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Chris Jones

NFL Vows to Close Las Vegas Advertising Loophole

4 February 2004

It looks like Janet Jackson's breast isn't the only thing that won't be making a return appearance on next year's television broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX.

Upset by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's covert placement of advertisements touting local tourism within Sunday's telecast of its annual championship game, the National Football League on Tuesday said it's taking steps to permanently ban similar ads from airing during future game telecasts.

"Those ads are a violation of our policies," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said by telephone from the league's headquarters on New York's Park Avenue.

"It shouldn't have happened in the first place, and we certainly don't want it to happen again."

For the past two years, Las Vegas-based advertising agency R&R Partners, which handles the convention authority's account, tried to buy in-game national advertising time directly from the Super Bowl's host network.

Both times, the NFL stepped in and killed those efforts, citing its long-standing policy of rejecting gaming-related ad content.

This year, however, R&R circumvented the league's objections by purchasing ad spots directly from CBS affiliates in five of the top seven U.S. media markets. As a result, viewers in or around Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Francisco were shown Las Vegas ads during Sunday's game just as they were exposed to national ads that included Anheuser-Busch's flatulent horse and Frito-Lay's wrestling grandparents.

R&R estimates about 20 percent of the Super Bowl's estimated 89.6 million viewers watched Sunday's pro-Vegas spots, which cost $1.5 million. And most of those viewers reside within areas that already supply a large number of local tourists.

Aiello said the league was not aware of the local ad purchases, or "spot buys," until after the ads had been shown. Next year, he said the NFL plans to close similar loopholes.

"If we had known about it, we would have taken steps to stop it," Aiello said. "Whatever our policies are relating to (national) advertising on our games extends to the local spots from the affiliates. There is no loophole."

Aiello said the league is in the process of discussing the matter with Dennis Swanson, executive vice president of CBS-owned stations, and also plans to follow up with officials from CBS itself. He declined to comment further on the league's preferred course of action.

Billy Vassiliadis, R&R's chief executive officer, said Tuesday he doesn't understand the NFL's reaction. This year marked the third time Las Vegas purchased Super Bowl ad time from affiliates (along with 1999 and 2001), and on each of the previous occasions those moves were completely ignored by the league, he said.

"I'm pretty perplexed by this," Vassiliadis said. "The application of their policies is very inconsistent and doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."

Vassiliadis contends the convention authority was simply trying to lure more local visitors by parlaying its message with a popular event. That message, as was the case Sunday, doesn't have to mention gambling, he added.

"I'd love to be conciliatory with the NFL. If they wanted to give us certain guidelines under which we could advertise, we would stay within them," Vassiliadis said. "We didn't show gambling; we wouldn't do that to them. It's just a `visit Vegas' message."

Vassiliadis added he's not upset that the NFL cracked down on several planned Las Vegas Super Bowl parties because he believes the league was protecting its broadcast rights and revenue. However, he is less understanding about its advertising policies, which he described as "nuts."

"I continue to be rather surprised at what I think is (the NFL's) overreaction to this," Vassiliadis said. "Las Vegas visitors have to number among the greatest and most-loyal NFL fans. I'm a little stunned at what I perceive to be such a shrill response to Las Vegas by the NFL."