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Data, Analysis, Research Power Comcast SportsNet Sales

Ray Warren, chief revenue officer of Comcast SportsNet, spent 23 years on the media selling side-15 of those at Raycom Sports, where he rose to be president and CEO, and eight at ABC where he finished his stint there as VP, director of sales-followed by five years on the buying side in stints as president of Carat USA and managing director of OMD.

Warren jumped back to selling four years ago in his current post, where he is responsible for maximizing revenue from advertising and sponsorships across 12 regional sports TV networks. His stint has seen ad sales revenue at CSN grow by 50%.

Warren spoke to B&C contributing editor John Consoli about some of the programs he's implemented, and a potential synergy with new NBCUniversal siblings NBC Sports Network, NBC and The Golf Channel. An edited transcript follows.

Immediately before joining Comcast SportsNet you spent five years at two major media buying agencies. What philosophy did you bring with you?
Coming from the agency side of the business, I knew firsthand that a lot of clients want to know why they should buy a particular network beyond pure ratings. I've infused a research mentality into our local sports ad sales teams. I have gotten them to use qualitative research as a sales tool, instead of just using ratings. We use Simmons qualitative data and we work with a brand analysis and research company, Repucom, which uses technology to capture and measure onscreen logos and branding. Using Repucom data we can put a value on onscreen signage. We use a lot of billboards during our telecasts and during our pre- and post-game shows, so we can put a value on them and build it into the price of advertisers' commercial packages. This has allowed us to grow our ad revenues in the area of auto, financial and insurance, among others.

What is CSN's breakdown of locally-generated ad sales vs. national advertising?
I've stressed selling advertising to locally-owned businesses, to local colleges, hospitals and healthcare facilities that can promote the services they offer. As a result, we flipped the percentage of money taken in from national and local advertisers. When I first arrived four years ago, 55% of our ad revenue was from national advertisers and 45% was from local. Now it's reversed with 55% coming from local advertisers and 45% from national.

Have you grown CSN's digital ad revenue?
We were averaging about $200,000 for each [regional sports network] per month when I got here. Now we are up to about $1 million per RSN per month. Much of that has been accomplished by training our TV sales people to sell digital. In 2010, we hired David Fitzpatrick as our first VP of digital sales, and we also hired a digital sales manager for each RSN to oversee selling at each network. Every ad dollar we get from digital is add-on dollars to TV packages. For our clients, they are spending extra on digital, not taking ad dollars away from TV to put into digital.

What type of content do you have on your digital sites that ties into the TV telecasts?
We take our coverage of post-game interviews from TV after the telecast ends and put it on the Web and do an extra 30 minutes or so of streaming of interviews and we drive the TV viewers there as the TV telecast is signing off. We stream as much video as we can throughout the week on our RSN digital sites and promote it all on our TV shows. We sell different digital sponsorships, including page exclusivity.

What new national advertisers has CSN picked up recently?
In the last year or so, we've added advertisers like MillerCoors, Hyundai and Liberty Mutual on the national buy level across our RSNs. We have about 100 different national advertisers. Some buy all markets, some just a few.

Following Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal, Comcast's cable sports network Versus was renamed NBC Sports Network and it is being totally reprogrammed. Is there any synergy between the CSN and NSN?
Yes, we're plugged into NBC now. It's a four-legged stool: CSN, NBC, NBC Sports Network and the Golf Channel, which is also owned by NBCU. We are working closely with Seth Winter [executive VP, sales marketing for NBC Sports Group] to tie into ways to sell together. NBC and NBC Sports Network televise NHL games nationally and we televise them regionally. So, packages can be put together where advertisers can run nationally with regional and local activations. We are also working closely with Frank Comerford and the NBC-owned and operated stations. They have a lot of female viewers and we have a lot of male viewers. So we are looking for ways to tie the audiences together. NBC owns TV stations in five major markets where we have RSNs-New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, D.C. and San Francisco. But all this synergy with NBC is still a work in progress.

NBA and NHL viewership on the regional sports networks is often tied to the success of the local teams. What are some of the CSN's higher-rated team telecast ratings gains this season compared to last?
NHL household ratings on CSN California are up 56% for San Jose Sharks telecasts, CSN Philadelphia ratings for the Flyers are up 46% and the CSN Chicago ratings for the Blackhawks are up 18.2%. Those three networks have experienced the largest gains. The Flyers set their record all-time network ratings high on October 12 vs. the Vancouver Canucks with a 5.1, while the Blackhawks reached their second highest CSN rating ever on December 28 against the LA Kings with a 4.3. The NBA on CSN is also experiencing some positive gains with teams including the Philadelphia 76ers, up 73%, the Chicago Bulls, up 39%, and the Golden State Warriors, up 21%. After breaking their CSN viewership records last season, the Chicago Bulls have set three new all-time high CSN telecasts this season, the most recent an 8.7 household rating on January 25.

Major League Baseball coverage is also a large draw for regional sports networks. How did CSN do last season?
The 2011 MLB regular season on CSN saw the Philadelphia Phillies continue their record-setting season-to-season growth for the ninth straight year. The Phillies finished 2011 up 11% to a 9.1 household rating. Baseball ratings strengthened in the Bay Area as the San Francisco Giants grew 18% in San Francisco and 16% in Sacramento. Across the bay, the Oakland A's also grew their audience ratings 27%.

CSN will be launching another regional sports network in Houston this year. What is the timetable for that?
CSN Houston will launch in October 2012 and jump right in with coverage of the Houston Rockets' pre-season NBA games, and then we'll cover the team's entire NBA season. Then we'll televise the Houston Astros' live games beginning in 2013.

CSN doesn't televise NFL games, but do you monetize the NFL through ad sales?
We don't televise live games, but we do as much NFL shoulder programming as possible in all the NFL markets where we have RSNs. We do post-game shows for the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. We also televise about 15-20 Major League Soccer games per RSN market and do shoulder programming for the MLS.

Do you anticipate the siphoning off of ad dollars away from CSN by the growing number of TV networks being started by the various college sports conferences?
They are not really having much of an impact now because many of the best games in each of the major sports in those conferences are still committed to being televised on the national broadcast or cable networks.