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ESPN Affiliates Strike NFL Paydirt

Cable operators generated about $141 million in advertising revenue during the 2003 National Football League season from selling local avails during ESPN's Sunday Night Football games, according to network estimates.

That's up 7% compared to the 2002 season, said Jeff Siegel, ESPN's vice president of affiliate ad sales, marketing and new business. While ESPN is eager to tout the dollars that its affiliates garner from football games, the network won't disclose how much ad revenue it generated from selling its national spot inventory, Siegel said.

Ratings for Sunday Night Football increased 7% during 2003, to a 7.7 household average.

Siegel said ESPN came up with the estimate of $141 million in local ad-sales revenue by calculating the value of the inventory cable operators are given during each football game. Operators generally get two minutes per hour during the Sunday night games, but ESPN offers more than two minutes per hour during some games, he said.

In addition to the $141 million in local ad sales revenue that ESPN estimates cable operators generated during the NFL's regular season, the network said operators generated about $38 million from participating in a promotion called "ESPN The House — Bring Football Home," which ran in October.

ESPN's contest offered to transform the home of a winning cable subscriber into the "ultimate ESPN football home," replete with a new 60-inch plasma HDTV, two leather chairs, four 15-inch flat panel TVs, a laptop computer, a DVD player, and other prizes.

ESPN said 412 affiliates reaching 62.8 million subscribers participated in the affiliate sales promotion. The network gave each affiliate customizable 30-second, cross-channel spots — 20 seconds of the promotions pitched "ESPN The House" contest, and the operators sold the remaining 10 seconds to advertisers.

"The $38 million is typically incremental advertising above and beyond what affiliates get for NFL inventory," Siegel said. Operators generated additional revenue by packaging local avails from other networks in ad deals for "ESPN The House" promotions, Siegel added.

A Charter Communications Inc. subscriber in Greenville, S.C., won "The House" promotion. ESPN reporter Kevin Frazier and a group of cheerleaders visited the subscriber's home to give him the televisions and other prices.

Dwight Ardoin, vice president of sales at Charter Media, said the South Carolina system saw a "modest" increase in local ad sales revenue from selling ESPN's Sunday Night Football inventory.

Charter generated additional revenue by selling the taggable spots for the "ESPN The House" promotion, Ardoin said. "It did very well, and we're pleased because we had the local winner," Ardoin added.