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MBPT Spotlight: Advertisers Flocking to RSNs for NHL, NBA Telecasts

Marketer spending in live sports telecasts continues to grow at the regional sports network level with Home Team Sports, which sells ads to national advertisers for the Fox RSNs, some of the Comcast RSNs, MSG and NESN, reporting ad inventory sellout levels expected to reach 80% by the start of the respected NBA and NHL seasons.

With the NHL season scheduled to begin on Oct. 7, RSN sales are pacing a few percentage points ahead of last season, which set an ad revenue record, according to Craig Sloan, executive VP of Home Team Sports.

“We are doing very well with our NHL ad sales, “ Sloan says, adding that two major sponsors – Dairy Queen as presenting sponsor of the season opening week and Volvo, presenting sponsor of the first round of the NHL playoffs – are both back. In addition to their weeklong sponsorships, they both have significant season-long ad spending commitments.

“Usually once brands find the NHL and run an ad schedule across the networks, they usually have a good experience and return,” Sloan says, adding that “last season our ratings story was a good one. It was the highest-rated season ever except for the strike-shortened season.”

Sloan said marketers paid an average 4% per ad unit price increase in the upfront, but says once the season gets underway, pricing usually jumps significantly depending on the RSN and team. Last season he said, in season pricing at one point reached as much as 30% more than the upfront. So it behooves advertisers to get in earlier rather than waiting.

MillerCoors is back in both the NHL and NBA, and newcomer Draft Kings, the fantasy sports website, is making a major investment in both NHL and NBA RSN coverage, much like it is doing in the NFL telecasts.

Other strong ad categories for the NHL telecasts include automotive and quick-serve restaurants. Sloan says the NHL draws lots of both millennials and upscale viewers, so there are some automakers targeting the younger fans with sportier cars, while others are going after the luxury car consumer.

Sloan says 9 NHL RSNs had double-digit ratings increases last season. Among the teams showing the largest ratings increases were MSG Plus (New York Islanders) with a 79% increase; FoxSports West (Los Angeles Kings), 43%; FS North (Minnesota Wild), 41%; MSG Plus (New Jersey Devils), 39%; Prime Ticket (Anaheim Ducks), 26%; and MSG (New York Rangers), 26%.

The highest rated NHL RSNs were Root Sports (Pittsburgh Penguins), 6.54 household rating; FS Midwest (St. Louis Blues), 4.92; NESN (Boston Bruins), 4.5; CSN Chicago (Chicago Blackhawks), 4.26; and FS North (Minnesota Wild), 4.2.

Sloan says ad sales for most of those higher rated RSNs from last season are strongest going into this season’s telecasts.

Another factor that is going to come into play once the NHL season begins, Sloan believes, is that the NHL’s two top draft picks – Connor McDavid on the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel on the Buffalo Sabres – have made their respective teams and the 18-year olds are expected to draw viewers as they play in the different markets.

NBA ad sales are pacing about the same as the NHL, even though the NBA opens its season three weeks later on Oct. 27 with a doubleheader on TNT. In those games the Cleveland Cavaliers will visit the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Pelicans will visit the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

A third game on Oct. 27, featuring the Detroit Pistons at the Atlanta Hawks, will be offered via NBA League pass, however the RSNs in those markets – FS South and FS Detroit – will also televise the game in their respective markets.

While the sellout level for NBA advertising is expected to be around 80%, same as NHL sales, Sloan says advertisers are paying slightly higher prices for NBA inventory, averaging price increases of about 4.5%. He anticipates scatter pricing to also be higher on a percentage basis over pricing than NHL sales. Sloan says NBA in season ad buys in scatter could reach 40% higher than upfront pricing, depending on when marketers make their buys.

In addition to MillerCoors, other major RSN NBA advertisers include Taco Bell, MetroPCS and KFC, who have all increased their investments, along with Armed Forces advertising from the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

NBA RSN markets showing the largest percentage increases last season were FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee Bucks), 308%; FS Ohio (Cleveland Cavaliers), 185%; FS South (Atlanta Hawks), 120%; CSN Chicago (Chicago Bulls), 55%; and Root Sports (Houston Rockets), 48%.

The Top 5 highest household rated NBA RSNs were FS Southwest (San Antonio Spurs), 8.36; FS Ohio (Cleveland Cavaliers), 7.94; FS Oklahoma (Oklahoma City Thunder), 7.2; Sun Sports (Miami Heat), 4.97; and CSN Chicago (Chicago Bulls), 4.71.

Sloan says 10 NBA RSNs ranked among the Top 5 channels in their respective markets in primetime household ratings from November 2014 through April 2015 this past season, finishing ahead of many of the entertainment broadcast and cable channels in those markets.

Home Team Sports is also selling ads in streaming NBA telecasts again that will be available on the websites of the local RSNs. And Sloan says the ratings from the streaming telecasts will be added together with the linear TV ratings.

“Last year we beta tested it, but this year we will have full distribution,” Sloan says.

Home Team Sports will also offer a “digital beyond streaming” package for advertisers that it describes as “surround the fan” or officially “HTS Rewind.” The daily package will include highlights from each of the previous night’s NBA telecasts and the video highlight package will be streamed across the RSN’s websites and also on the websites of local TV and radio stations and local sports websites.

Perform Group licenses the product through the NBA and handles distribution through a network of participants it set up and HTS sells ads that run around the video highlights package each day. Sloan says it’s another way that marketers can reach the fans beyond the linear game telecasts.