Even with a labor dispute that resulted in a shortened
schedule that didn't start until Christmas Day, last season was as much a
winner for the NBA and its TV partners as it was for LeBron James and his
champion Miami Heat.
Now the NBA is ready to fast-break into another season, in
which the league hopes to see its momentum carry it through a fourth quarter in
the TV business that has some ad industry insiders concerned. And perhaps like
that of the new-look Los Angeles Lakers competing for an NBA title, many on
Madison Avenue like the league's chances.
"It's the power of live sports. The lockout did not affect
them," Kevin Collins, senior VP, director of national broadcast for media
agency Initiative, says of the NBA. Collins notes that in a DVR era, televised
sports-and the commercials that support them-are more likely to be watched live
than most other programming, especially by the target audience of young men.
The NBA's momentum kept up through last spring's upfront,
when ESPN/ABC Sports and Turner Broadcasting sold a portion of their basketball
inventory. While it's difficult to make comparisons because of last year's
lockout, Collins says NBA sales appear to be ahead, with the nets getting
moderate CPM increases. But there may have been a shift since the upfront
because "the fourth quarter is a little soft," Collins adds.
"They certainly have a great product, but at least in the
fourth quarter, they're up against a lot of other sports properties with
increased programming hours," says Sam Sussman, senior VP and director at
Starcom. "You've got more live NFL this year than they've ever sold against.
You've got more live college football. And you've got a market that [is not]
very robust or highly active."
The NHL lockout might mean a few extra dollars for the NBA,
but most hockey advertisers already buy the NBA, so that's not exactly a slam
Will it be tough for the networks to sell commercials in NBA
games before bigger-ticket items like the All-Star Game, playoffs and finals
"Business is really strong," says Jon Diament, executive VP
for ad sales and marketing at Turner Sports. "We didn't have a fourth quarter
last year so it's really an apples-to-oranges comparison, but we will be up
this year. And compared to two years ago, we'll be way over double-digit. So
there's a tremendous amount of growth. We're seeing a lot of our existing
advertiser base grow, and we're introducing new advertisers as well."
While it's too early for fourth-quarter games to be sold out,
"we have a lot of stuff brewing. A lot of big sponsorships are on the table
that we're excited about," Diament adds.
Turner also sells advertising on NBA TV and NBA.com. Diament says 75% of TNT NBA advertisers also buy
an extender. "Advertisers know that if you're going to reach a fan, it's not
just during the live game, but before the game, after the game, during the
analysis, whether it's on traditional TV or mobile," he says.
Sponsors for the NBA on TNT include Autotrader.com, which presents tip-offs on TNT and NBA TV;
Sprint, which presents halftime; and Hyundai, which presents postgame and Inside
the NBA. New advertisers on both channels include Sony Playstation and
Philips Electronics. The Marines will be presenting sponsor for "Game Break" on
TNT telecasts. Hot categories include autos, telecom, beer/wine/ spirits,
food/restaurants and retail. NBA TV's new advertisers include Boston Beer,
Sonic and Western Union.
"The NBA continues to be a valuable property for us, and
demand remains strong," ESPN says in a statement "We have new sponsors on board
and several returning, including Kia, Toyota and Taco Bell."
Last year, TNT had its highest-rated, most-viewed season in
the 28 years it has worked with the NBA. Viewers were up 4%, men 18-34 were up
16%. ESPN tied its best season ever in viewers during the regular season; its
playoff games were the best ever, up 25%. The Finals on ABC were up 5% in
viewers, the most-watched since 2004.
Media buyers expect more of the same this year. "We expect
for this season to start off where last season ended," says Starcom's Sussman.
"There were a ton of trades in the offseason, which is good
for TV ratings," says Initiative's Collins. And the team that might have helped
itself most by acquiring All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash is the Los
Angeles Lakers, a team that often drives viewership. "In a perfect world, what
does the NBA want, what does Turner want, what does ESPN and ABC want? For the
Lakers and Miami to be in the Finals this year," Collins says.
And with the move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, there
could be a second attractive team in the big New York market, Collins adds.
But last year's shortened season meant that the top teams
appeared in a higher proportion of national games than normal, Sussman
cautions. Nevertheless, he sees moderate viewership growth as the season moves