NEW YORK -- The NFL is welcoming the start of its regular season next week with a $50 million "Back to Football" marketing campaign.
The effort aims to keep up last year's record TV ratings and improve the league's value to sponsors.
The league is running ads for "Back to Football" on its broadcast partners -- NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and NFL Network. All are using the slogan, too.
Retailers Kohl's, Dick's Sporting Goods and Old Navy also are running promotions and featuring NFL merchandise.
In all, the league estimates total media spending on the campaign by the NFL and its sponsors to be worth $50 million. Plans are to run the campaign each year from July through the season's start in early September.
NFL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Waller said the NFL wants the season's start to be as strong as its finish, with the Super Bowl.
This year's Super Bowl, in which the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts, was the most-watched event in U.S. television history.
"There's huge pent-up demand," Waller said Tuesday. "You don't stop being a football fan when the season ends."
The league asked sponsors and broadcasters to use the theme, telling them "the more you engage fans, the better it is for all of us," Waller explained.
The NFL also expanded its pregame show for the Sept. 9 kickoff game to one hour from 30 minutes. The season's first game has the Saints at home against the Minnesota Vikings. Fans will be asked to wear jerseys or their team colors on Sept. 10, the NFL said, including people at work and at school.
Last season's regular-season games averaged 18.4 million viewers, up nearly 10 percent from the 2008 season, according to The Nielsen Company.
"There's just so many story lines, the interest is as high as it's ever been," Waller said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press