The National Football League — which has seemingly created sponsorships for every category imaginable, from 3D foot scanning (HP) to beds (Sleep Number) — has found a way to carve out another deal. Starting this season, Oakley becomes the league’s official helmet visor provider.
The pact, which will be officially announced on Tuesday, runs four years. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The NFL since 1998 has banned players from wearing tinted helmet visors, also known as shields, unless they had a medical exemption. But it loosened the rule to make way for Oakley. The brand will also be designated as the “preferred” eyewear provider, meaning coaches and players will be encouraged, but not mandated, to choose Oakley sunglasses and eyeglasses if they wear them on the sidelines.
For the helmet visors, Oakley is the exclusive provider, meaning players must use the branded visors if they opt to wear a visor on the field. Players can still wear other brands if they get a medical exemptions, but those visors cannot display visible logos. Since 1998, players had been able to wear any visor they want, as long as it was not tinted.
Oakley’s visors use the brand’s trademarked “Prizm” technology, which is marketed as “enhancing color and contrast so you can see more detail.” They appear slightly tinted, as opposed to a Darth Vader look that the NFL did not want. Players faces are already obstructed with helmet facemasks, which is a marketing disadvantage compared with other sports, like baseball and basketball, that allow viewers to see faces up close.
Prizm lenses are made from a proprietary impact resistant polycarbonate called Plutonite. Dye is molded into the material to give color or tint to the lens. Oakley claims the lenses don’t fade and the UV protection cannot be scratched off.
“Putting something more in front of their faces was definitely a concern we had,” says Nana-Yaw Asamoah, the NFL’s VP of business development. But he described Oakley’s visors as having a “pink hue” that will “still allow the general consumer, the referee, our trainers and healthcare providers on the field to be able to see into players eyes, see into their face masks, even while they are wearing a visor.”
Oakley and the NFL had been in talks for two years, he says. “They were really showing us performance benefits of not just taking down the light transmission of everything that a player is seeing on the field, but really color tuning and helping them from a visual perspective,” Asamoah says. “So that is something that really spoke to us, versus players wanting to wear a darkly tinted visor because they might think it looks cool.”
Oakley is touting the new sponsorship with a new TV ad, plus print, digital, out-of-home and in-store advertising.
The TV spot, written and produced by Stept Studios, is set to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” It shows football being played through the Prizm-tinted eyes of NFL players including Patrick Mahomes, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Derwin James Jr.—all Oakley endorsers.
Oakley sees the deal as a way to plug its lifestyle and sports sunglasses to everyday consumers. “The NFL is the biggest sport in the U.S. with the biggest audience,” says Oakley Global Marketing Director Ben Goss. “We think this is a really big move for Oakley and a chance for us to bring some new consumers into our brand.”
The deal enhances the NFL’s already rich sponsorship coffers. The league and its 32 teams collected $1.4 billion in sponsorship revenue last season, up 5 percent from the previous year, according to sponsorship consultancy IEG.
New sponsors last year included Sleep Number, which came aboard as the official “sleep and wellness” sponsor. Also joining was HP, which announced a deal in January 2018 to provide the NFL with 3D scanning aimed at giving players personalized cleat recommendations.
Including Oakley, the NFL expects to finalize at least a couple more sponsorship deals this season, Asamoah says. That includes a health insurance sponsor that he declined to name. The league is also in negotiations to replace Hyundai as its official passenger car sponsor, he confirmed. Ford remains the league’s official pickup truck sponsor. Talks with mainstream and luxury auto brands are ongoing and “there should be some announcement around that,” he says.