Post-Season Baseball A Hit With Advertisers
With two tiebreaker games Monday, post-season baseball got off to an unexpectedly early start and buoyed the hopes of Fox and TBS for an exciting and profitable October marked by seven-game series and deep runs by major market teams.
The two networks aren’t talking dollars, but they say they have sold about 90% of their inventory for their planned telecasts, more than they had at this point last year, with modest rate increases.
“Baseball is in a bit of a renaissance,” says Mark Evans, SVP at Fox Sports Media Group. “Young stars are emerging on teams in major cities and that has drawn interest among advertisers and helped our upfront.
“We try to package our regular season baseball with the All-Star Game, post-season and World Series. More advertisers wanted to get their money down earlier and some new advertisers came in, in addition to MLB sponsors who tend to buy season-long packages.”
The World Series is not what it used to be — nothing is in television — but it is still a major TV event. The last two series in 2016 and 2017 drew an average 22.8 million and 18.7 million viewers, respectively. That’s more than just about any regular season broadcast network TV series.
In addition to the Series, Fox, along with its cable network FS1, is televising the National League Divisional Series and the National League Championship Series. TBS is televising one of the two Wild Card games (ESPN has the other), along with the ALDS and ALCS.
Fox and its advertisers suffered a setback last night. The Chicago Cubs were knocked out of the playoffs, losing the NL Wild Card game to the Colorado Rockies 2-1 in extra innings. That 22.8 million average viewership of the World Series in 2016, the highest since 2004, was due in part to the participation of the beloved team from TV’s third largest market.
While Fox sold much of its baseball inventory in the summer upfront, TBS, which also televises Sunday afternoon MLB games during the regular season, started slowly, media buyers say.
Without the All-Star Game and World Series to motivate advertisers to buy post-season packages early on, TBS had to wait a bit until the likely American League post-season teams emerged.
But in the last several weeks agencies began buying up TBS’s post-season inventory as it became certain that the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and defending World Series champion Houston Astros would be participating.
“The MLB post-season is shaping up to be a good one and we are excited about the potential matchups on the AL side that we’ll be presenting on TBS,” says Jon Diament, EVP, Turner Sports Ad Sales.
“We are pleased with the marketplace response, being close to sell-out, though we always hold back opportunities as matchups shape up and additional interest comes in during each playoff series.”
Adam Schwartz, director of national broadcast, sports media, at Horizon Media, who represents major MLB advertiser GEICO, says: “The MLB post-season in general is still in high demand by advertisers. You get a live mass audience and you reach more women and more casual fans. And if you luck out with the matchups, you can even get some over-delivery.”
Meanwhile, the networks, wise to the possibility of over-delivery in a high interest series that goes to the maximum number of games, will hold some inventory back.
For the World Series, Fox will sell-out the first five games but then hold back some inventory for potential games six and seven.
With the last two World Series going the full seven games, Fox’s EVP of Sports Sales Neil Mulcahy says “it’s a smart bet for advertisers to buy more in the upfront.”
Mulcahy says Fox has been getting mid-single-digit increases over last year for its post-season packages, but once those series begin, if viewership is up, the remaining inventory that was held back could be sold at much higher prices.
Both Fox and TBS, while not identifying new advertisers in this year’s MLB post-season telecasts, say the tech category has seen significant increases. Fox also cites financial.
“The tech category is definitely emerging, and we expect an additional sponsor from that category to come on board,” says Turner’s Diament.
On TBS, Hankook Tires is presenting sponsor of the AL Wildcard Game, T-Mobile is presenting sponsor of the ALDS, while Chrysler Pacifica is presenting sponsor of the MLB Postseason Pre-Game Show.
Doosan returns as presenting sponsor of the NLDS on Fox and YouTube TV is back as presenting sponsor of the World Series.
Old Camping World was presenting sponsor last year. It will continue to advertise during the NLCS but not as presenting sponsor.
T-Mobile will also return with its sponsorship of Home Runs for Hurricane Relief.
TBS has an assortment of other on-screen sponsors during its ALDS and ALCS telecasts. They include: GEICO (Game Summary); Hankook (Batting Order); Progressive (TBS Total Motion); Supercuts (Ready to Go Moment); CAT (Do the Work); Chrysler Pacifica (Playmakers); Jaquar/Land Rover (Art of Performance); Amazon (Stat Cast); Mitel (Replay Review); La Quinta (B/R Branded Content); Capital One (Inside the Booth); and Jim Beam (Family Traditions in Studio Show and Player History in-game).
Neither Fox nor TBS will air any six-second commercials during the Divisional or Championship Series telecasts. However, Fox is planning to return six-second commercials to this year’s World Series telecast. Fox also has some other on-screen ad enhancements in the works.
While network officials would not discuss ad rates for the playoffs and World Series, media buyers say Fox is getting about $500,000 per 30-second spot, although that could be less for some major advertisers.
NLDS units on Fox are selling for about $100,000 per :30, while NLCS units are going for about $150,000, buyers say. Divisional Series units on FS1 and TBS are selling for about $60,000 per unit, while Championship Series units are selling for about $100,000.
ESPN was the other network on the field in October, although only briefly. Sources at ESPN say the network got double-digit price increases for the Cubs-Rockies Wild Card matchup last night and the two tiebreakers on Monday. Ads for the tiebreakers sold for about $15,000 per :30, according to buyers.
The World Series is where the big ad bucks are. Each game on Fox averages about 85-90 commercial units, with the number fluctuating based on pitching changes. At $500,000 per spot, that means that a seven-game World Series could bring in at least $300 million to Fox for the commercials alone, in addition to presenting sponsorships and on-screen ad enhancements.
While MLB telecasts have the oldest median age of the four major sports, 57, compared to the NFL (50), NHL (49) and NBA (42), the World Series is still a major desired destination for some of the biggest spending advertisers.
The largest ad spenders on Fox’s World Series telecast last year, according to iSpot.tv estimates were: T-Mobile ($11.1 million); Chevrolet ($9.6 million); YouTube TV ($9.4 million); GEICO ($9.4 million); Indeed ($7 million); Progressive ($6.5 million); Ford ($6 million); Lincoln ($6 million); and Taco Bell ($5.8 million).
Biggest spenders on the ALCS on Fox last year included: Hankook ($1.3 million); Taco Bell ($1.3 million); GEICO ($1.2 million); State Farm ($1 million); Bank of America ($977,000); Google Phones ($912,000); Lincoln ($893,000); MasterCard ($829,000); T-Mobile ($828,000); and Apple iPhone ($760,000).
One media buyer says despite the higher median age during the regular season, post-season baseball viewers get younger overall and many of the advertisers offer products that appeal to younger viewers.
Fast food chains, mobile phone companies, auto makers and auto insurance companies, beer makers and credit card companies have an interest in reaching millennials.
And many of them have an interest in the World Series. And there is a likelihood that more millennials will be drawn in because there are more of them living in cities that root for teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sam Yardley, who oversees the North America business for Two Circles, the data-driven sports marketing agency owned by WPP’s Group M, says: “The World Series is a culturally significant event. People will pay attention to the World Series in a way they won’t on a daily basis during the season.
“There are advertisers who want to reach audience at scale, and live TV sports events like the World Series are the best way to do it,” Yardley says. “I’m still bullish on Major League Baseball.”