Exclusive: Fox Sports Sells Out MLB All-Star Game

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Fox Sports is about to sell out its Major League Baseball All-Star Game ad inventory at the quickest pace since it acquired the property in 1996.

According to Fox Sports chief Ed Goren, there are only a “handful” of spots left in the July 10 broadcast. The network has been commanding prices around $400,000 per 30 second spot, up from $375,000 last year. Last year’s inventory sold out approximately two weeks before the game.

And while the television ratings of the NBA playoffs were an air ball this spring, both Fox Sports and ESPN have already been banking strong baseball numbers. Fox is averaging an all-time-high 3.7 million viewers for its Saturday baseball package, up from 3.3 million last year.

ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecasts averaged 3.1 million viewers for the first nine games, up 45% from the 2.14 million average for the 10 telecasts through this time last year. Including its midweek games, ESPN has seen a 40% increase over last year, to 1.94 million viewers on average.

“For the first year of a new deal to have this strong a start, not just us but the ESPN numbers as well, is just great,” says Goren. He says Fox has already hit its sales-revenue targets for the entire regular season in a year in which the network increased the games it carries from 18 to 26.

“We wondered if the marketplace would be there for the longer season, and thankfully their very loud answer has been yes,” Goren says.

Helping ratings this year is that major-market teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets are all in or near first place, and the New York Yankees are streaking into contention after a horrid start.

Big-market teams playing in an exciting and long series is exactly what Fox and Turner Sports are hoping for in the playoffs, and exactly what ESPN/ABC did not get from the NBA finals.

After the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in a low-scoring series, the ratings were on track at press time to end up as the lowest series in NBA Finals history.

The small markets—San Antonio is 37th in the country, Cleveland 17th—didn’t help either, but the numbers have sounded some alarm bells in the NBA world. “I was surprised [ratings] were that low,” says ESPN analyst Jon Barry.

But perhaps the biggest disappointment of the series was the play of Cavaliers star LeBron James, who jumped to NBA stardom straight from high school. After a stellar 48-point performance in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals had the sports world abuzz and NBA execs dreaming of an audience of millions tuning in to see the hoops prodigy, James failed to live up to the hype in the Finals, and the ratings plummeted.

“LeBron James still has a lot to learn, and everybody wanted to anoint him the next Michael Jordan,” says NBA Hall of Famer-turned-broadcaster Rick Barry. “But he has a long way to go.”

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