SBJ/March 19 - 25, 2007/This Weeks News

RSNs say baseball a big hit with advertisers

Major League Baseball is proving to be a windfall for regional sports networks this season, with many of the larger markets reporting ad sales increases in the high single digits.

Traditional 30-second spots are selling well across the board, but enhanced sponsorships also have shown traction. Some media buyers credit the fact that ESPN is covering fewer games this year (from 131 regular-season games last year to 76 this year) as a reason for the increases on the regional level.

SportsNet New York is experiencing major
ad gains after the Mets’ success.

“If advertisers have less spots to buy on ESPN, they need somewhere to go with that money,” said Mike Law, Carat USA’s associate group director of media buying. “There’s a ton of appeal with RSNs, especially this year. Baseball’s become more NFLish in that there’s a lot of parity.”

Fox Sports Net, which sells national spots for the highly rated New England Sports Network in addition to its own web of regional channels, is seeing an average of high-single-digit increases. Not surprisingly, the best performers are FSN Detroit with the Detroit Tigers and FSN Midwest with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, which are both up around 15 percent.

NESN is up in the single digits, which is impressive, given the year-to-year popularity of the Red Sox.

“Baseball’s always carried larger ratings, therefore it always carries larger advertising rates for us,” said Kyle Sherman, FSN’s executive vice president of ad sales.

For many of the regional networks, a big growth engine looks to be in the digital space, with networks increasingly embracing the multiplatform approach popularized by ESPN.

“There’s a lot of interest in seeing the digital business evolve,” said Steve Raab, SportsNet New York’s vice president of marketing and business development. “The real opportunity is with two platforms — online and TV.”

SNY has sold such deals to Toyota, which is sponsoring an online contest called the “Toyota Smart Event” and Geico, which sponsored a weekly online recap on SNY’s Web site. Both advertisers also have in-game spots on SNY’s New York Mets broadcasts.

Across town, YES Network signed Chevrolet to sponsor its text-messaging feature, which allows fans to vote for a player of the game. Overall, YES has signed a dozen clients into its digital media space, including Infinity, LoJack, Suzuki and Cablevision, said Steve Berman, senior vice president of ad sales for YES Network.

“We’re trying to sell all advertisers multiplatform spots,” he said.

On television ad sales, the MSO and telecommunications category has proved to be strong for most RSNs, with the companies advertising various services through traditional ad buys. In New York, for example, competitors Cablevision and Verizon are spending a lot of money on both SNY and YES. Cablevision signed up to have its iO digital service be SNY’s HD presenting sponsor. Such a deal is worth about $1 million, according to industry sources. The deal will include various in-game elements, as well.

Verizon is buying heavy ad runs for its various businesses, including FiOS video, V-Cast mobile and traditional telephone. Verizon’s total spend in the New York market is more than Cablevision’s, since they have more services to market, industry sources said.

“That’s an interesting category with FiOS getting wired and making a big push,” Raab said.

Cablevision and Verizon are spending a significant amount of money — into seven figures — on Yankees games as well.

With its national footprint, Fox Sports Net was not able to take full advantage of Cablevision’s and Verizon’s battle for the New York market. But it was able to sign Panasonic to a sponsorship that promotes its HD technology for the first half of the season on all of its 18 RSNs. In addition to a schedule of 15-second spots, Panasonic paid about $2 million to $3 million to sponsor an in-game, slow-motion replay that will be viewed on-screen through a Panasonic-branded TV. In addition, FSN signed the U.S. Marines as a first-time advertiser and will see the Marines buy into half of FSN’s regions to help reach its enrollment goals. The buy, which is between $5 million and $7 million, cuts across all FSN sports programming, not just MLB.

Perhaps the biggest RSN success story this year is SNY, which is reporting an ad sales revenue jump of more than 50 percent over last year — thanks in large part to the Mets’ strong 2006 performance. About to enter its second season, SNY has signed 25 new advertisers.

“We’re not celebrating yet, but we feel good about where we are so far,” Raab said. “When ratings go up 80 to 90 percent in your key demos, you’re delivering a lot more volume, and ad rates naturally are going to go up.”

SNY renewed both its pregame show to North Fork Bank and its postgame show to Nissan. One of its more unique sponsorships is with Kia, which is presenting sponsor to its Wednesday night games: “Kia Wednesday Game of the Week.” Sources peg the deal at around $800,000.

At YES, preseason ad revenue was up by double digits this year, while regular-season spots are up slightly. Average rate increases have been in the high single digits, Berman said.

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