SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/This Week's News

ESPN sells out Christmas Day NBA games, paces well ahead for season

ESPN essentially has sold out of its Christmas Day inventory for its five-game slate of NBA games and is pacing a double-digit percentage ahead of last year for the entire NBA season, said the network’s head of ad sales, Ed Erhardt.

The network’s ad sales story underscores the ad sales strength of the sports marketplace.

“The NBA is a strong media vehicle in today’s overall marketplace, not just today’s sports marketplace,” Erhardt said. “This continues to demonstrate that sports is performing very well in this marketplace.”

ESPN would not comment on pricing. But sources said rates have increased on average by a high single-digit percentage.

The strong ad sales also validate the NBA’s tradition of playing high-profile games on Dec. 25.

The NBA has played games on Christmas Day since 1947, and has had games nationally televised every year since 1982.

“We’ve built a long-standing tradition of having these Christmas Day games,” said Mark Tatum, NBA executive vice president of marketing partnerships. “Fans have come to expect these kinds of marquee matchups.”

Tatum said many of the NBA’s marketing partners are heavily involved in the Christmas broadcasts, citing T-Mobile’s sponsorship of a halftime feature as an example. T-Mobile, which is in the second year of a three-year ad deal, will produce a “100% You” feature that will have NBA players discuss passions they have.

Larry Novenstern, Optimedia executive vice president director of national electronic media, who represents T-Mobile, is attracted by the marketing ESPN does around its NBA Christmas telecasts, saying that it helps give the games a big-event feel.

“It’s a destination for us,” Novenstern said. “People travel less on Christmas. The matchups are generally compelling. We think it’s a great launching pad.”

Part of that marketing occurs on Christmas Eve, when another NBA marketing partner, Nike, is presenting sponsor of a show called “Twas the Night Before an NBA Christmas,” which previews the next day’s games.

The marquee matchup of the day will be at 5 p.m. ET, when LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers play Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers on ABC. The broadcast network also will carry the Boston-Orlando game at 2:30 p.m. ET.

ESPN will carry the other three games, starting with Miami-New York at noon; the Los Angels Clippers-Phoenix at 8 p.m.; and Denver-Portland at 10:30 p.m.

Unique sponsorships include NBA partner Sprite, which signed on as presenting sponsor of the Christmas Day games.

ESPN signed a co-branded marketing deal with 20th Century Fox, which is pushing its movie “Percy Jackson.” The two developed a co-branded spot to drive fans to the Christmas Day games.

Other sponsorships include Orbitz, which signed as a presenting sponsor for NBA Wednesday and NBA Friday in the week leading up to Christmas; GM, which renewed its GMC NBA Countdown, which starts Christmas on ABC; LG, which will sponsor the Gametrack feature in all five Christmas games; and Flo TV, which will sponsor a “Flow of the Game” feature.

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