As Pittsburgh rejoices over its sixth Super Bowl win, Cox’s NBC affiliate celebrates a month-long windfall in sales and promotion. Its broadcast of the game scored a 79 share locally.
After the Steelers’ last-minute Super Bowl victory, thousands of Pittsburghers danced in the streets. Chain stores opened at midnight to sell T-shirts. Schools opened late Monday morning. And at the station carrying the game, joy knows no bounds.
“When a station gets the Super Bowl in the same year their hometown team is in it, you can’t help but walk around with an ear-to-ear grin on your face!”
The man with the smile is Ray Carter, VP and GM of Cox’s WPXI, which has positioned itself as Pittsburgh’s Steelers station since the days when Rocky Bleier was anchoring their sportscasts. Now that connection is paying off big time, even in the midst of a recession.
“Our leading-up-to-the-big-day coverage gave a tremendous boost to our January revenue,” says Carter. “We will also exceed our forecast for February.”
Such happy circumstance would benefit any station — but this is my home town we’re talking about. The Steelers — and the family that owns them, the beloved Rooney clan — personify local pride and loyalty to a region that’s overcome industrial grime, the collapse of Big Steel and numerous local recessions. Steeler players are visible year-round at community and charity events. The fans return that fidelity with a devotion that transcends the game and borders on the spiritual.
“The Steelers are part of the local culture,” says WPXI Research Director Rose Eppich, a New York native who’s has lived in “the Burgh” for 15 years. “Our overnights for the Super Bowl were a 53.6 household rating and a 79 share.”
But the bigger story for WPXI lies in earlier figures. Eppich reports the household average for the first three weeks of January shows “a 7 percent increase in the morning news, a 38 percent boost at noon and a 20 percent gain with our 6-6:30 p.m. news.”
Although the 11 p.m. numbers are flat, she says, “we consider that a huge win because the 10:45 p.m. lead-in from NBC is down significantly from last year.”
Since the Steelers won the AFC Championship two weeks ago, Ray Carter has quarterbacked a strategy to monetize those news ratings — and to create as much new inventory as possible. “We extended our late newscast each night this week and sold spots and sponsorships and added local specials last Saturday in prime,” he says.
WPXI reporters and sports anchors, camping in Tampa for over a week, provided another hour of pre-game until NBC took over at noon. And a local post-game show delayed NBC’s special post-Super Bowl airing of The Office.
Carter declined to comment on the price of spots or sponsorships, but as of last Friday morning WPXI had only one Super Bowl spot left and only two spots available in all the ancillary local programming. One veteran local media buyer reports that local spots within the game “are going for somewhere north of $45,000 for a :30.”
In a normal economy, a station might use competition for Super Bowl sponsorships to lock advertisers into longer-term deals. Not these days, says Carter. “In this environment, we were very fortunate to have the game and sell it out.”
Instead, WPXI used the event to reinforce its connection to viewers, not to mention its status as Pittsburgh’s premiere Steelers station. “Almost all of our promo inventory is supporting the Steelers,” says Promotion Manager Michael Dickson, noting that the station has two station image promos premiering during local pre-game coverage.
The WPXI Web site boasted a Black and Gold Zone with a countdown clock to kickoff time and most every feature a Steelers fan could desire, except one. “Because of NFL rules, we can only display game footage for 24 hours,” Dickson says.
Instead, the online focus is the fans, with the station inviting viewers to post messages, upload videos or slideshows or compete in the Black and Gold Pet Photo Contest. Seriously. Last week, Web Manager Jim Durkin started driving to Tampa armed with a Flip Mino camera, a laptop and a Sprint 3G card. He’s been webcasting fan features ever since. Dickson estimates that wpxi.com has drawn an extra million page views in January “and that doesn’t count the people looking for school closings and forecasts during the recent bad weather.”
For GM Ray Carter, the greatest challenge has been “providing the massive scope of coverage necessary, but in a financially prudent way. Our sales and news staffs are excited about being part of something so big. They bust their tails every day so it’s great to see them rewarded with this opportunity.”
WPXI’s huge local share for the game is not surprising. After all, a poll by Visa revealed that over 70 percent of all Pittsburghers attended a Super Bowl party yesterday. Years ago, I remember glancing out the window during a friend’s Super Bowl party atop Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington and seeing not a single car or pedestrian downtown or on the Parkway. Heartwarming and eerie at the same time.
A final note on the Steelers. I smiled during Matt Lauer’s interview with President Obama, who abandoned political caution to cheer for the Steelers yesterday. It reminded me how I laughed last fall when pundits predicted that blue-collar Pittsburgh would reject a black presidential candidate. It’s been 30 years since the Immaculate Reception and white families are still naming their sons after their favorite Italian-African-American. Indeed, at last summer’s Democratic convention, one of the delegates supporting Obama was Franco Harris.
Got a story about an especially novel or successful local sales or marketing campaign? That’s what we feature every Monday here in Market Share by Arthur Greenwald. Write to Arthur at [email protected].