Sunday, May 12th, 2013



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Cynopsis Media Presents: Upfront The Sports Market

by Chris Pursell

Statistics continue to show that nearly every year is a banner year for sports. Last year saw nearly 60,000 hours of sports programming hours hit the national broadcast and cable networks in 2012, a 45% increase bolstered by the Summer Olympics, according to Nielsen. Now, the question that continues to surface is how much higher can the ceiling go?


On air, online & on the go, BTN tops collegiate coverage
BTN is the nation’s premier college sports network, with more appearances by Top 10 football and basketball teams than any other collegiate network. BTN airs 450+ live events yearly, including 40 football & 115 men’s basketball games & Emmy-nominated programming. In 52+ million homes nationwide, most outside the Big Ten region. BTN also has a wide range of digital, mobile & social media applications, including BTN2Go, the network’s 24/7 multi-platform extension.

Sponsors continue to line up for programming that is TiVo-proof, delivers ratings and demos, offers up a highly-engaged fan base and generates watercooler conversation. Last year, $13.3 billion was spent on advertising within sports event programming, which accounts for 23% of total National TV ad spend. Top advertisers included AT&T at $342.8 million, followed by Bud Light, Verizon Wireless, Geico and DIRECTV.

ESPN’s All-Star upfront presentation yesterday showed that the company is getting ready to double down on new revenue opportunities with brands by pushing that sports still gets audiences to watch live. The presentation showcased opportunities that ranged from ad-embedded highlights and clips available for Twitter to a brand new SportsCenter bus that is available for sponsorship.

“ESPN is not just a brand: we’re brands on brands, like ‘The NFL on ESPN,'” said Sean Bratches, Executive Vice President, Sales & Marketing at ESPN. “We are serving our advertisers by doing things like our Ad Innovation Hackathon, which before now was only an editorial offering. We have always been innovators:it’s like what Wayne Gretsky used to say: you want to skate to where the puck is going to be.”

Indeed, sports are driving the bus and the next 15 months will almost certainly continue to drive that momentum. The launch of FOX Sports 1 in August, the Winter Olympics in February and the World Cup in the summer of 2014 will fuel opportunities for networks and advertisers alike.

“Everybody loves some type of competition-not that we are competing with ESPN-but when you are the only person in the marketplace, you can demand what you get,” said Neil Mulcahy, Executive VP of Sales and FOX Sports Media Group. “So FOX Sports 1 has been welcomed incredibly well by the advertising community because sports get stronger and stronger on a yearly basis. We are literally putting together a group of charter advertisers who are coming to us and letting us know what they want to achieve.”

Mulcahy notes that the most popular games continue to be magnets for dollars, noting that this year’s MLB All-Star Game in New York is outpacing 2012, with over 80% sold, while the regular season is pretty much sold out through August. Meanwhile, FOX also broadcasts the Super Bowl next year, and the company is looking to leverage the event to develop stronger relationships with brands.

“If we just wanted to sell Super Bowl units, we would probably be sold out already, but the fact is, we’re trying to build a network as well as longevity so we are talking to people about all of our products together so we can create partnerships,” he said.

The big events are selling out across the spectrum or quickly, and buyers and sellers alike are projecting CPM increases that could potentially average 8% when all is said and done, with other sports looking at lower single digits in a vibrant market. Volume increases could average in the upper single digits. Coupled with the fact that broadcast is looking at 1-2% in general makes this is an even more remarkable statistic.

“For tier one national sports, all the key sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, the post-season MLB schedule, NASCAR races, are basically sold out,” said Jon Diament, Executive VP, Turner Sports Ad Sales and Marketing. “The market is getting conditioned to purchasing this stuff early because it will sell out early, unless you are a product like movies where it can be difficult to predict release dates that far ahead of time. But if you’re a marketer, it would be smart to secure your inventory earlier and that would be in the upfront.”

While the sexy contests get the press, the real business has been in deepening partnerships and digital extensions which, for all intents and purposes, are now expected rather than optional.
“Everybody is taking for granted that there will be digital extensions to everything that we’re going to market with,” said Lou Koskovolis, Senior Vice President, Golf Media Sales, NBC Sports Group. “Only two years ago, there were still a lot of people who weren’t selling it that way.”

