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Buyers See Value Play in MLB Commercials

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Despite lower ratings, baseball is maintaining its hold on advertisers, who are familiar with the game and are drawn to sports, where live viewing means commercials are more likely to be seen when they air.

“I don’t see advertisers moving away from baseball. It’s still a valuable place for them to be,” said Miraj Parikh, VP, media director at media agency Spark.

Baseball advertising negotiations might have gotten off to an earlier start this season because of uncertainty over the National Hockey League lockout. “Some agencies may have been shifting dollars to MLB or maybe the NBA,” Parikh said.

With hundreds of games and several networks broadcasting nationally, baseball is an efficient buy. “In the second quarter, the NBA and NHL have moved on to the playoffs, so you’re looking at regular-season baseball being a value versus those sports,” Parikh added.

According to SQAD’s NetCosts, a spot on Fox’s Game of the Week averaged about $38,500 last season ($70,500 when the games aired in primetime). Spots on ESPN averaged $19,500, while units on the MLB Network could be had for $2,300.

While the upfront market for baseball is still in the early innings, the networks know they will get significant buys from MLB’s corporate sponsors. Among those expected to buy the most TV inventory are Chevrolet, Anheuser-Busch, T-Mobile, Taco Bell and MasterCard. T-Mobile, new to the MLB lineup, will be the presenting sponsor of Wednesday Night Baseball on ESPN. Advertisers have also already bought baseball as part of multisport deals with ESPN. “We are still very early in the cycle, but we are seeing a strong marketplace for both in-game and studio inventory,” ESPN said in a statement.

“We have very high expectations,” said Len Daniels, COO of Turner Sports. Having signed a new long-term deal with MLB, Daniels said Turner will be taking a like-minded approach to building the franchise.

“We are going to be innovative,” he said. “We’re going to promote it. We’re going to market it. As long as we keep our focus on the game and keep an eye on the production and enhance everything we’re doing, it will grow itself. Everything is cyclical, and baseball is certainly a sport we believe is going to keep growing over the years.”

Given the increased distribution and—starting last season—more playoff games, MLB Network’s viewership has been growing. And ad revenue has been up 40% for the past two years.

“When you get more critical mass, it tends to slow down a bit. But if the ratings keep going up, the dollars will follow,” said Bill Morningstar, executive VP for ad sales at MLB Network.

Baseball offers many opportunities for sponsorship activity, and Morningstar said that MLB Network is finding creative ways to partner with advertisers. “We have a lot of new partners coming in and some returning advertisers that we’re doing some new and exciting things with,” he said. “We like to be a network where advertisers try new things.”