SBJ/December 18 - 24, 2006/This Weeks News

Fox’s 4-year BCS packages a hit

Who needs a college football playoff?

Not Fox, apparently, which has become the darling of the ad community following a successful run-up to the Bowl Championship Series. Fox’s four BCS games — ABC/ESPN is selling the Rose Bowl — are 95 percent sold out for this year, and 70 percent sold across the four years Fox owns the BCS’s rights, network executives said.

Fox will show the Orange, Sugar and
Fiesta bowls, plus the BCS title game.

Much of Fox’s success has come from selling four-year sponsorship packages, as opposed to individual 30-second ad spots. These sponsorships typically come with multiple ad units on all four of the BCS games over four years, in-game features, signage, promotional rights including the use of the BCS mark, and category exclusivity.

In all, Fox has signed 13 “rights-carrying sponsors” across the four years of its $80 million BCS deal, including Taco Bell, Cingular and Anheuser-Busch. Fox’s corporate cousin, DirecTV, has signed on as the postgame sponsor for all four games. Ford has the pregame show for the games and Blockbuster will sponsor all four halftime shows. DirecTV also is the presenting sponsor of the BCS trophy.

All sponsors receive multiple ad units and rights for all four of Fox’s BCS games for the next four years, except for Blockbuster, which has one of the few one-year deals. While these deals vary from sponsor to sponsor, Fox typically required a company to buy at least three to four units per game to secure any promotional rights.

The games’ title sponsors — FedEx (Orange Bowl), Tostitos (Fiesta/BCS Championship) and Allstate (Sugar) — receive similar multiyear rights on the other BCS games as well as their own.

Fox is charging about $800,000 for the remaining 30-second spots in the BCS title game. Spots in the other three games are going for $400,000, sources say.

Last year’s BCS title game pulled a 21.7 rating on Jan. 4. The other three bowl games drew ratings between 9.0 and 12.9. Fox did not provide its projected ratings for this year.

Going Bowling
Among the companies that have signed on for Fox’s BCS coverage

Taco Bell
Texas Instruments

“Certainly there were some challenges, but based on some of the sellout levels I’ve heard, they’ve been very successful,” said Sam Sussman, who leads the sports negotiations for media-buying agency Starcom, whose clients include Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble. “Fox didn’t have the regular season to package this with; they had four games that stood alone. But they found a way to give their sponsors ownership positions and enhancements in the game.”

The key, analysts said, was that Fox created scarcity as a way of generating premium dollars. By offering multiyear deals and exclusivity in most categories, Fox was able to sell multiple units to each sponsor, resulting in fewer, yet more profitable, partnerships.

In return, sponsors receive in-game enhancements in addition to their ad time. Fox found a place for Texas Instruments on its overhead camera shots, while Gatorade, not surprisingly, owns the sideline rights with branded cups and coolers.

“You’ve got to get people to step up and pay a premium,” said Kevin O’Malley, a TV consultant who has worked with the Big Ten Conference, the BCS and others. “By giving them add-ons, in-game features, pregame, postgame, online ability, use of the marks — these are all assets you have to bring to the sponsor to elicit that premium.”

In all, Fox is selling 63 to 65 units per game, analysts said, and the network has anywhere from five to seven units left to sell this year.

“You’d have to say that Fox has done a very good job considering how quick they’ve sold it and what they’re left with two weeks before the games,” said Kevin Collins, a media buyer at Initiative, which represents Home Depot, Coors and AOL.

Bill Hancock, the BCS administrator, said the conference commissioners who manage the BCS determine during the bidding process what the broadcaster can offer, in terms of signage, sideline rights and promotions. Those guidelines are established to maintain a college feel to the games through the look of the stadium and presentation on TV.

“Sponsors in college athletics recognize that part of what they’re buying is the college atmosphere,” Hancock said. “They understand the need to create that feeling and that’s partially why they want to be a part of it.”

BCS coverage starts Jan. 1 with the Rose and Fiesta Bowls. It concludes Jan. 8 with the Tostitos BCS National Championship game between Ohio State and Florida.

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