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SBJ/April 7 - 13, 2008/This Weeks News
MLB ad time on Fox, Turner going, going …
Published April 7, 2008
Major League Baseball’s television partners are selling ad inventory at a record pace this season, with both Fox and Turner reporting that they are virtually sold out for the regular season.
ESPN says it is “very, very well sold,” and is planning to hold back some inventory for the scatter market. And Fox Sports Net’s regional networks were 85 percent sold going into Opening Day. The networks said they didn’t expect to post these kind of numbers until well into the second quarter.
The gaudy numbers show that baseball, as with most other live sports, is not feeling the effects of an economic slowdown.
They also indicate how important the New York market is in selling ads. Ad buyers and ad sales executives unanimously believe part of the reason for the strong early sales is the fact that this year’s All-Star Game will be played during the final season at Yankee Stadium.
“These are the kinds of things that make this season special,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN’s customer marketing and sales. “There is an anticipation among New York buyers, especially with the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby occurring at Yankee Stadium this year.”
The All-Star Game also is paying dividends for Fox. The game already is 80 percent sold, with new advertisers paying as much as $550,000 for 30-second spots. The amount of units sold is pacing 20-25 percent above last year.
“Major League Baseball does a great job getting their sponsors to work with us,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox Sports executive vice president of sales.
This marks the second season Fox is selling a 26-week schedule. Previously, it started carrying games in late May. This also is the first season when Turner starts its 26-week schedule. Last year, it had 70 Braves games on its schedule.
“Going from 70 to 26 didn’t leave us a lot of inventory,” said Trish Frohman, Turner Sports executive vice president of ad sales. “This is a great place to be to start a season.”
Wireless and movie companies have been strong nationally for Fox, as has been the case with the network for years in both baseball and football. Turner has seen strength in the financial and quick service restaurant categories.
The spillover also is helping Fox’s and Turner’s playoff sales. Both networks say they typically start selling the playoffs around the May upfronts. But both already are pacing strongly ahead of last year and are optimistic that the playoff market will be strong.
“The big story for us right now is that baseball is virtually sold out,” said Mike Law, of the media buying agency Carat. “Inventory is shrinking.”
The only potential sign of the worrisome economy is in local markets. FSN, which sells against 14 teams on its 16 networks and reps for four others, has seen some weakness in the domestic auto and home-building categories, which have been important foundations of the regional sports network ad sales business.
But it has filled those holes with new business in the casual restaurant and consumer product categories. FSN ad sales are tracking ahead of last year by the high single digit percentages. Its baseball ad sales are bringing in about $180 million in ad sales revenue. That figure accounts for 65 percent of FSN’s total revenue.
“The current economy has shuffled the deck in terms of our advertisers,” said Kyle Sherman, executive vice president for FSN’s national ad sales.
In the Midwest market, which is being most affected by the economic slowdown, FSN is reporting that the Tigers are more than 85 percent sold on FSN Detroit and the Reds are more than 80 percent sold on FSN Ohio.
“Go around the Rust Belt and it’s tough sledding,” Sherman said. “But live sports are still seen to be a safe harbor place to engage and connect with viewers.”
The regionals are expecting to see some political money, especially in Pennsylvania before the Democratic primary. National networks say they expect some, but not much, political money this year.
“It’s not something that we’re building into our numbers,” Erhardt said.