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ESPN stopped selling inventory for a few days two weeks ago, a move "indicative of the most robust sports marketplace in recent years." Jack Bonanni, Senior VP/Ad Sales at ESPN, said the "flow of business was more than we could handle." Bonanni noted the return of the NHL had a "major impact" on the network's schedule, and that "complicated matters." One ad exec said ESPN "doesn't have a state-of-the-art system to manage their inventory" and that led to a hiatus to account for sale inventory. Other media buyers speculated the network was "reassessing" their pricing. But Bonanni insists the interruption was strictly due to a "re-inventorying" process that has been done in the past. ESPN's sales "underscores the strength of the sports TV marketplace these days -- from the seller's perspective." Ad time on all sports on broadcasts and cable outlets is "moving briskly," if not sold out, and spending on sports TV is up "significantly for numerous categories," including automotive, computer, and telecommunications (Brockington & Reynolds, COWLES BUSINESS/INSIDE MEDIA, 2/16).
The Maple Leafs are "ready to cash in on their popularity" as negotiations continue for the team's local TV rights, according to Rob Longley in today's TORONTO SUN. Sources said Leafs Owner Cliff Fletcher is seeking $15M per season, a figure that would top the Blue Jays' current $12M deal. IMG, which is negotiating for the Leafs, has been in talks with Molson, which owns exclusive national TV rights to the NHL in Canada. Talks with Molson "haven't exactly been smooth, but for the time being at least, the brewery is the only major player. If it wins the rights, Molson will then vend the games to the station or stations that will carry them." While Molson may be involved as a sponsor, it is possible Molson's production wing, Molstar, "may have a reduced presence in a new deal." Fletcher reportedly wants to see the team take a more active role in the production of the games. Longley writes the presence of IMG is "a potentially intimidating one for the rights holders." IMG has a large presence in sports marketing throughout the world, and is "becoming aggressively involved with certain NHL teams," including the Leafs (TORONTO SUN, 2/17).
Charles Barkley will attend a special court dedication on this weekend's NBA "Inside Stuff." Nike has made a basketball court made of recycled sneakers for Phoenix's youth (NBA Entertainment)....ABC Sports signed a multiyear contract with Raycom for the Pigskin Classic. ABC spokesman Mark Mandel: "We consider ourselves the network of college football."....With a "resurgence of interest" in boxing, due largely to the popularity of George Foreman, HBO will telecast three boxing matchups in the month of March. It is the most shows since HBO added boxing to its lineup (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/17)....Fox Chair Chase Carey denies speculation that the network's losses from football could climb to $500M by the time the 4-year, $1.58B contract concludes....Sandy Grossman will be Fox's NHL director (Rudy Martkze, USA TODAY, 2/17)
TV sponsors for the Phillies are "getting restless -- and they might be in line for rebates," according to this morning's PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Phillies VP/Marketing Dennis Mannion said no sponsors have pulled out, but "we have quite a few in a sit- and-wait pattern. We weren't naive. We knew it would come down to this." WPHL-TV GM Randy Smith said his stations are working with each Phillies sponsor to sort our any problems that "might arise because of decreased ratings" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/17).