Commercials in the World Series are virtually sold out at close to $500,000 a piece, up double digits from about $450,000, according to media buyers.
With strong support from automakers, both Fox Sports, which will broadcast the World Series and American League Championship Series, and Turner Sports, which will televise the National League Championship Series and the divisional playoffs, say post-season baseball was a speedy seller.
"Led by several categories, especially cars, MLB postseason has been solid for us. We're pacing well ahead of last year," says Neil Mulcahy, executive VP for sports sales at Fox. Fox has only a few spots available for the first four games of the World Series, up double-digits from a year ago. Fox has some units available in the "if necessary" games.
"The fourth quarter's been hot for all sports," adds Jon Diament, executive VP at Turner Sports, who says that he's sold virtually all the inventory in the baseball playoff games that can reasonably expected to be played. If more games are played, or there are extra innings or added pitching changes, more incremental inventory might be available in telecasts.
Turner also has some digital inventory remaining.
Adam Schwartz, associate media director for sports at Horizon Media, says post-season baseball sold earlier than usual because of uncertainty caused by the NFL labor situation. "I wouldn't say it was a tremendous bump, but certainly there was a little bit of advertiser interest just in case something didn't pan out for October." Some advertisers got a better deal by buying early, while others who waited might have paid more, he says.
Diament downplayed the football factor. "When advertisers sponsor baseball, they're doing it mostly for the merits of the sport, the high ratings, the engagement factor, the popularity of the sport, the players the teams. We didn't see a lot of NFL oriented advertisers switch over to baseball," he says. But some advertisers might have moved early to nail down their positions just in case football advertisers came into the market, he said.
Fox Sports said its top categories included cars, financials/insurance, movies, pharmaceutics, packaged goods, wireless and tablets. Official MLB sponsors including GM, Anheuser-Busch, State Farm, MasterCard and Taco Bell will all have a big presence.
Turner says it added Audi, Apple and Pfizer as new advertisers. Audi is also a sponsor, with on-air vignettes echoing its Achieving Greatness tagline.
GM's Chevrolet division also bought a new sponsorship package that gives it an in-game lower third in every game accompanied by an audio mention that will drive viewers to www.chevybaseball.com.
Captain Morgan is sponsoring a postgame show that will air online at Yahoo! MLB as well as on television.
Other sponsors with on-air integrations include Allstate, Avocados from Mexico, Goodyear, Fosters, Liberty Mutual, BMW, MasterCard, Transamerica, Nissan, Charles Schwab and State Farm.
"Baseball is one of the sports where you can have multiple in-game features," says Horizon Media's Schwartz. "It's easier to sell something into a client if I can say you're sponsoring the starting lineups or something like that rather than saying you have nothing but spots, because you are committing a good chunk of money and the more you commit, you want a little bit more for your money."
But Schwartz notes that "as an advertiser, do you wish it was a little bit less cluttered? Yeah, I probably do. But it's sort of the nature of baseball. It's not as clean as the NFL or an NCAA Tournament."
Ultimately it will be the team matchups and the competitiveness of the series that will determine how strong viewership is.
"We have the ALCS, with some potentially great markets including New York, Boston, Detroit and Dallas. The NL has some good markets involved too, which is a positive for the World Series. It's shaping up to be a very good postseason run," says Fox's Mulcahy.
"The story lines that come into it will determine how well it does. If you get a Yankees Red Sox ALCS that always does well. The Phillies have been a national team this year and have a very strong club. If they make it to the World Series versus the Yankees or the Red Sox, it could be very interesting in terms of ratings," Schwartz said. While the networks can't tell ad time in games 6 and 7 yet, "they always want it to go that far because that ends up being extra money for them. Those are always going to be the highest rated games too."
Baseball continues a hot spell for sports. "People are buying sports because it's a proven commodity that comes with a track record," Mulcahy says. "And it's live and virtually DVR-proof. The audience watches when the advertiser wants them to, which has tremendous value."
"The demand for sports that matter continues to overwhelm us," says Diament, added that the churn rate for sponsors is low. "Advertisers continue to come back for more and more of it."