SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue

NFL Network sees strong ad market for games

NFL Network is about to embark on its fifth season of live games with its strongest advertising sales to date.

The network’s game inventory is virtually sold out, and rates for a 30-second spot are up in the high single-digit percentages from last year. NFL Network officials would not specify how much the spots are selling for.

The ad sales market has been so busy that NFL Network only has a few spots available in its last game of the season: a Christmas night game between Dallas and Arizona.

“We tried to front-load our units this year,” said David Pattillo, the NFL’s vice president of media sales who sells the league’s media properties and has been with the league for seven years. “This is the best market since I’ve been here.”

NFL Network credits a strong overall marketplace that helped each of the league’s broadcast networks enter the season with its inventory virtually sold out. Fox started the season with only a handful of Super Bowl spots available.

NFL Network’s strong sales also come as the network still hasn’t been able to work out deals with some of the country’s biggest cable operators, including Time Warner, Charter and Cablevision. The network is in 57 million homes.

Pattillo said the network’s ad sales have been helped by three particularly strong games to lead off its schedule: Baltimore-Atlanta (Thursday), Chicago-Miami (Nov. 18) and Cincinnati-N.Y. Jets (Thanksgiving night, Nov. 25).

NFL Network signed most of its deals during the upfront selling season in June and July. Those deals packaged ads during live games with a buy elsewhere along NFL media, such as NFL.com or on other NFL Network shows, such as “Total Access” or “GameDay.”

In September and October, NFL Network started selling individual game spots in the scatter market.

Auto has been the strongest category for sales. NFL Network signed Lexus as the presenting sponsor for its pre-kick segment, from 8 to 8:29 p.m. ET, which is different from the network’s pregame show. The pre-kick segment is carried by the local broadcasters that pick up the rights to NFL Network games that involve their local-market teams.

NFL Network also sold presenting sponsorships to Sears (pregame, from 6 to 8 p.m.), Sprint (halftime) and Kay Jewelers (postgame). All three are returning sponsors.

Pattillo said he’s fielded a lot of interest about potential sponsorships on NFL RedZone, as well. The network is not selling the channel this season but hopes to sell one seasonlong sponsorship to an NFL partner next season. The sponsorship would be worth at least $1 million, Pattillo said.

“We’re getting a ton of buyer interest for that,” Pattillo said. “We’ve left it unsponsored this year to check demand. It’s one of the biggest pieces of real estate that we have.”

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