SBJ/19980629/This Weeks Issue

CBS getting Equitable with ’98 college football halftime show

The Equitable Cos. Inc. will be the new title sponsor of CBS’ college football halftime shows this season, sources said. Through a one-year deal that also includes in-game commercial inventory, the Equitable will replace Ford Motor Co. as halftime sponsor. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

So far, CBS has sold about 50 percent of the ad time for its college football telecasts this season. NEC, Smith Barney and Sun America (a newcomer to the network’s college gridiron coverage) are said to be among the latest companies to cut ad deals with Black Rock.

Meantime, sources said that CBS has sold more than 85 percent of the commercial time for its broadcasts of the 1998 U.S. Open Tennis Championships, which will run from Aug. 31 through Sept. 13. The network recently cut U.S. Open ad deals with several companies that did not buy time on Black Rock’s coverage of last year’s Open. Among the newcomers, sources said: Claritin, US Airways, American Century and KPMG Peat Marwick.

BASEBALL BYE-BYE. Miller Brewing Co. has opted to discontinue its advertising presence on Fox’s Major League Baseball telecasts. According to Gina Shaffer, marketing communications manager for Miller: “We have altered our agreement with Fox to reflect our current business needs. Baseball and prime time are no longer part of [the agreement].” Miller, however, will continue its sponsorship commitment to the NFL on Fox. Last summer, the beer marketer cut a long-term deal with Fox that included commercial time on the network’s NFL, MLB and prime-time coverage. Said Shaffer, “Our focus continues to be on football, which reaches our core audience: 21- to 28-year-olds.”

Coors, meanwhile, is said to have bought some commercial time on Fox’s MLB telecasts.

SIS BOOM BAH. As part of AT&T’s multiyear deal with ABC to become the first-ever presenting sponsor of the network’s broadcast of the Rose Bowl, the telecommunications giant has bought commercial time on ABC and ESPN’s coverage of the NFL, sources said. AT&T also has purchased ad time on ABC’s broadcasts of the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls.

ABC has exclusive TV rights to the four major bowl games – the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta – through January 2002. A national championship matchup between the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams will be rotated each year among the four bowls. Indeed, they are the core components of ABC’s new College Football Championship Series.

So far, the network has signed Championship Series sponsorship deals with several companies, including National Car Rental, Ford, Chrysler and American Honda (“Media Watch,” May 4). In addition, Nokia, FedEx and Frito-Lay (Tostitos) are expected to return as title sponsors of the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls, respectively.

FLYING HIGH. Through a new multiyear NFL ad deal with CBS, Southwest Airlines will be the presenting sponsor of the network’s “NFL Today” pregame show, sources said. In addition to running spots on “NFL Today,” Southwest will air commercials on CBS’ telecasts of regular-season and postseason NFL games.

Black Rock is offering several sponsorship opportunities on its “NFL Today” program. For example, Staples will be title sponsor of the “Coach of the Week” segment airing on the pregame show (“Media Watch,” June 22).

No doubt, the added pregame sponsorship opportunities are a consequence of the NFL’s decree – written in the networks’ new pro football TV contracts – that the league’s broadcast partners can no longer offer in-game-sponsored vignettes or enhancements (the Company X Starting Lineup, the Company Y Play of the Game). That ordinance does not apply to pregame, postgame or halftime coverage.

When the new TV contracts were finalized early this year, the NFL said that discontinuing sponsored in-game elements was an attempt to reduce commercial clutter, “to improve the on-screen look of the telecast, and to create a clearer distinction between in-game action, commercial time and promotional time.” There also was one other reason behind the league’s decision: Official NFL sponsors were not exactly ecstatic about seeing their direct competitors sponsoring in-game vignettes – enhancements that often utilized footage from the league’s NFL Films division.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the removal of sponsored in-game elements – whose availability no doubt lured some advertisers to NFL telecasts – will have any impact on the networks’ NFL ad sales.

TO THE BEACH. Sports marketer Raycom has struck a deal with Association Volleyball Professionals Tour to syndicate a pair of AVP events later this summer: The Miller Lite Open (Aug. 1-2 in Milwaukee) and the Miller Lite U.S. Championship (Aug. 14-16 at Hermosa Beach, Calif.). Raycom, which will also produce the telecasts, has just begun pitching local TV stations, said Ray Warren, president and chief operating officer of Raycom Sports.

Targeting those markets that have an interest in beach volleyball, Raycom is aiming its syndication efforts at coastal areas, including stations in Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Louisiana and eastern markets ranging from Miami to as far north as Philadelphia or Boston. Among other targets are stations in Arizona and New Mexico. Raycom also will look to air the events in Milwaukee, Miller Brewing Co.’s headquarters. If successful, the syndication pattern will look “kind of like a smile” – along the West Coast, across the bottom of the country and up the East Coast – said Warren.

A few months ago, the AVP Tour lost its broadcast-network home, when NBC decided not to air any AVP events this year. At the time, Jon Miller, senior vice president of NBC Sports, cited two key reasons for the network’s move: declining ratings and Miller Brewing’s decision to relinquish its title sponsorship of NBC’s AVP coverage. In 1997, the network televised three AVP tournaments, and it had tentative plans to do the same this year. Indeed, NBC had broadcast AVP Tour events for the past several years.

For its part, Raycom has plenty of experience in syndicating sports events regionally. Among some of its syndicated properties are ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12 college basketball games.

TEEING OFF. USA has struck another ad deal for its 1999 pro golf telecasts. The cable network has renewed an agreement with Alliance Capital, said Bob Riordan, USA’s vice president of ad sales, Eastern Region (“Media Watch,” June 15).

KINGPIN. CBS has extended its TV deal with the Professional Bowlers Association, agreeing to broadcast 10 PBA Tour events a year through 2000. Just last Saturday, the network concluded its first season of televising the PBA. Black Rock, of course, has replaced ABC, the PBA’s longtime TV partner, as the tour’s broadcast home. Next year, CBS again will air pro bowling events in the spring, commencing its series on April 17.

Returning to sell commercial time for the series of one-hour shows will be the Marquee Group, a New York City-based sports marketing firm. In October 1996, the PBA hired Marquee to manage the tour’s television, marketing and sponsorship efforts. As part of an arrangement under which the PBA buys programming time on CBS, the Marquee Group is handling ad sales for the bowling broadcasts.

Asked why the network renewed its PBA Tour deal, Rob Correa, vice president of programming at CBS Sports, said: “It’s legitimate series programming that is financially attractive.” So far this season, CBS has scored a household ratings average of 1.6 (through eight of its nine PBA events). At this time a year ago, ABC had generated a 1.9 ratings average for 13 PBA Tour broadcasts.

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