SBJ/April 9 - 15, 2007/This Weeks News

NHL sales lukewarm for Versus

With the Stanley Cup playoffs starting in less than a week, Versus is finding the ad sales market to be sluggish, though it  expects sales to pick up as the playoffs begin.

“We are living in an environment where clients and agencies continue to spend money closer and closer to the air date,” said Steve Margosian, Versus’ vice president of marketing solutions. “That, more than anything, contributes to the perception that the markets are sluggish.”

Versus has launched its tune-in
campaign for the Stanley Cup
playoffs, which start this week.

Margosian did not say how much of the network’s playoff inventory has been sold, and he didn’t offer any ratings projections. But he did say sales were pacing “where we should be.”

“I don’t think anybody will be jumping up and down that we broke the bank,” he said.

Ad buyers say the Stanley Cup playoffs are not nearly as well sold as NASCAR and golf programming. They are putting it on par with regular-season basketball and baseball programming.

“If you’ve got hockey money, you’re going to get a good deal,” said one ad buyer, who has not bought any hockey spots. “There’s inventory to be had.”

Versus’ ad sales force is selling advertisers on the NHL’s demographics, which are largely young, male fans who use several different mediums.

“The upscale demos and young men are hard groups for advertisers to reach,” Margosian said. “Hockey reaches them.”

So far, Versus has found success with auto insurance company Esurance, which will be the presenting sponsor of the network’s “Hockey Central” show, as well as the Hockey Salary Cap fantasy game on Versus’ Web site.

Esurance also will sponsor the overtime period of any playoff games on air.

Anheuser-Busch, one of the last holdouts during the NHL’s regular season before buying spots toward the end of the season, bought multiple units for every game in the postseason. Bud Light is sponsoring the Versus feature that puts microphones on various players.

Most regular-season advertisers carried through to the playoffs. One advertiser that didn’t buy in the regular season but bought a schedule in the playoffs is RadioShack.

Other advertisers making a considerable commitment include KFC, Edward Jones, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Holiday Inn Express. Two of the NHL’s official sponsors, Dodge and Verizon, will sponsor the first and second intermission, respectively.

Meanwhile, Versus has embarked on a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign on print, radio and TV to drive tune-in. The campaign, called “Defining Moment,” was created by Versus’ agency, TAXI.

The campaign will carry the tag line “Do or Die,” and will highlight great moments in Stanley Cup history. One TV spot shows five defining Stanley Cup moments, such as one from a New York Rangers win in 1994.

The campaign also plans heavy local activation in all hockey markets, with messages on coasters in bars and 12 tractor trailers that act as moving billboards.

“The NHL is a massive investment for us, and it’s been a great partnership,” said Bill Bergofin, Versus’ senior vice president of marketing.

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