SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Media

Fox on drive for strong NASCAR ad sales

Using the sales mantra “new season, new surface,” Fox’s sales team has sold 85 to 90 percent of its inventory for the Daytona 500 and expects to sell out this week.

The combination of strong demand across the sports marketplace, where NFL, NCAA and NBA inventory has sold out, and the repaving of Daytona International Speedway, which had two lengthy delays during the 2010 Daytona 500 because of potholes, drove the Daytona ad sales. Prices of individual units during the Daytona 500 broadcast have seen modest increases, according to sources.

Ad sales for the rest of the network’s 13-race schedule are pacing ahead of last year’s levels, as well. Fox benefits from having four of its 13 races air in prime time.

“There was a huge demand for sports product throughout the whole NFL season and that’s carried through to NASCAR,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox Sports’ executive vice president of advertising sales. “The autos are back. The money is up. Right off the bat, that’s great news.”

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Fox expects to sell out its Daytona 500 inventory, and other races are ahead of last year..
Fox is having success despite seeing a decrease in viewership during last year’s NASCAR season. In 2010, Sprint Cup races on Fox were down 7.9 percent from 2009 and 16.8 percent from 2008. It averaged 7.897 million viewers for 11 races that weren’t affected by weather. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series averaged a 3.6 U.S. rating and 5.992 million viewers over 34 races (not including two Monday races) across ABC, ESPN, TNT and Fox, down 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from 2009.

Ad buyers said that corporate advertising demand for NASCAR was more tepid than for other sports such as the sold-out NFL, NBA and NCAA. They added that ratings decreases and attendance decreases have given some companies reason to pause before buying NASCAR inventory, but companies committed to the sport still are expected to advertise heavily.

“There’s a lot of demand out there for inventory, and NASCAR, regardless of the dynamics, is still providing a big number,” said Jeremy Carey, U.S. director for Optimum Sports. “We’ll see some estimates adjusted. Pricing will probably be adjusted as well.”

But Carey said the demand would be there for the 2011 season, especially for this weekend’s Daytona 500, which had the potential to do a 9 or 10 household rating.

“This weekend will tell us a lot,” Carey said. “It’s going to do a big number in a space that’s a big sports weekend.”

Mulcahy said for the first time in two years all four NASCAR manufacturers — Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — are advertising heavily. Auto sales tripled in 2010 from 2009 and are up again this year.

The network also saw strong sales in the wireless, beer, movie and quick-service restaurant categories. Advertisers such as GoDaddy.com and Subway will return. Wal-Mart and other retailers will advertise, as well.

Fox’s most notable new advertiser will be Pizza Hut, which will be the presenting sponsor of the “NASCAR on Fox” pre-race show. The deal puts the pizza chain in the same advertising window it opted for during the Super Bowl when it exchanged inventory during the game for pregame inventory — a move it hoped would boost pizza sales.

Some 2010 advertisers won’t be back this year. Aflac and Tylenol, which declined to renew longtime partnerships with NASCAR, won’t advertise, and Nationwide, which titles NASCAR’s second series, declined to buy because it didn’t see the performance it wanted from its buy in 2010.

“We’ve come to expect a natural rate of attrition,” said Rick Kloiber, vice president of ad sales for Fox Sports. “You expect guys going out, you hope to find guys coming in. We’ve done that.”

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