SBJ/January 24 - 30, 2005/Media

Fox’s increases for NASCAR ad spots settling in around 10 percent

Fox hit the streets looking for rate increases above 15 percent for advertising in NASCAR races, but the increases appear to be settling in around the 9 to 10 percent range.

Buyers say the market is healthy but there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about it that would warrant rate hikes out of step with other sports properties.

“I don’t really see it as a double-digit marketplace right now,” said Larry Novenstern, vice president of national broadcast at Deutsch Inc. “Unless someone can show me why it should be, I’m not going to think it is.”

High-single-digit increases have been the norm for advertising in marquee sports programming for the last few years.

The NASCAR market developed late this year, in part because Fox’s sales force has been busy hawking the Super Bowl. But the pace picked up last week and a frenzy will continue this week, with most of the business likely cut by then, Fox executives said.

Fox has benefited from the return of most incumbents and several new NASCAR and race team sponsors buying media.

Buyers say the network has leveraged strong demand for Daytona into larger packages, compelling advertisers to buy into other races to get choice spots and pricing for the Feb. 20 Daytona 500.

It is not unusual for a network to seek 15 percent or greater rate hikes for commercials in a major property, but ultimately to be pleased with a high-single-digit increase. CBS, for example, put a 15 percent bump on NCAA tournament advertising this year when it made initial presentations to buyers, but also ended up settling for the high single digits.

HBO’S “PERFECT UPSET”: HBO Sports documentaries generally focus on events that transcended the playing field and became cultural phenomena. But every once in a while the network turns its historical eye on a good old-fashioned upset.

Villanova upset Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas in a game that HBO Sports will revisit.
On March 28, at 9 p.m. ET, HBO will debut “Perfect Upset: The 1985 Villanova Vs. Georgetown NCAA Championship.” The hour-long documentary will tell the story of how Villanova, an eight seed, shocked a powerhouse Georgetown team led by Patrick Ewing to win the national championship.

“Many sports fans can recall exactly where they were that night,” said Rick Bernstein, senior vice president and executive producer of HBO Sports.

Drawing out angles that may have been forgotten over time, the documentary will look at how the Big East Conference sent three teams to the Final Four that year, including Georgetown’s archrival, St. John’s. Georgetown and St. John’s were considered the two best teams in college basketball that year, and their semifinal showdown was largely expected to decide the national champion. When Georgetown advanced to the championship game, Villanova was given little chance of knocking off the Hoyas.

Ewing, Villanova’s Ed Pinckney and St. John’s alum Chris Mullin all will appear in the documentary, along with former coaches John Thompson of Georgetown and Rollie Massimino of Villanova.

C-USA NOT SLATED FOR ESPNU: One interesting element of Conference USA’s new six-year television package is that ESPN won’t be able to show any games from the conference on its new ESPNU channel. That’s something CSTV, which will share Conference USA rights with ESPN, insisted on. Because CSTV is putting up most of the money in the $11.3 million-a-year packages (CSTV reportedly will pay $7.65 million a year, while ESPN will pay $3.65 million), CSTV had the leverage to keep games off its new college-specific rival.

With both its Conference USA and its Mountain West deals, CSTV has pursued a model in which it will have exclusive rights within the “niche college” space — a previously nonexistent genre that now has multiple players, including Fox College Sports — but will not be the only cable network showing conference games. In the Mountain West deal, CSTV guaranteed the conference significant national coverage for some games, as measured by cable penetration levels, which means it will have to buy time on or sublicense rights to another network, such as ESPN or TBS.

With the Conference USA deal, the ESPN component takes care of the broader distribution.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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