The attraction is clear. Nearly 60% of tablet and smartphone owners who access sports on their device check this content at least once a day, according to Nielsen. NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage last summer set multiple records with video streams, engagement time and page views for NBC Olympics Digital with nearly 2 billion page views and 159 million video streams. This year’s Super Bowl on CBS saw 3 million fans streaming the game online, the largest ever for a single sporting event.

Even without the likes of the Olympics and the Super Bowl, digital extensions continue to resonate. Two years in, BTN’s TV Everywhere platform BTN2Go saw growth of 326% in video views in its second year, with a rise of 393% in total hours streamed and a spike of 212% in app downloads year over year.

“There are a lot more offerings for brands, whether it’s mobile, social or live streaming,” said Kevin Collins, Senior Vice President and Director of National Broadcast/USA at Initiative. “All of that has only enhanced the viewing options as well as sponsorship opportunities for us while also changing the experience for the viewer.”

While those options provide opportunity, there are challenges as well given the sheer volume of platforms that a viewer can choose from. For a sponsor, it means an overwhelming number of entry points, but also an opportunity to target highly engaged audiences like never before. Gary Herman, Senior VP of Ad Sales at Tennis Channel, believes that digital extensions in sports helps assure buyers that reliable ratings will be delivered.

“I don’t think that what sponsors have wanted has changed over the past few years, I think how they get it has changed,” said Herman, who notes that the auto, insurance and travel industries have been particularly strong for the network this year.

“They know who they want to target but there are more than 300 channels as well as second screens, mobile devices, and other places to go. Although TV viewing time is up, it is spread out over a lot of different venues. In addition, agencies and clients don’t want to feel like they have to alter their budget allocations year over year and they want to have confidence that the programming they buy is going to deliver a reliable number. Sports deliver that and we are looking to maximize those opportunities for them.”

Network executives state that the importance of streaming goes beyond offering an addition service for viewers.

“It’s very important not just for advertising but for our distributor relationships as well,” said Michael Calderon, BTN Vice President, Digital and Interactive Media. “This is an era where TV Everywhere is championed as the service that will prevent people from cord-cutting. If you want to be able to watch new entertainment or live sports outside of your living room, you need to be able to access services like BTN2Go and some of the other TV Everywhere app that are out there. So it is very key for us in terms of distribution, and it’s key as it relates to delivering to our viewers.”

For Turner Sports, digital partnerships with the NBA, NCAA, NASCAR and the PGA, as well as the company’s recent acquisition of The Bleacher Report, open up new avenues for brand messaging.

“We want to do multi-year sponsorships that have a lot of different facets to it,” said Diament. “All of our sites can be thread through all of these sponsorships with these leagues.”

Diament brings up a recent promotion as an example of leveraging multiple properties into one deal and deepening the relationship with a client.

“Ford came to us and we created a website section within Bleacher Report called Behind the Mike that utilized A-list talent to give insight and unique access to what’s happening in their sport,” he said. “We might have Charles Barkley, we might have Howie Long in the NFL, or Nick Faldo from golf, but we created branded content that was all being sponsored by Ford and was thread throughout all of our sports. That sponsorship was on TV and digital and mobile and yet because it ran through all of our sports, it bound them together.”

While deals typically look to be wrapped up by July 4th, the increasing number of outlets and complexity of deals threatens that tradition. Of course, sports have the benefit of a four-season selling cycle.

“We do upfront deals pretty much year-round,” said Koskovolis. “You have the endemics who want to cut deals at certain times, others who will go at any time, and then you have the autos that will move either with the regular broadcast upfront, or with a separate sports upfront. But in the end, the sports industry delivers in a way that is unique and effective, and we only see good things ahead.”

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cynopsis | Sports

Roberta Caploe: Editorial Director
Denise O’Connor: Group Publisher, Cynopsis Media
Diane K Schwartz: Senior Vice President, Media Communications Group

Cynopsis Ad Sales: Mike Farina | VP Sales & Marketing | 203-218-6480
Classifieds Sales: Trish Pihonak | Director of Operations & Content | 888-702-3858

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