With the Major League Baseball telecast season set to begin
in earnest on Monday, ad sales for the baseball telecasts on regional sports
networks around the country are pacing double-digit percentages ahead of last
year, according to Kyle Sherman, executive VP of Home Team Sports, a division
of Fox Sports Media Group.
HTS sells advertising for RSN telecasts for every major
league team except the Toronto Blue Jays. Sherman says not only are ad sales
for the MLB telecasts pacing 15-20% ahead of last year at this time, but 24 of
the 25 largest advertisers on RSN MLB telecasts last year have returned to the
fold again. On top of that, major ad spenders such as Taco Bell, T-Mobile,
Chase, Procter & Gamble and Bridgestone-Firestone are among the new
marketers who have jumped heavily into the RSN baseball telecasts for this
While two-thirds of the RSN advertising for MLB is usually
sold prior to the start of the season, Sherman says the total ad inventory
already sold for this season is approaching 80%, although that number varies by
team and market.
Why are the RSNs so much in demand by marketers? According
to Nielsen data, 20 of the 29 RSNs for which HTS sells advertising beat ESPN in
local primetime household ratings last season. On top of that, nine of the RSNs
were the most-watched networks in primetime—including broadcast and cable
networks—in their local markets last baseball season.
Nielsen data shows that Fox Sports Detroit, home RSN for the
American League champion Detroit Tigers, averaged a 4.56 household rating in
that market, compared to ESPN's 1.07, a difference of 326%. On Root Sports
Pittsburgh, the household rating was 3.97, compared to ESPN's 0.95, a
difference of 318%. Fox Sports Ohio, which televises the Cincinnati Reds games,
had a rating of 4.28, compared to ESPN's 1.20, a 257% difference. And on Fox Sports
Midwest, which televises the St. Louis Cardinals games, the rating was 4.24,
compared to ESPN's 1.35, or a 239% difference.
RSN ratings for NESN in Boston, Comcast Sports Net in
Philadelphia, Fox Sports Wisconsin, CSN Bay Area, FS Southwest, Sun Sports,
Root Sports Northwest, MASN in the Baltimore/D.C. market and FS Arizona, all
scored significantly higher ratings for their local baseball telecasts than
Sherman says the ratings are so much higher for the RSNs
because the fans who watch their local teams every night are more passionate
and engaged during the season. And with each RSN carrying an average of 150
games of their local MLB teams, they get into the habit of watching nightly on
a consistent basis.
"Local fans have a deeper attachment to their teams and this
leads to higher engagement levels and more viewership," Sherman says.
That local passion and the accompanying numbers, Sherman
adds, have been the big driver in not only getting last season's biggest
advertisers to return, but also in securing a bunch of top-notch new
Some RSNs like those televising the Detroit Tigers,
Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants
are almost sold out for the season.
Among ad categories showing growth this season, according to
Sherman, are the already-strong auto category where Volkswagen and Audi have
significantly increased the ad spending. The consumer packaged goods category
has also shown some growth with P&G coming in toting brands such as Old
Spice and Head & Shoulders. Other categories with increased spending
include financial services, insurance and fast food.
The list of major advertisers that have returned from last
season includes AT&T, MillerCoors, Subway, Southwest Airlines, General
Motors, Burger King, Jiffy Lube, Supercuts, Wendy's, Geico, Pfizer, Jack in the
Box, Chili's, Southeast Toyota, Hyundai, CenturyLink, Combe Inc. and Sonic.
Sherman says a major selling point to marketers is that
while consumer viewing habits are fragmenting in entertainment programming,
that has not been the case in the local TV sports marketplace. Fans are still
attached to their local teams and with virtually every game televised, they can
easily get into the habit of watching almost every night.
Sherman adds that the loyalty the viewers show to their
teams also rubs off on their attitudes toward the advertisers who are in the
game telecasts every night.
"There is a fan base for the national sports telecasts but
most viewers are only passionate if their local teams are in those telecasts,"
Home Team Sports, he says, can put packages together where
advertisers can reach viewers of either one team's games or all 29 available
teams. He acknowledges that the cost-per-thousand ad rates for the RSN buys can
be more expensive than national buys, but he says reaching the targeted,
emotionally engaged local fans makes up for the difference in cost.
Another selling point for the RSNs, Sherman says, is that
there is more flexibility in the local markets to do different things with
sponsorships. He says in some markets the RSNs have run on-screen graphics
features during the games that are sponsored by a particular advertiser.
AT&T sponsors a viewer poll during games with the results shown later in
the telecast. MillerCoors sponsors on-screen features labeled the Cold Hard
Fox broadcast network televises both Saturday afternoon and
Saturday primetime MLB games and Sherman says Home Team Sports will work
together with the Fox Sports sales department to put packages together both on
the national and local levels. He said one such package was done for ADT.
Sherman adds that because advertisers on the RSN MLB
telecasts can reach a segment of viewers who might not be watching national
broadcast or cable TV entertainment programming on those nights, this has
become another selling point to make with marketers.
"This has enabled us to go after some broadcast
and cable TV entertainment programming dollars and to bring in some
non-traditional sports advertisers," he says.