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MBPT Spotlight: Despite MLB's Declining Postseason Viewership, Marketers Continue To Buy In

Last year's World Series, a San Francisco sweep of the Detroit Tigers, ranks among the least watched in baseball history, and is certainly the lowest in recent memory. The series averaged only 12.7 million viewers per game, down about 23% from the 2011 Fall Classic. And yet marketers are still buying into this year's Series to the tune of between $475,000 and $500,000 per 30-second spot, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

There is some cause for optimism among Fox execs and the network's myriad baseball advertisers this year. The network does televise the American League Championship Series this season, and right now, major market teams such as the Boston Red Sox, the Tigers, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees could be part of this year's World Series. So Fox ad packages for its postseason coverage could turn out to be an attractive buy, though ALCS ads continue to be pricey, selling for between $200,000 and $225,000 per 30-second spot, sources say.

Fox is looking for a climb from last year's National League Championship Series viewership numbers. (Fox and TBS alternate LCS games each year.) The 2012 NLCS on Fox was the lowest viewed Championship Series ever on a broadcast network, a drop of 9% from the ALCS televised on Fox in 2011. Granted, the seventh and final NLCS game on Fox last season did go head-to-head with both a presidential debate and an NFL game on ESPN, but it did draw only 8.1 million viewers.

Last season's low postseason viewer totals don't jibe with the rich prices marketers are now paying. Yet, according to Neal Mulcahy, executive VP of Fox Sports sales, Fox's MLB postseason inventory is about 80% sold with two weeks to go before the first games air.

So why all the action? There are several reasons.

First, last season's Series was a four-game sweep. Traditionally, the longer a series goes toward a full seven games, the larger the viewership gets. Last season's World Series Game 4 did average 15.5 million viewers, up from the 10.5 million that watched Game 3. And marketers are always optimistic that the Series will remain dramatic, competitive and a full seven games, like in 2011, when the Series averaged 16.6 million viewers.

Second, on a live ratings basis, the World Series still beat almost every scripted primetime entertainment show last year in the fourth quarter in households, adults 18-49, adults 18-34 and men in both the 18-34 and 18-49 demos. Last year's Series averaged a 3.7 adults 18-49 rating and a 3.2 adults 18-34 rating. In 2011, when the series went the full seven games, it averaged a 4.9 18-49 rating.

Third, the World Series also beat all entertainment shows in primetime among viewers in homes with incomes of $150,000 and among viewers with incomes of $200,000 who were watching live TV.

Fourth, much like with any professional sport, marketers like to run their commercials in front of live audiences, where there are no worries of fast-forwarding through ads.

"I feel good about where we are right now," Mulcahy says of Fox's postseason MLB ad sales. "All the MLB partners are in the games, including General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, MasterCard, Taco Bell, T-Mobile and Pepsi."

General Motors returns as sponsor of the League Championship Series and World Series pregame show sponsor.

An Early Start
Mulcahy says another reason for marketer interest in the MLB postseason is that they are starting their holiday advertising earlier.

"Marketers are no longer waiting until just before Thanksgiving to begin their campaigns," he says. "They are starting in October and postseason baseball is a perfect vehicle for them. It's live and gives their commercials immediacy for the viewers, and more women tend to watch postseason baseball, especially the World Series."

While Fox will televise up to seven ALCS games along with the World Series, Turner's TBS will televise up to 27 MLB postseason games, including the AL and NL Wild Card games; up to 18 Division Series games; and the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

TBS post-season coverage begins with the National League Wild Card game on Oct. 1 with the first AL Wild Card game on Oct. 2. Division series coverage begins on Oct. 3 and the NLCS starts on Oct. 11.

For Fox, the ALCS begins on Oct. 12 and the World Series starts on Oct. 23.

Last postseason, TBS, in an unusual situation, averaged 5.9 million viewers for its ALCS coverage, up 28% over the previous year; it was, however, also the least watched ALCS series ever. Contributing to that was two ALCS games played in the afternoon. Those games averaged 5.2 million viewers, while the two primetime games averaged 6.6 million. And much like Fox, the TBS postseason baseball telecasts drew more viewers and higher demo ratings than the general audience entertainment cable networks.

Jon Diament, executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales & marketing says TBS is pacing ahead of last year's postseason ad sales at this point. New advertisers include Joe's Crab Shack, Toyota, Volvo, Novartis and Midas. Strongest categories include auto, financial, QSR, beer and alcohol and telecom.

While Fox's new cable network Fox Sports 1 cannot televise any postseason MLB games under the current TV rights deal Fox has with MLB, under the new deal, which kicks in beginning next season, Fox Sports 1 will televise two Division Series games and a LCS game next year.

Mulcahy says Fox is open for business on those, and marketers can buy into those games anytime they're ready.