CFL takes to the skies with Canadian North

League unveils new flying “billboard” in advance of 102nd Grey Cup

There has been lots of fuss this week about the newest Times Square billboard, but the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) newest out-of-home initiative is similarly impressive: 109-feet long, more than 100,000 pounds, and capable of travelling at 580 mph. It also offers drinks service and a movie.

The CFL and its official airline partner Canadian North this week unveiled a new 737 aircraft bearing the league logo on its tail and the logos of the league’s nine teams on the fuselage.

The aircraft will serve as a “highly visible” billboard for the CFL on domestic routes, and will also fly the winners of the 102nd Grey Cup back home from the host city of Vancouver on Dec. 1.

Canadian North (comprised of Canadian Airlines, Pacific Western Airlines, Transair and Nordair) announced a three-year partnership with the CFL earlier this year, and worked quickly to put its imprint on the new deal.

“We found them to be just an incredibly collaborative, entrepreneurial group, and over the course of a meeting in a boardroom, we designed a plane,” said Sara Moore, the CFL’s Toronto-based vice-president of marketing and events.

“We both were absolutely delighted at the idea of coming up with such a visual way of representing the great partnership we’ve put into place. It’s a great brand hallmark for the league and Canadian North.”

Moore said the program is emblematic of an evolution in sports sponsorship, with brands less concerned about media impressions and more focused on fan engagement.

“What I’ve seen is a fantastic evolution in this space where properties are being innovative and creative and packaging assets in ways that weren’t done in the past,” she said. “We’re all getting over the idea of selling impressions, and we’re really about selling those branded moments that matter to fans, that create lasting impressions, not the immediate media impression.”

The league is no stranger to oversize billboards, having previously created a CFL-branded train – complete with a museum car – for a cross-country tour celebrating the 100th Grey Cup in 2012.

It took a team of 28 people from Trois-Rivières-based Aviation Overhaul Centre approximately 120 hours to paint the plane, using 20 gallons of paint to create the team logos. Twenty-one colours of paint were used, including a white background coat.

The plane was flown from Trois-Rivières to Edmonton under cover of darkness for the Nov. 18 reveal. Among its first passengers will be high school football teams from Hamilton, Ont. and Edmonton who are participating in Nissan’s “Back in the Game” project – aimed at preserving and restoring high school football programs – travelling to the Grey Cup.

Moore said it is a marketing strategy that will live on for the next five years, as passengers take photos of the plane and share them via social media.

Digital has become a key activation platform for league sponsors, said Moore, pointing to this year’s “What kind of wing are you?” partnership with Pintys, which invited consumers to take an online quiz. “You have to be innovative and you have to work with the best things you and your partner bring to the table, and that’s where the meaningful programs come from,” said Moore.

Canadian North joins a group of longtime CFL sponsors including Purolator, Tim Hortons and Nissan, as well as newer sponsors such as Canada Beef, The Keg (both new this year) and SiriusXM. “I think there are infinite opportunities to create programming and opportunities for great brands out there,” said Moore.

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