Cox Goes Ga-Ga for Big Game

When fans hit the San Diego area this month for the National Football League's Super Bowl XXXVII, they will dial in their local ABC station for the big game.

But for all the surrounding hoopla, the place to be will be Cox Cable Channel 4.

The community channel will go "all Super Bowl, all the time" beginning Jan. 17, and won't drop the topic until 11 a.m. on Jan. 26, when ABC Sports begins its pre-game coverage.

This is not a new strategy for Cox Communications Inc., which serves 850,000 homes in the city and county. It programmed a mix of politics and tourist information in 1996 to inform delegates to the Republican National Convention, which the city hosted that year.

The Super Bowl was in San Diego just five years ago, and Channel 4 offered around-the-clock coverage then, too.

As a result, "we've got a great highlight tape," said Dan Novak, the system's vice president of programming and communications.

Ford, Benz ads

In fact, the Super Bowl host committee told the cable company that NFL officials watched Channel 4's coverage the last time out. San Diego's bid to host the 2003 game was bolstered by Cox's commitment to cover peripheral events, they said.

That highlight tape also helped attract advertisers for the local channel. The Southern California Ford Dealers group is a title sponsor, entitled to four minutes of advertising per hour, as well as space in the program credits. Other sponsors include Frito-Lay and Mercedes-Benz, said Novak, who added that a major beer distributor is also expected to buy time.

Advertisers are attracted to the topic, as well as the reach of the programming. For the duration of the Super Bowl coverage, San Diego's Channel 4 will be added to the Cox Cable line-up in its South Orange County cluster, plus hotels outside Cox San Diego's normal service area. As a result, the programming will have a potential audience of 1.2 million homes, Novak said.

The executive would not discuss how much marketers are paying for Super Bowl-related advertising, or disclose the budget for the intensive programming effort.

"Does it make good business sense? Yes," he said. "[We] have a front-and-center role in a high profile event."

Cox also will leverage the attention paid to the Super Bowl with an acquisition campaign preceding the game.

New subscribers to certain products will get tickets to the "NFL Experience," the interactive attraction the league installs in venues during the run-up to the title contest.

Cox also used this strategy for Super Bowl XXXII in 1998. Novak would not offer hard numbers, but said basic growth from December 1997 through January 1998 was the highest it had been in three years — gains he attributed to the Super Bowl campaign.

Program highlights

Plans call for two hours of live programming each day, from such venues as the NFL Experience, the city's Gaslamp District and outside Qualcomm Park, the venue for the game. That show, Super Bowl San Diego,
will cover all of the day's festivals, golf tournaments and other related events.

Manning the host chairs will be Dennis Morgigno, Matt Vasgersian, Jane Mitchell and Julie Foudy, a star of the Cox-operated San Diego Spirit Women's United Soccer Association team.

Other shows will feature interviews with local politicians and host committee members, as well as such sports stars as San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau. There will be one co-production, when Channel 4 teams with the local ABC affiliate, KGTV, to cover the biggest fireworks show in San Diego history on Jan. 25.