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Volume 20 No. 46

Events and Attractions

Earlier in his career as an attorney representing athletes and entertainers, Showtime Sports head Stephen Espinoza worked behind the scenes for two of boxing’s mega-stars, Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson. Even he has been struck by the clamor surrounding the network’s Saturday pay-per-view headlined by Floyd Mayweather against Canelo Alvarez.

Gate, promotions, sponsorship all at record levels for Mayweather-Canelo.
“If we could convert that enthusiasm into pay-per-view buys we’d be doing 12 million pay-per-view buys,” said Espinoza, executive vice president of sports and event programming for Showtime. “It will be an interesting experiment to see how it converts. The assumption is that there’s got to be some correlation when you have this amount of fervor. But we’ll see.”

Though evolutions in technology and viewing habits make it unlikely that any fight will break the pay-per-view record of 2.4 million set by Mayweather and De La Hoya in 2007, Mayweather-Alvarez has a chance to eclipse that bout as the most lucrative PPV ever ($132 million) and is on pace to make boxing history in most other categories.

The live gate for the sold-out fight at the MGM Grand will be the largest ever at $19,905,000, said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, beating the $18,419,200 set by Mayweather-De La Hoya. The fight also will set new Golden Boy highs for closed-circuit sales, sponsorship sales and activation levels, and promotional support by networks and distributors.

“We’re not just breaking the records,” Schaefer said. “We’re shattering them.”

CBS, Showtime and various television distributors will combine to deliver $80 million to $100 million in promotional value through commercials plugging the fight, an increase of about 40 percent over the most they had spent previously on a Golden Boy promotion, Schaefer said.

Sponsorship revenue totals more than $2 million, up from the previous high of $1.25 million and more than double the $800,000 generated by Mayweather-De La Hoya, and sponsors will shift $15 million to $20 million of their media spending to promote the PPV.

Corona distributor Crown Imports is backing the fight with its largest retail activation in sports, with point-of-purchase displays in 15,000 retail outlets across 32 states. The brand cut its own commercial spot promoting the fight, as did another sponsor, AT&T. Corona will devote about $6 million worth of on-air media, airing spots during sports programming on NBC, ESPN, Fox and the NFL Network. AT&T will devote $1.6 million.

Adopting a popular promotion that has been a staple for boxing sponsor Tecate, Valvoline is offering fans a $35 rebate if they purchase the pay-per-view and five quarts of motor oil. O’Reilly Auto Parts, presenting sponsor of the fight at theaters, will promote the bout through a sweepstakes at its 3,800 locations.

The fight also brings a first in televised boxing: Live, five-camera coverage of the fight-week press conference and weigh-in, along with a fully produced, live post-fight show, all of which will air on CBS Sports Network. The weigh-in airs live on Showtime and most U.S. sports networks.

“Our approach is that these are interesting events and they deserve coverage to the full extent of our capabilities,” Espinoza said. “You see [a postgame show] for the Super Bowl. The Final Four. The World Series. This fight is that level of event and it merits continuing coverage after the Showtime PPV goes off the air. We’re trying to extend the engagement the fan has with the event and make the most of the live event itself. … That’s the direction the sports industry is going and there is no reason boxing should be any different.”

Showtime will get unprecedented promotional support from CBS, which will devote $15 million to $20 million worth of spots during sporting events and in prime time. The network promoted Mayweather’s last fight during its Final Four coverage, but that was a month ahead of the event. This fight will get mentioned during CBS’s telecast of Alabama vs. Texas A&M, hours before the pay-per-view.

While promotion in front of a large college football audience could boost the fight, the fact that it comes during football season also could be a hindrance. Of the five most watched PPVs, only Evander Holyfield-Tyson came in the fall.

Tennis has long battled the perception of being an old, stodgy sport. The U.S. Open’s promotional advertising in the past has reflected that to an extent through a reliance on traditional billboards, TV and mainstream ads.

Six months ago, the tournament’s organizers at the U.S. Tennis Association set out to change that, hiring DDB to handle digital advertising, which had been handled internally. The Open for the first time this year advertised on food websites to reach foodies; sites geared toward young women to target those looking for a “girls night out;” and event sites for those eager to attend spectacles. It was a targeted approach rather than scattered consumer outreach.

Sue Hunt, the USTA’s chief marketing officer, said up to 60 percent of the Open’s ad budget remains traditional inventory, which is handled by McGarryBowen. In a city like New York, where people are outside so much, physical ads at railroad stations and subway stops remain a must. Still, the Open now is dedicated to targeting fans through other means.

For example, the Open’s social media push is ticking up. Interactions with fans have grown substantially over last year, Hunt said. Instead of just posting a message on Twitter encouraging readers to buy tickets, messages now solicit feedback.

As of last Wednesday, organizers said the Open was 1,200 tickets ahead of last year’s 709,000 attendance total. The Jewish New Year, which began Wednesday night and which rarely falls during the tournament, could dampen this year’s total, however.

SPONSOR SNAPSHOT: One of the companies active at this year’s event was Esurance, which renewed its Open sponsorship shortly before the start of this year’s tournament. Gary Tolman, CEO of Esurance, which Allstate acquired in 2011, said the online car insurer has an ad budget of $200 million, and currently about $5 million of that is spent in tennis, the bulk of which goes to the Open.

The Open’s social media campaign this year sought to engage, not just to sell tickets.
Tolman is a tennis nut who says he keeps up on the court competitively with endorsers the Bryan brothers. (A source who knows Tolman and the Bryans well contends the brothers are humoring him.) Either way, he plans to invest further in tennis, hoping to ramp up the company’s sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and various exhibitions and lower-tier events.

Esurance is in its fourth year of sponsoring the Open. Before the Open deal, the company spent $200,000 to $300,000 in tennis. The Open gives Esurance brand visibility, Tolman said, though specific sales related to the Open activation are minimal. Still, he says return on investment is good if measured by eyeballs that see Esurance next to premier brands and other Open sponsors like JPMorgan Chase and American Express.

TV TALK: Could CBS be trying to get back into the U.S. Open broadcast business after its deal expires in 2014? ESPN is set to take over in an 11-year deal broadcasting the entire event starting in 2015. Sources said recently that CBS has raised the possibility of sublicensing some of the event back from ESPN. That would seem unlikely given the premier semifinals and finals that CBS has had — which ESPN almost surely will not want to give up.

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus declined to comment. Jason Bernstein, head of ESPN tennis programming, said via text message that there is no chance ESPN would give up parts of the Open and the CBS talk was just that.

ESPN does have sublicensing deals with Tennis Channel for some tournaments, but the matches that flow to the smaller channel are not in highly coveted time slots.

Sources said CBS was surprised ESPN bid as much as it did for the rights ($825 million for the 11 years). CBS had bid $24 million for coverage on Labor Day weekend along with the semifinals and finals, and then showed willingness to go to $30 million, the sources said. But the USTA told CBS not to bother, that ESPN’s bid was too high to pass up.

LOVE GAME: Congratulations to Lagardère Unlimited tennis agent John Tobias, who became a first-time dad last week. His daughter, Emma Rose Tobias, weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces. Tobias represents players including Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and John Isner. He did not attend the Open, however, staying instead with his wife in California.

And Tobias isn’t the only new first-time dad in the tennis fraternity. Former player turned broadcaster and ATP board member Justin Gimelstob welcomed Brandon Graves Gimelstob on Sept. 3 at a hefty 9 pounds, 2 ounces and 20 1/4 inches long.