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Variety: NFL Gets its Anthems In Order

Darius Rucker will perform during the Super Bowl as the NFL moves to integrate more music into its activities.

Befitting its status as not only the most-watched annual sporting event but also perhaps the sporting event most watched by non-sports fans, next week's Super Bowl will feature plenty of music to keep pigskin-averse viewers pacified. Garnering most of the headlines will be Madonna's halftime appearance, but Kelly Clarkson, Nicki Minaj, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert are all scheduled to perform during the broadcast as well. Alongside the more obvious headliners, however, will be original football-themed songs from Darius Rucker, Sammy Hagar, Jordin Sparks and others that will be prominently peppered throughout both the Jan. 29 Pro Bowl and Feb. 5 Super Bowl broadcasts on NBC. While they may go relatively unnoticed amid the hoopla, these tunes are early products of an innovative new deal between the National Football League and Banshee Music, a Wisconsin-based music offshoot of the GMR Marketing agency that is in the process of creating new, proprietary music for teams across the league.

Banshee's pro football dealings started when the agency developed a new kickoff song for its hometown Green Bay Packers in 2009 and subsequently expanded to commission original songs for the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. At the beginning of this current season, the company signed a multi-year deal with the NFL and released a five-song digital EP of original music.

"The partnership launched in the fall, so time wasn't really on our side," said John Canaday, Banshee's VP of sports marketing. But by the start of the 2012-13 season, the company is hoping to have produced original, proprietary songs for each of the league's 32 teams.

The close integration of pop music and professional sports is nothing new. European pop stars have long notched hits with fight songs for local soccer teams, and rapper Wiz Khalifa landed a surprise No. 1 single in 2010 with his Pittsburgh Steelers ode "Black and Yellow." Labels have been in the mix as well, with Atlantic Records last year pairing with ESPN to cross-promote its new artists on NCAA football broadcasts. (Then there's the tens of thousands of dollars each NFL team pays per year to license existing music for stadium play and promotions.) But the Banshee deal would make teams not only commissioners but also partial owners of their own particular anthems, thereby enabling greater cross-promotional opportunities.

"A team might play AC/DC in the stadium after every touchdown, and that's fine," Canaday noted. "But then when you put together a highlight reel afterward, you have to use stock music because you don't have the licenses." Under the Banshee deal, Canaday said, "Teams become equity partners in these songs moving forward" and could control usage of a song from stadium plays to webcasts and promotional videos without worrying about licensing.

(As Canaday noted, World Wrestling Entertainment has been ahead of the curve in this regard, having operated its own record label for years. But this is a first for any of the big four professional sports leagues in the U.S.)

 

Under the agreement, teams and artists share in revenue participation, while Banshee strikes licensing deals and administers rights. While nothing has been agreed upon yet, Canaday said the company is in talks with videogame giant Electronic Arts, developer of the annual "Madden NFL" franchise, to license its official songs within the game.

Songs are largely written and produced inhouse, and in choosing artists to perform them, the agency tends to seek out performers with some connection to the team. (Atlanta natives Sevendust were recruited for a Falcons anthem, for example.) However, Canaday noted: "A good song is a good song. Something that works for the Chargers could probably work elsewhere too."

In addition to the NFL, Banshee has produced music for NCAA teams such as Louisiana State U. and the U. of Texas, as well as the Kentucky Derby. But for now, the focus is a league-wide rollout across the NFL.

"The priority is getting ahead of the next season," Canaday said.

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