ESPN, Tops in Men's Sports Ad Sales, Branches Out to Women

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Ed
Erhardt, president of ESPN global customer marketing and sales, says not only
will his sales team be touting cross-platform selling at the network's May
upfront presentation, but he believes that for the first time it will have
an audience of media buyers eager to capitalize on all of the multi-screen
sales opportunities offered.

TV
sports ad sales has been doing some of its briskest business ever, first with
the NFL season and now with the NBA, and the outlook for the MLB season is also
mighty bright. ESPN is a major player in all of those live sports
telecasts and Erhardt says ad sales are running ahead of last season's levels.

In
addition to its ad sales in traditionally male sports, ESPN is venturing more
heavily into marketing its women's sports telecasts and concentrating on ad
growth there too.

Last October, ESPN launched
espnW, an initiative to connect female fans with sports, which included Website
espnW.com. How has that progressed from an advertising sales standpoint?

Our
espnW effort has been particularly successful so far. We have about 2 million
unique visitors to the site each month. Right now, we are tying the site into
our NCAA Women's Basketball Championship tournament coverage on the TV network.
Nike, Gatorade and P&G's Venus and Secret brands were founding partners. In
February, Oakley became an official partner, and Colavita, the Italian food
products company, just formed a new Women's Professional Cycling team,
co-branded with espnW. We are finding that advertisers who are with us for men's
sports, like Nike, Gatorade and P&G, are now spending additional dollars
with us toward the female sports audience. For example, P&G's Gillette is a
big advertiser in our male sports telecasts, and Venus is now advertising in
our women's sports offerings.

So this is an area of great
potential sales growth?

Yes.
More women are not only watching more traditional men's sports but are also
watching more women's sports. And those numbers keep increasing each year.

TV ratings for the NBA are up for
the regular season to date. How has that affected ESPN's NBA ad
sales?

We are
seeing strong advertiser demand for our NBA telecasts, particularly as the
season winds down and we get closer to the playoffs. On ESPN, season-to-date
ratings are up 5% and we are averaging 1.5 million viewers per telecast, and on
ABC, ratings are up 12% and we are averaging 4.3 million viewers per telecast.
The March 4 Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers game on ABC drew 7 million
viewers, the largest audience on ABC for a non-Christmas Day regular season
game ever. The NBA playoffs will be one of the strongest opportunities on
television in April, May and June for advertisers to reach mass sports
audiences on a regular basis. We will be televising the NBA Eastern Conference
playoffs on ESPN and ABC, as well as the NBA Finals on ABC.

The Major League Baseball regular
season begins in a few weeks. How are sales going for that?

The
baseball market, like the NBA, is also strong. There seems to be more of an anticipation
for the baseball season by advertisers than in the past. One thing that helped
was that the MLB negotiations with the players' association to come up with a
new collective bargaining agreement were resolved quietly. So advertisers had
some peace of mind about the MLB season. Also, a lot of our baseball inventory
for this season was sold in the last upfront, so we are building off a good
base going into the season.

What about sales for the MLB
post-season and the Home Run Derby telecast the night before the All-Star game
in July?

The
Home Run Derby is pretty well sold already. There are a lot of multiyear deals
in baseball for the post-season and the Home Run Derby and there isn't a
baseball sales plan that we have sold that doesn't include some Home Run Derby
telecast inventory as part of the package.

Where do you stand with NASCAR
and NFL sales?

It's
still a bit early for both of those. We have the second half of the season in
NASCAR which begins in late July. But we feel good at where we will end up with
that. Fox seems to be doing well with its sales for the first half. Our
NFL sales will begin heating up as we get closer to the upfront in May and at
that point NFL selling will be dominant for us for a while.

ESPN adds expert commentators to
its sports telecasts, shoulder programming and as online contributors on an
ongoing basis. Among the big names added recently were Chris Evert as a
year-round tennis analyst and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a columnist on ESPN.com.
Is this something you use as a sales tool?

We don't
sell based on their names per se, but adding former stars in their respective
sports positions the network in the minds of viewers as being a leading
authority in each of the sports we cover and televise. And the more viewers we
get, the more attractive we are to advertisers.

ESPN has been touting multiplatform
ad sales for several years now. Why do you believe this upfront will be the
year that a large influx of clients will begin to put more dollars into digital
and mobile?

For a
long time, advertisers believed they could reach NFL fans through digital
advertising because of the popularity of fantasy leagues. But now they are
realizing that those fans are online for MLB and the NBA content in large
numbers also; these fans are going to our sites not only for fantasy and stats
but for live games and video highlights. And we are offering those same
online live events and highlights via mobile devices. In the past few
months we have been seeing a lot of digital scatter sales for our NBA and MLB content.
This is a new trend. And it's not just for digital display ads. It's also for
advertising in video and it's not just online but also on mobile. There is
clearly an appetite for live games on every device. This will be the first year
of a true multimedia upfront.

And the advertising you carry
online and on mobile in your live sports telecasts are all sold separately from
the advertising in your TV telecasts?

Yes, it is all sold
separately, so that the advertising online or mobile is not necessarily the
same ads that are running at the same time on the TV telecasts.

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