Sep 05, 2018 at 12:00 AM
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Kickoff 2018: Five Sponsorship Stories to Watch this NFL Season

Who's ready for some football? We are! With the new season kicking off tomorrow, it's time to not only get your fantasy team in order, but also a look at some of the sponsorship stories and category shake-ups from this recent off-season. With that in mind....

1. Pizza Party: Pizza Hut is not only now the official pizza of the NFL starting this season, but the Dallas-based franchise has been rolling out new teams deals as well with the likes of the Chargers, Rams, Steelers and Seahawks. While Papa John's still boasts over 160 collegiate and professional sports partnerships, recent controversies have caused both teams and sponsors to rethink how they approach the pizza category.

2. Casino Cash-in: The loosening stigma around gambling and sports betting has made its way from the Supreme Court down to the local NFL teams. Since you can now legally bet on professional and college sports in some states, it only makes sense that teams will now be able to accept advertising and sponsorship from casinos with sportsbooks (with some restrictions) thanks to a recent ruling by the NFL on the issue.

3. Ticketing: SeatGeek made big moves in the off-season, becoming a partner of both the National Football League and the primary ticketing partner of the Dallas Cowboys, and increasingly pitting the ticket startup with larger, established rivals such as Ticketmaster and StubHub.

4. Sweet Dreams: Sleep Number became the official sleep and wellness partner of the NFL just ahead of last year's Super Bowl, locking down a category that has shown a sharp increase in activity in recent years. Having evolved from the mattress category to something called performance sleep, some of the emerging players signing recent sponsorship deals include Tuft & Needle, Casper, Leesa and BedGear to name a few.

5. Nike and Kneeling: Nike this week put the spotlight squarely back on the kneeling issue by making Colin Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of its' iconic “Just Do It” campaign. While the diverse array of brands that sponsor the NFL have understandably had a similarly wide range of reactions to the issue, the issue will be a focal point again this year and sponsors will likely be forced to again take a stand and stay true to their brand like the swoosh did this week -- no matter the stance they take.