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Volume 21 No. 1
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Camps deftly manage their sports buys

For an inside view of how closely the campaigns manage their sports buys, consider the way the Obama campaign handled a buy on Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV in the days leading up to the Sept. 9 prime-time NASCAR race in Richmond.

Before the start of the college football season, the campaign bought a full run of spots on the weekly ABC prime-time game in several battleground markets, including Orlando, where it signed on at a season rate of $3,500 a spot, per game, or $5,400 if it bought three spots in a night.

Because candidates are entitled to the lowest rate offered to any advertiser in a given program, those are only starting points. If another advertiser gets a spot for less, the station must offer the campaign that same, reduced rate. When rates go up, the campaign pays up or bows out. A prime-time ABC college football slot has ranged from $2,700 to $3,300 in Orlando this season.

With NASCAR on the menu on Sept. 8 instead of college football, WFTV revised the rate from $3,500 to $2,200 and offered the slots to the campaign. Rather than moving off the night, the Obama campaign, which has bought NASCAR regionally on ESPN, decided to dive in. On Sept. 6, it placed an $8,800 order for two 60-second spots during the race, run in Richmond. But the campaign wasn’t finished. A day later it changed from the two 60s to four 30s.

That’s the sort of fluid, strategic movement the campaign has executed in contested markets across the country for the last two months.

In all of this, incumbency has its advantages.

“Obama has had the time and resources to invest in an incredibly sophisticated targeting and buying operation,” said Elizabeth Wilner, vice president for strategic initiatives at Kantar Media’s campaign analysis group. “On every front of the air war they have been the leaders, whether through local cable or on sports or somewhere else. They’ve had years to prepare and plan. They’re just ahead of the game. Sports is no different than for anything else.”

— Bill King