Major League Baseball Network's sales chief Bill Morningstar
says that when dealing with advertisers, his intention is always to
"under-promise and over-deliver."
The scorecard on Morningstar can be summed up with: So far,
so good. MLB Network has set ratings records for both first and second quarters
and it is on its way to a record third quarter as well.
Year-to-date, MLB Network's average total day viewership is
up 38% over 2012, including increases in every key demo. Viewership among men
18-34 is up 50%, among men 18-49 it's up 28% and among men 25-54, it's up 32%.
For the 2013 baseball season, which for MLB Network began in
early April, the network's regular season game viewership is up 10% over 2012
with an average of 242,000 viewers per game. Meanwhile, MLB Tonight, the network's flagship studio show, has seen a 26%
increase in viewers over the 2012 regular season. Sunday editions of MLB Tonight are up 44%.
In other good news for advertisers who have invested in the
network, for the week of July 29 through Aug. 4 -- when it aired comprehensive
coverage leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, including 13 live hours
on July 31 -- the network recorded its second-most watched regular season week
ever based on total day viewership. It averaged 114,000 viewers, up 50% from
the same week in 2012.
Overall since its launch in 2009, MLB Network's average
total day viewership has increased 162%. Granted, the percentages are off
smaller base audiences, but for advertisers who bought into the network when it
first debuted, or even those who bought ad time for this current baseball
season, they have pretty much experience over-delivery of viewers throughout.
The net's regular programming continues to show steady
annual growth. Comparing current viewership to viewership when first launched, The
Rundown (2-4 p.m.) is up 60%; MLB Now (4-5 p.m.) is up 14%; Intentional
Talk (5-6 p.m.) is up 59%; and Hot Stove (which airs during the
off-season) is up 118%.
Getting the Product
Morningstar acknowledges that MLB Network took a while to
get off the ground as far as drawing audience but he said some of the early
lack of push to get viewers was because the network was more focused on
establishing itself in the studio and on camera.
"Our goal when we started the network was to make sure the
programming, the on-air product, was top rate," Morningstar says. Another
element was to develop a sales philosophy of catering to advertiser needs
beyond what Morningstar calls "cookie-cutter sponsorships that all look the
"The hardest thing over the past five years as a new network
has been getting viewers to sample us, but once they do, it seems like many of
them are coming back," Morningstar adds. On top of that, the network has
signage in all the Major League ballparks promoting the network and is a major
player in social media.
And Morningstar said major event telecasts, such as the
World Baseball Classic and the network's two upcoming postseason MLB division
playoff games, also bring in new viewers and give more exposure to the network.
Jennifer Shaw, senior VP of strategic planning and
integrated marketing, says the network has 628,000 followers on Facebook and 400,000 on Twitter and
that the network regularly uses Twitter to notify viewers when something
significant, such as a no-hitter, is going on during a game. She says the
network also incorporates viewer tweets into some of the live programming and
during the games.
"We give the viewers a voice on the network and even make
changes in on our programming based on viewer suggestions," Morningstar says.
Regarding the audience appeal of the network's non-game
programming, Morningstar says shows such as Intentional Talk, MLB Now
and MLB Tonight are all drawing younger male viewers, and this enables
the network to target across more demos for advertisers.
"Males are our strength overall, but marketers can tap into
any of the specific male demos and we can customize the right programming mix
for them to reach their target audience," Morningstar says.
Some of the network's programming brings in a large
multi-demo audience when aired live the first time and then repeated later.
Morningstar says when Quick Pitch
airs live in its late-night slot, it draws a younger male audience. However,
when the network televises it in repeat the next morning, the show draws an
older male crowd, along with many dads who watch with their young sons.
Pay to Play
Sponsorships have become a real sweet spot for the network
and for its ad partners. Shaw says there are so many that it's becoming hard to
find new ways to incorporate everyone who wants to be in.
"When we get a presenting sponsor, it's not just mentioning
them with a logo on the screen," Shaw says. "We make sure the sponsorship
really addresses what the advertiser wants and who they want to speak to."
Beer maker Leinenkugel, for example, became the presenting
sponsor of the MLB Tonight postgame show. "One of the things they wanted
to focus on was the color of their Summer Shandy brand of beer," Shaw says. "So
we worked closely with them to develop on-air signage on the set that featured
the exact color of the beer. No detail is too small."
Another example of a different kind of sponsorship is the
one the network has done with Disney for its animated movie Planes. At
the opening of every live game telecast, the network runs an animated "flyover"
at the stadium by several of the planes in the movie.
"We delve into every brand to make sure we get aspects
right," Morningstar says, "right down to the color schemes on our sets, as well
as trying to do different and unique on-screen graphics."
Morningstar would not give an exact number of advertisers on
the network, but says there are now "hundreds." Beyond Leinenkugel, the list of
presenting sponsors includes Chevrolet (presenting sponsor of MLB Network
Showcase game telecasts), Pizza Hut (the MLB Network Showcase pregame
show, On Deck Circle), Subway
(Friday night game telecasts), Dove Men + Care (Tuesday night game telecasts),
Mercedes Benz (Pennant Chase baseball), Degree (Quick Pitch), MasterCard (MLB Now), Ford (MLB
Tonight on Sundays), Romano's Macaroni Grill (Intentional Talk in
August), Gillette (presenting sponsor for "Plays of the Week" and
"Plays of the Month" features), Nike (MLB Network Strike Zone channel), Geico
(the two October division postseason layoff game telecasts), Firestone
(All-Star Game programming in July), Old Spice (Trade Deadline coverage in
July) and Honda (presenting sponsor of "Bleacher Features" series of films in
August, including For theLove of
the Game, Major League 2 and Eight Men Out).
While not yet boasting ESPN numbers, Morningstar says MLB
Network sells itself to advertisers by touting its programming, on-air talent
and its steady ratings growth, pointing out that advertisers can still get into
the mix at reasonable rates.
"Marketers can still come in now and become partners with us
as we continue to grow out audience," Morningstar says.
As for the two divisional playoff games in October,
Morningstar says a good portion of that inventory was sold as parts of packages
in the upfront. However, he adds, there are still units available and inventory
will be sold on a case-by-case basis.
Beyond the playoff games, Morningstar expects marketer
interest to increase as September rolls around and lots of "pennant chase"
games are televised. In addition, during the October playoff and World Series
month, MLB Network will be televising live pregame and postgame shows with a
lot of big name baseball talent on board.
"That will be an important sales month for the network,"