By Barry Janoff
September 8, 2014: The NFL is accustomed to running on the ground and throwing passes threw the air. Increasingly, players and fans are becoming accustomed to sailing on the water, as well.
Princess Cruises, a division of Carnival Corp., has signed deals with four NFL teams: the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears.
The alliance makes Princes Cruises the "proud partner" for each team. Financial details were not disclosed.
The four teams join several other NFL franchises that have cruise ship alliances.
This past July, the Dallas Cowboys unveiled a multi-year deal with Carnival Cruise Lines as the team's official partner, including marketing in Cowboys Stadium, on-board activation and other tie-ins for the team and travelers. Celebrity Cruise is also an official partner with the New England Patriots.
Norwegian Cruise Line is the official partner for the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium. Among others, Norwegian has worked with the New York Giants on "Cruise with the Champions" events, which puts fans onboard with members of the Super Bowl teams from 1986 1990 and 2007
Not to be outdone on the high seas, the New York Jets this March are holding their inaugural Jets Cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Line’s Constellation.
The Carolina Panthers started fan cruise events in 2004 and have scheduled the 10th annual Panthers Fan Cruise presented by AAA for March 2015 onboard the Celebrity Silhouette.
The Pittsburgh Steelers held first Steelers Cruise this past March on Royal Caribbean under the theme, "All Fans On Deck." Additional events have not as yet been unveiled by the Steelers.
In November 2013, Carnival became an official partner with the New Orleans Saints, a one-year deal which when signed was the cruise line's first NFL partnership.
Each of the new Princess Cruises pacts comes with marketing support and fan-related activations, including a sweepstakes in which fans for the respective teams can win cruise trips (details here).
Princess Cruises also said that it would expand its NFL presence aboard each of its 13 ships, including games shown on big screens and the equivalent of tail-gate parties.
The move comes at a time when the cruise line industry is experiencing a growth in passenger manifests and new vessel launches.
“The global cruise industry is at an exciting juncture with strong consumer interest in cruising and significant cruise line investment in a diversity of exciting ships that travel to the most exotic locations in the world and offer one-of-a-kind vacation experiences,” Christine Duffy, president and CEO for the Cruise Lines International Assn., said in a statement.
According to its recently released State of the Cruise Industry report, CLIA's 63 cruise member lines predict a "positive year of growth with a 2014 passenger forecast of 21.7 million worldwide guests (up from 21.3 million in 2013). To meet demand, these member lines will introduce 24 new ships in 2014-2015 adding a total passenger capacity of 37,546, representing a capital investment of approximately $8 billion in ocean going and river cruise categories."
North America is the world’s biggest cruise market, with a 55.1% passenger source share, per CLIA.
To support this growth, sports fans, in this case those who follow the NFL, are a prime target audience for the cruise industry.
"Princess Cruises has a significant presence in San Francisco since we have a ship based there year round cruising to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico," Gordon Ho, svp-global marketing for Princess Cruises, said in a statement. "Not only do San Franciscans have a passion for their home team but our research tells us that 49ers fans also have a passion for exploring the world on cruise vacations. So we think that bringing the two together is a winning combination."
Princess Cruises has added incentive to partner with the Niners: The team this season began play in the $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium, located in Santa Clara near the cruise liner's headquarters.
Ho had similar observations regarding Princess Cruises' new pacts with the Seahawks, Bears and Texans. As part of the partnership, Including in marketing and activations in each respective marketing, Seahawks fans will have the opportunity to win a seven-day cruise to Alaska, (sailing round-trip from Seattle) Texans fans can vie for a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean (sailing round-trip from Houston) and Bears fans will have the opportunity to win a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean (sailing round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale).
Carnival's alliance with the Cowboys supports the cruise line’s scheduled February 2015 deployment of a third year-round ship, Carnival Freedom, to Galveston, Texas. Carnival said it expects to carry more than 600,000 guests a year from Texas, which it said would be the most of any cruise operator. Among other activations, Carnival sponsors Cowboys regional news shows and plans meet-and-greets with fans in Cowboys Stadium parking lots at each home game.
According to Jim Berra, CMO for Carnival Cruise Lines, "Partnering with one of the most successful and storied franchises in professional sports makes perfect sense for us as the avid Cowboys fan base is among the most spirited in the country, much like Carnival guests."
Micky Arison, Carnival chairman of the board and former CEO, owns the Miami Heat.
The relationship between the NFL and the cruise line category has had some interesting incidents.
In order to secure the rights to host Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, the City of Jacksonville arranged for five cruise ships to dock in the St. Johns River to meet the NFL's requirement of 17,500 full-service hotel rooms for visitors. Jacksonville was about 3,500 rooms short of the 14,000 mark but added more than 3,600 rooms/cabins thanks to the Carnival Miracle, RSSC's Seven Seas Navigator and Holland America's Volendam, Zuiderdam and Zaandam.
"San Franciscans have a passion for their home team [and] a passion for exploring the world on cruise vacations. Bringing the two together is a winning combination."
For Super Bowl XLVIII, played in MetLife Stadium (home venue for the New York Giants and Jets), Bud Light worked with Norwegian Cruise Lines to host the Bud Light Super Bowl Hotel aboard its newly launched Getaway. The water-bound venue hosted a series of events, including converts featuring Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters and Fall Out Boy.
Regarding upcoming NFL-related cruise events, the Jets have partnered with Leadership League, a third-party company that specializes in creating leadership and leisure programs for NFL teams, to hold the team's inaugural Jets Cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Line’s Constellation. The March 2015 cruise is scheduled to include more than 20 current and alumni players. (Details here.)
Meanwhile, the Patriots have planned a March 2015, cruise to the Eastern Caribbean aboard the Celebrity Silhouette, also to include team leggings. (Details here.)
However, not all NFL-related events on the water have gone a planned. In 2005, members of the Minnesota Vikings were involved in what became known as the "Love Boat Scandal" when it was revealed that females who had been paid to attend were involved in sex acts with some of the athletes on board two house boats on Lake Minnetonka.
And during a pre-Super Bowl XLVIII event, members of the Denver Broncos complained of becoming seasick when a press conference was held on board a ship docked in the Hudson River. “I wasn’t prepared for a rocking cruise ship," Denver quarterback Peyton Manning later told reporters. "There’s always a wrinkle, I guess.”
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