SBJ/August 20 - 26, 2007/This Weeks News

CBS reports ad inventory nearly sold out for U.S. Open

U.S. tennis may not be producing many stars these days, but it is showing surprising strength on television and in the advertising community.

CBS is reporting strong ad sales for the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, which begin next Monday. Inventory is nearly sold out, with only a handful of spots left. Likewise, media ad buyers are saying that they are placing more buys in this year's two-week tennis championship than they have in the previous decade.

USTA chief executive Arlen
Kantarian says momentum in
tennis is the highest in years.

“We’re not sold out, but we are very, very tight,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of CBS Sports sales. “There seems to be renewed interest in this event.”

CBS is up double digits in revenue, thanks to 7 to 8 percent price increases and interest from new advertisers.

CBS is selling its advertising as part of a package throughout the tournament, which generally translates to $50,000 for 30-second spots in the early rounds and around $250,000 for a 30-second spot for the finals. Last year, CBS charged around $46,000 for the early-round matches and about $230,000 for the men’s final.

Some media buyers are crediting the U.S. Open’s success to the overall sports marketplace, which has been particularly strong this year. Ad buyers are describing postseason baseball and regular-season football as healthy this year.

“With prime-time entertainment underdelivering, and prime-time ratings not good, I think you’re seeing money that might not otherwise go to sports looking for a place to land,” said Todd Gordon, an ad buyer for the ad buying agency Mediacom.

To his point, CBS has several new advertisers for the U.S. Open this year, including Wachovia, ING, Valspar, Info USA and Goodyear.

But CBS also has had success with official USTA partners such as American Express, Lexus, IBM, Mass Mutual and Olympus. Chase signed on to sponsor the telecasts’ replay challenges (See related story, page 3). The USTA has been pushing its official sponsors to activate and advertise more around the tournament.

“We haven’t seen this kind of momentum for tennis in the U.S. in years,” said Arlen Kantarian, the USTA’s chief executive of professional tennis, who credits the four-year-old U.S. Open Series for driving interest in the sport. “This further substantiates our investment in the U.S. Open Series. Any major sport is about telling a seasonlong story leading up to an event. That applies here.”

Ad buyers, however, are still taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the sport as a whole, though some believe the U.S. Open Series is helping to market the two-week Open event better than before.

“It’s probably too soon to call the upswing in tennis a trend, but it’s definitely encouraging,” Gordon said. “They’ve done a much better job at marketing the U.S. Open in the weeks preceding it.”

Tennis officials believe
television ratings can double
over the next couple of years.

Tennis officials are also pointing to TV ratings this summer, which are at their highest level since before the series launched in 2003. So far, ESPN2 has posted a 0.4 rating/330,593 households through seven U.S. Open Series tournaments this year, up from the 0.3 rating/259,483 households it posted from nine tournaments last year.

Tennis ratings posted a slight decline on NBC this year, which tennis officials attributed to a poor matchup. NBC broadcasts the semifinals and finals from the Indianapolis Tennis Championship. Last year’s final, between popular Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake, posted a 1.0 rating/963,000 households. This year’s final, between Dmitry Tursunov and Frank Dancevic, pulled a 0.7 rating/668,000 households.

ESPN officials attribute part of the bump to a scheduling change that has the network telecasting fewer hours this year. Last year, it produced 110 hours from nine tournaments. This year, it’s committed to produce 96 hours from nine tournaments — a 14.5 percent difference.

“That has really tightened up our schedule,” said Len DeLuca, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming.

Ratings for the Open Series events remain roughly 20 percent below Grand Slam ratings for ESPN, DeLuca said. The Australian Open and Wimbledon typically pull 0.6 ratings for the network, he said.

“In terms of TV, that’s the level that we should expect,” he said.

But tennis officials believe ratings can double over the next couple of years, particularly if the Open Series becomes appointment viewing for tennis fans between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That’s why it has scheduled its championship matches for 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoons.

“Every weekend, you can see championship tennis,” said Alan Gold, managing director of the U.S. Open Series.

DeLuca hinted that ESPN may make a run for the cable package that USA holds to the U.S. Open. That contract expires next year.

“Our future in tennis is with the Grand Slams,” DeLuca said. “We want to make the Grand Slams more solid. That is why we’re doing so much to promote the U.S. Open Series even when the U.S. Open is not on our own network.”

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