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Lots of innings left for post-season scramble

The rush among TV advertisers to Olympics gold has left plenty of inventory available for the this month's Major League Baseball playoffs.

As in any Summer Olympics post-season, the overall spot market is softer, particularly for baseball and other sports properties, according to TV and advertising executives. "There's a lot of baseball inventory, and there's still a market for baseball leading up to the week the playoffs begin," says independent sports consultant Neal Pilson.

That's because advertisers wait to see the playoff matchups before they place their ad bets, and hold off to get the best possible rates. "Baseball playoffs are not always the first to sell out," says Tom McGovern, senior vice president at Omnicom's Optimum Media Direction. "People play the market a little more and wait it out."

National Football League inventory hasn't seen the same softening effect from the Olympics dollar drain, according to McGovern.

But the combination of dollars dumped into NBC's $900 million Olympics ad coffer and the cost of baseball-playoff spots has taken the shine off of post-season diamond ad sales. Rates for 30-second spots in the league championship series range from $110,000 to $140,000, according to industry sources, who say World Series spots are going for as much as $300,000.

"Every Olympic year, the fourth quarter is a little bit soft, because the business is driven by the Olympics," says NBC spokesman Kevin Sullivan, who adds that NBC has "no serious concern" about its post-season baseball sales.

FOX TV executives declined comment on baseball playoff ad sales.

But there is no doubt that the Olympics is stealing some of the play from both networks' post-season sales efforts. "There are some sports dollars that are normally expressed that are no longer available for baseball or football," says John Rash, senior vice president for Campbell Mithun Esty.