Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

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Cynopsis Media presents: 
Upfront 2012 – The Sports Market
05/15/12

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, May 15, 2012, and this is your fifth installment of this special series on this year’s Upfront season.

By Chris Pursell

Big events continue to drive the advertising marketplace and with it, the role of sports continues to thrive as both a brand builder and DVR buster. Need convincing? Look no further than the plethora of record-breaking deals signed in the past 12 months as networks battle amongst themselves to land a property to build around.

With $10.9 billion in ads pumped into sports programming on cable and broadcast channels last year, according to Nielsen, the genre continues to look for new ways to grow and expand its relationship with advertisers. 2011 saw over 42,500 hours of live sporting events on national television, a five percent increase over 2010. With new sports channels being added, including Univision Deportes a month ago and the Pac-12 Networks this summer, those numbers are going to continue to swell over the next four quarters.


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Now, as networks make their pitches and haggle with advertisers, analysts project that sports will outpace 2011 trends and certainly break the $11 billion threshold, with projected gains of at least 5% this year, especially with the Olympics just months away. Now, for sponsors, the question becomes how to maximize that investment.

“Watch and buy. Sports is a unique place for both of those data sets,” said Stephen Master, Vice President-Sports at The Nielsen Company. “When you talk to these brands, their investment in sports is so large that they really need to get a handle on it. When you sponsor an NFL, an Olympics or an NCAA Tournament, it’s typically one of your single biggest ad spends of the year. So you really want to pinpoint if you are really moving the needle for that group of fans.”

Last year, AT&T Wireless easily led the way in sports spenders, unloading $423.5 million from the fourth quarter in 2010 to the third quarter of 2011, according to Nielsen. Bud Light took second at $210.2 million, followed by Verizon Wireless, McDonalds and DIRECTV, respectively. Overall, the top ten brands accounted for 26% of the total spend in the genre during that period.

As we hit the summer with the Olympics as well as new seasons of the NFL, college football, the NBA and NHL in the fall, leagues are receiving ample interest in their product.


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The NFL remains the king of the annual heavyweights with some sales already moving ahead of this month’s presentations. All five of the channels that carry the league-CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network- are already holding conversations for the 2012-13 season. A revamped deal signed at the end of the year will give NFL Network more games on the channel, with NBC now adding one of the Thanksgiving Day games to its inventory. CBS is the recipient of the Super Bowl this year and is looking to maximize that venue as well. After scoring $259 million for advertising from this year’s Super Bowl (up from $227.9 million the game nabbed in 2011), NBC is reportedly seeking around seven-figures for a thirty second spot for the primetime game on Thanksgiving, and will continue to leverage the success of Sunday Night Football into the mix.

“The NFL is a good association to have, because parent companies and brands want to be involved,” said Jonathan Miller, President of Programming at the NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network at the Cynopsis Sports Business Summit. “We expect a very robust upfront marketplace for all of our sports, however, because sports deliver where other properties can by cyclical.”

While the likes of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR and NHL continue to draw heavyweight brands, recent premiums on college football mark one area of growth and investment for networks and sponsors alike.

“There’s a plethora of college football inventory out there, and the entire college football landscape has done a 180 from last year, including the FOX Sports Media Group and what they have to offer with their new packages,” said Kevin Collins, SVP, Director National Broadcast and Head of Initiative Sports Buying Group where he also heads the MillerCoors account. “CBS is always healthy with the SEC, they’ve had the national championship team for four out of the last six years. They are always very well sold going into the upfront.”

ESPN, which holds its upfront presentations today, is also capitalizing on the changing college football landscape as well as the sports genre overall. According to Edward Erhardt, President of Global Customer Marketing and Sales at ESPN, the marketplace remains healthy for the category, with sports offering not only the live event atmosphere that shuns DVRs, but also encourages a second-screen experience that compliments viewership, rather than rivals it.

“We are going to continue to amplify how sports programming is the leading genre for entertainment because it is the most desirable, passion-filled kind of entertainment that viewers respond to on every screen,” he said. “Look at the kind of ratings that sports is giving across all of the networks that have that type of programming, it continues to grow. At our presentation, we are going to focus on and talk about how a multi-screen approach is really hitting the sweet spot in the market place today and I think the beauty that has happened with sports and this multiple screen approach it’s that it has become an additive as opposed to just replacement because people are interacting throughout the event.”

For ESPN, insurance remains a hot sponsorship category (Geico and State Farm spent $158.1 million and $127.5 million in sports last year respectively) along with automotive, while men’s grooming continues to rise. That said, buys aren’t specifically targeted toward men anymore.

“The NFL and even the NBA audience for adults, not just men, is so big,” said Erhardt. “If you are selling and you have an adult target you just can’t avoid sports anymore. You got to buy it because now women are involved. That female audience continues to grow and that helps with categories like automotive. They are not just saying I use sports to sell trucks, but to sell family wagons as well.”

In addition to women, sports are also hitting another growing demographic, Hispanics. ESPN reports that 29 million Hispanic sports fans connect with ESPN networks every quarter, with 20% watching only ESPN Deportes, 20% watching both the English networks and ESPN Deportes and the final 60% watching the English networks alone.

Univision has thrived with its recent acquisitions for the Hispanic audiences as well and soccer continues to grow on the channel. The company launched Univision Deportes Network last month in an effort to continue serving audiences with the sport. So far, according to executives, mission accomplished.

“It is very gratifying to see the phenomenal response that we have had from the ad community,” said David Neal, Senior Vice President of Production for Univision Deportes. “We have got Autos, we’ve got VW, Ford, Toyota and GM, among beers we have AB, MillerCoors and Corona, in wireless Verizon and T-Mobile; and in home improvement we’ve got the Home Depot. So that’s a premium lineup of advertisers who all stepped up to be a part of Univision Deportes Network and obviously that’s a big statement on how they see our potential. Based on this response, I would certainly think from my vantage point that it bodes well for the upfront.”

Now, as advertisers hit meetings looking to mine a passionate fanbase and find opportunity to market their brands, networks are utilizing sports to give them that opportunity in an unprecedented manned. The synergistic combination of overall reach, a passionate audience, second-screen viewing and overall engagement in sports programming will continue to place sports as a top priority for sponsors in 2012.

“Sports is a play unlike anything else on television,” said Collins. “Fans are tribal and show an unparalleled loyalty that brands will continue to explore.”

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cyn opsis | Sports
05.15.12

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