials aired has risen from 88 to 97 during that same period. With commercials of a minute or more making up 15% of all ad purchases last year, there's far too much cash on the table for a company to risk losing its Super Bowl advantage.

Even huge spending can't guarantee an NFL sponsor's share of the spotlight. Here are just five who are seeing their home field advantage disappear during the Super Bowl:

Quaker

Cold cereal? Son, this isn't the croquet championships or the Ivy League squash finals. This is professional football, and only hot cereal that scorches your digestive system is good enough for a league playing its first cold-weather Super Bowl.

At least that's what the NFL's official hot cereal sponsorship with Quaker would have you believe. General Mills, meanwhile, thinks its Cheerios have as much of a place at the table as any hot-water-drenched oats. It's pouring $4 million to $8 million into a commercial early in the game.

That spot has been put together by the same creative team at Saatchi & Saatchi that came up with the "Just Checking" ad Cheerios ran in early 2013. That ad is only notable for the abjectly racist responses it got in its comments field from those opposed to its depiction of an interracial couple and their child. While we'd love to tell you that such an incident likely wouldn't occur again, this ad will be airing during a game featuring a cornerback who received similarly racist responses to his assertion he was better than the opposing wide receiver he was covering.

It's hard to come up with something patently offensive to say about little milk-drenched grain circles, but the past year has provided adequate proof that a certain slack-jawed, mouth-breathing contingent will throw slurs at just about anything if so inclined. Quaker is content to stay out of it

General Motors

General Motors spent $97.2 million on Super Bowl ads alone between 2003 and 2013. It's just part of the reason the company found itself in bankruptcy and government hands for its trouble.

Though it's back and has bought out Uncle Sam's stake in the company, it's treading lightly on Super Bowl Sunday. It sat out last year completely, but now has at least $16 million invested in two 60-second ads. That's not a bad plan, as six auto manufacturers who weren't GM bought ads in 2013. Exactly two auto manufacturers did the same in 2003.

The pressure isn't letting up this year, either. Volkswagen is spending $8 million on a 60-second spot for Audi and another $8 million on a 60-second ad for its core brand. Hyundai and Kia are combining for at least $12 million for two Hyundai spots and at least one Kia ad. Meanwhile, Toyota's dropping $8 million on its own 60-second spot, while Jaguar is taking an $8 million gamble on the luxury market with the first Super Bowl ad it's ever run.

With all of those competitors stacked against it, just about the only good news GM's received is from its Michigan neighbors Ford and Chrysler, who appear to bee sitting out this year's festivities.

Pepsi

Not only is Pepsi the NFL's soda sponsor, but its Gatorade brand is the league's isotonic beverage sponsor. Also, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division is the league's salty snack sponsor.

In the past five years alone, PepsiCo has dumped $97 million into Super Bowl ads. That hasn't stopped the NFL and its broadcast partners from welcoming Pepsi's biggest rival, Coca-Cola, into the fold whenever possible. For each Cindy Crawford or Britney Spears appearance, Coke can point to a "Mean" Joe Greene or polar bear Super Bowl ad of its own.

In fact, Coca-Cola has spent more than $62 million during the past five years to maintain its status as a Super Bowl regular. This year, Coca-Cola is countering Pepsi's Bruno Mars/Red Hot Chili Peppers halftime show with more ads of its own. The number hasn't been confirmed, but this isn't a company that prides itself on subtlety.

Pepsi and Coke will get even more competition for the second-straight year, as make-your-own soft drink company SodaStream has enlisted the aid of Scarlett Johansson in its $4 million, 30-second ad. That spot airs in the fourth quarter, long after Coke and Pepsi's more than $20 million worth of ads and halftime entertainment have concluded.

Mars Snackfood

Talking, anthropomorphized M&M's and ordinary people who transform into Roseanne Barr when they haven't had a Snickers are as much a part of the Super Bowl landscape as sentimental Clydesdales. So who would dare encroach on the official NFL candy sponsor's turf?

Well, just about anyone who has to compete with those chocolatey favorites. This year, Nestle's giving it a try by pitching a product that doesn't target Mars at all. The $4 million Nestle is spending to promote Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups is actually aimed at taking on Hershey's Reese's Peanut Butter Cups line. Nestle is even ditching longtime spokestoon Bart Simpson for this one, saying only that it's going "much more broad."

While it's a threat for Hershey, any new product in the candy racks is a concern for Mars. It's bad enough that even non-candy competitors such as Wonderful Pistachios are gunning for it with two 15-second spots featuring Stephen Colbert. Throw some more chocolate into the mix, and it's going to take an army of wisecracking M&Ms to maintain Mars' sugar high.

Procter & Gamble

This conglomerate has tried its hardest to make its offbeat Old Spice ads as bro-tastic as possible and establish itself as the official deodorant of the NFL.

Yet, for the second straight year, P&G is taking fire from a competitor that smells remarkably like a junior high locker room after gym class.

Axe is back, and parent company Unilever is spending another $4 million to follow up last year's debut. In 2013, its Axe Apollo ad offered 23 seats aboard a private spacecraft. This year, Axe went surprisingly sober and adult with its message, unveiling a 60-second version of an ad for its new Axe Peace promoting love and peace over war and conflict. Given the Axe brand's history to date, this could have been incredibly trite and sophomoric. Instead, it's a cogent, well-expressed message that nominally mentions the product it's promoting.

P&G, meanwhile, has responded with absolute silence. Given the circumstances, that's probably for the best. Old Spice Man has no answers for such a serious statement.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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