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Volume 22 No. 31
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TNT subbing ‘pod’ sponsors for 12 ads in Monday NBA games

Kevin Garnett will host the sponsored segments between quarters.
Photo by: TURNER
TNT plans to take 12 commercials out of its Monday night “Players Only” telecasts that debut Feb 27.

Instead of going to three minutes of commercials in between the first and second quarters, and between the third and fourth quarters, TNT will cut to its “Area 21” studio in Atlanta where Kevin Garnett and guests will hold court and talk about the game.

TNT is selling each between-quarter pod to a single advertiser for an undetermined amount. State Farm has signed on to sponsor one of the pods. Turner Sports said it has sold the breaks to other advertisers, including consumer product brands, but was not ready to identify them.

“It is 12 fewer commercials,” said Will Funk, executive vice president of property marketing and corporate partnerships at Turner Sports. “But from a business perspective, we are monetizing those pods to the same or greater extent based on branded content and product integration within the live content.”

The change is part of Turner’s strategy to give its new Monday night game schedule a different look and feel than its highly rated Thursday night games. Turner picked up five Monday night doubleheaders as part of its new media deal.

Talent, including play-by-play, analysts and studio hosts, all will be former NBA players. Ernie Johnson, Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan will not appear. Neither will Turner’s famous former players, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal or Kenny Smith.

Instead, Turner will have Brent Barry call one game with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, and Greg Anthony call the other game with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton. Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will be the sideline reporters.

Down the hall from Garnett’s “Area 21” studio, Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis will be on a more traditional set.

“We started to look at what we thought differentiated us and centered on our talent and former players,” said Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ executive vice president of production and chief content officer. “Our driving force was to make it exclusive to players. … Let’s not get restricted to the definition of the traditional play-by-play and host. Let them reinvent those positions.”

State Farm’s sponsorship will include on-set signage and on-screen graphics. The show’s host, Garnett, will incorporate the company’s “Right Combinations” slogan into the segment. The segment’s last 30 seconds will be a State Farm commercial produced by Turner and feature the network’s stars, Funk said.

TNT originally approached the NBA’s official partners to buy the sponsorships, but the network is prepared to expand beyond that group.

“There’s a premium associated with the ownership of these pods,” Funk said. “It’s unprecedented that you can own a three-minute pod in high-profile sports programming. … They’re willing to pay for that. They’re willing to pay a premium for that.”

Turner executives are confident that the move will work. It has reduced commercial loads in some entertainment programming and seen ratings increase, executives said.

“We would love to roll this out more extensively,” Funk said. “We don’t think there’s any question that it will help viewership and help time-spent-viewing.”