The tough economy has cooled many companies' budgets, but Big Ten Network has managed to heat up some mid-winter ad deals for its basketball coverage.
Now in its sophomore season, Big Ten Network has inked a trio of media pacts, with sponsored elements for its men's and women's hoops action, which in the 2008-09 season will total 105 and 55 games, respectively.
Auto Owners Insurance is now sponsoring Big Ten Tip-Off Show, which airs Wednesday and Saturday, while hotelier Hampton is affixed to the Big Ten Tonight - The Finale, the post-game show for the men's contests. For its part, State Farm is the sponsor for the halftime show.
"State Farm has been a long-time supporter of most schools that make up the Big Ten Conference," said State Farm advertising director Ed Gold. "So advertising on the Big Ten Network is extension of what we do on the local level with the universities themselves and what we do from a national level based on our corporate partnership with the NCAA."
Roy Seinfeld senior vice advertising sales said the deals were finalized in recent weeks after the Big Ten tipped off intra-conference play. In addition to their sponsored components, the deals contain "significant" buys within the games. While not specifying the value of the deals, Seinfeld did note they were all in the "six figures. These added value components help marketers develop efficiencies for their media plans."
He noted that Hampton had a presence in the network's college football coverage, while Auto Owners and State Farm had joined its ad lineup for the first time through the basketball buys.
They're part of an an advertiser roster that includes Nissan, Infinity, Suzuki, Bass Pro Shops, Edward Jones, the U.S. Marine Corps, Solo, Champion, agricultural firm Cargill, restaurant chains Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Lobster, sandwich shop Jimmy Johns and RoTel, a division of ConAngra foods.
Overall, Seinfeld said the network has rung up "significant advertising increases" over its rookie year. Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said the service has already exceeded its ad goals for the fiscal year that ends June 30, with a number of factors driving the business.
"The distribution wars are over. We don't have to address that as part of the discussion any more," said Seinfeld, alluding to the network's rollout on Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Mediacom Communications, before the kickoff of the 2008 football season.
The result: Big Ten is currently available to some 70 million homes, counts 43 million subscribers nationwide and is in 43 of the top 50 DMAs.
The network's hybrid distribution format -- license fees are higher within the conference's eight-state footprint where the service is available on widely distributed packages and on sports tiers at lower fees outside that territory - also helps.
"State Farm is in Illinois, Auto Owners is in Michigan, Buffalo Wild Wings is in Minnesota. These are national companies, but they're headquartered locally," said Seinfeld. "They know first-hand the passion of Big 10 fans."
Silverman says the conference has the biggest alumni base in the nation and that, too, works to the network's advantage.
"You meet executives, ad buyers around the country. They know the strength of the Big Ten Conference and loyalty of its alumni," he said. "That can give us a leg up when we talk to clients."
In addition to buying time on the network, a number of sponsors, Buffalo Wild Wings, RoTel, Solo, Champion and Jimmy Johns, among them, have a presence on BigTennetwork.com.
Silverman also noted that Big Ten, which is streaming an additional 100 games this season, has attracted Infiniti, Jimmy Johns and RoTel, for pre-roll positions.
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