Viewership of most live TV sports has enjoyed a resurgence
over the past few years, with the welcome consequence of drawing more
advertisers to the fold. As primetime ratings drop, some advertisers are
looking for places to put that money in order to reach other high-spending
audiences. Once a primary way to target men, TV sports is now being watched by
more and more women, making it an even more desirable stop for mainstream
Francois Lee, senior VP, group client director at MediaVest,
handles video investment and activation for assorted clients including
Microsoft Xbox, Heineken, Sharp Electronics and TD Ameritrade. He has been with
MediaVest for 19 years and recently took some time to discuss the TV sports
marketplace from a media agency perspective.
How important is TV
sports advertising to clients who may not have been big spenders there in the
TV sports has always been relevant but I'm not surprised to see a
broader range of advertisers putting money into it. More clients are looking at
sports because it is one of the few places that you not only have live event
viewership but there are also the different types of technology that allows
viewers to watch on multiple platforms from everywhere. That live environment
offers advertisers a different proposition than scripted entertainment shows.
The live aspect is a major factor for many clients. There are fewer and fewer
places where there are live TV events of any kind, but sports does it on a
regular basis. There are no longer those water cooler conversation
shows on TV that lend themselves to people watching at night and then
talking about them to each other the next morning. Sports is unique in offering
that. And this is something we factor in when buying ads for our clients. We
look for high impact programming.
How does live TV
sports differ from primetime entertainment programming other than the live
aspect of sports?
There are similarities between sports programming and entertainment
programming in that they both offer a mass audience for advertisers. But if
today's marketers want to dig more deeply and fine-tune their buys, they can do
it through sports because each sport has some different viewer characteristics.
The NBA, for example, skews a bit younger. College football skews a bit older
and more affluent. The NFL has a closer percentage of men and women watching. A
lot depends on a client's budget level and who they want to reach. But much
like primetime, which has sitcoms, dramas and reality shows that draw different
types of viewers, there are many kinds of live sports that reach different
types of viewers.
impression of Fox's move to make Saturday night a night of all live sports
through the remainder of the year?
As a buyer, I always welcome more selection, more diversity in types of
programming. We welcome more networks in the space. The more ratings points,
the better the pricing can be. More competition gives the buying side more
leverage. And it's especially good on a night when viewing on broadcast has
been low. It can bring in more viewers.
How have clients
reacted to the new Fox Saturday sports programming?
It's a little early to tell. The upfront for sports is still going on and
conversations are still being had. Fox has a lot of sports properties beyond
Saturday night, so most of the deals that are done for Saturday I'm sure are
going to be part of bigger Fox Sports package conversations.
Fox is including
UFC-mixed martial arts-events as part of its Saturday night lineup from time to
time. Is that a sport that can work on broadcast or is it more of a cable
UFC is a recognized professional sport so there is nothing objectionable
about making it part of the Saturday night lineup on Fox. The ratings for the
UFC telecasts on FX [Fox's sister cable network] are doing well and audiences
are watching there, so why not put it on broadcast? There may be some
advertisers who might not want to be in it, but there are many advertisers who
are in the weekly wrestling shows on cable. I haven't heard any outcry from
clients that they would stay away because it is violent. It is a league with
rules like any other sport.
Why is college
football so popular with advertisers and seemingly sells quickly in the sports
College football on the broadcast side has been somewhat limited in the
number of telecasts, so with limited supply, advertisers want to make sure they
get in. That might change a little with Fox coming in with a Saturday
night schedule of games. More supply will eventually affect the marketplace.
The college football audience is a little older but extremely passionate and a
little more financially upscale, so it is attractive to certain categories of
advertisers. It is also cheaper than NFL inventory.
Does it matter to
clients today whether sports programming is on the traditionally mass audience
broadcast networks or on cable networks?
Sports viewers are pretty savvy. They will find the games they want to
watch. You saw that during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament when some of
the games were on truTV and got good viewership. Plus, the perception
between broadcast and cable as sports venues has changed. ESPN is cable, but
there really is no distinction in the viewers' mind between Sunday Night Football on NBC and Monday Night Football on ESPN. And that
has even extended into entertainment programming. Many original series on cable
are drawing as many viewers as the broadcast network series. If you have good
content, viewers will find it and the advertisers will follow. Advertisers
follow good content and good content draws more viewers.
Where do NFL sales
stand for the upcoming season?
Well, talks are ongoing so it's hard to comment. The NFL market is moving,
but slower than last year. That's because the NFL negotiations usually follow a
similar pattern to the broadcast primetime upfront and are also based on the
perceptions of the marketplace. Last year was a bullish market and NFL selling
was almost done before the broadcast upfront was. There was a rush of demand.
This year, much like the broadcast upfront, the NFL negotiations are following
a more orderly pattern. Deals are getting done, but there is not the rush there
was like last year.
How important are
the Olympic telecasts to advertisers?
The Olympics are different for every advertiser. But the deals most of the
major advertisers negotiate are not just two-week spot and dot commercial
deals. The major advertisers are not only buying time in the telecasts but also
many other different types of activations that can begin well before the games
and extend beyond TV. Advertisers can get ring rights [the right to use
the Olympic logo in all of their ads] from the International Olympic Committee
and the U.S. Olympic Committee at different levels of sponsorship. And if they
get those Olympic marks, they are going to want to use them as much as
possible. So they are going to do special creative tied into the Olympics and
that process can begin as much as a year before the actual games are telecast.
The motivation is different for every client. There are so many attributes of
the Olympics that advertisers can tie into, so the aspects of the campaigns can