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MBPT Spotlight: Last Year’s Uptick In MLB Postseason Viewership Has Marketers Flocking To Buy In This October

Postseason Major League Baseball is fast approaching and last year’s uptick in viewership is producing lots of activity at the networks televising the games this year—Fox, TBS, MLB Network and newcomer Fox Sports 1.

The addition of FS1 has shifted the dynamic of this year’s postseason ad sales—FS1 has no track record on which to base pricing and audience guarantees. As a result, some advertisers are choosing to bypass, taking a wait-and-see approach until a clearer viewing pattern is established. As a result, some have bought more Fox World Series units, which has tightened up inventory there.

But FS1 inventory is still tight as well. According to Neil Mulcahy, executive VP of Fox Sports ad sales, commercial time in the National League Divisional Series on FS1 is 90% sold and inventory for the National League Championship Series on FS1 is 87% sold out. World Series commercial inventory on Fox is about 82% sold, Mulcahy says.

Jon Diament, executive VP, Turner Sports ad sales says TBS postseason inventory is “virtually sold out.” Some of that has to do with TBS airing fewer games this season. Last fall, the network televised 23 postseason games. This season it is guaranteed 11 and can televise up to 18 depending on how long each series goes.

MLB Network, which is televising two National League Division Series games this year, is pacing well ahead of last year and has only a few commercial units left in each of those games.

Based on last year’s postseason viewership, the televising networks have a better story to tell this year as both the audience for the 2013 World Series along with the entire postseason was up double-digits.

Viewership of last year’s World Series telecasts on Fox, with the Boston Red Sox besting the St. Louis Cardinals in six games, averaged 14.9 million, up 17% compared to the previous Series. The entire MLB postseason game telecasts—from the wild card games through the World Series—on Fox, TBS and MLB Network averaged 6.3 million viewers, up 20% from the previous year, and the largest viewer increase since 2009. That 6.3 million viewership number is a little deceiving since many of the early round games are played with start times of between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and not during primetime.

Also, according to figures released by Nielsen SocialGuide, the 2013 World Series drew 4.3 million tweets, up 86% from the 2012 World Series and more than three times the number of tweets compared to the 2011 World Series.

Mulcahy would not discuss pricing but Fox, according to sources familiar with the situation, is getting around $500,000 per 30-second spot for the World Series games. Fox is only telecasting (potentially) two other postseason games outside of the World Series—NLCS Game 1 on Saturday Oct. 11 and if there is an NLCS Game 7, that one on Saturday October 18 with times to be determined.

The network, sources say, came up with an ad pricing schedule for FS1 based in part on the viewership of past postseason games on TBS and has inventory set aside for make-goods that can be used during each series if necessary. 

Mike Falco, VP of ad sales at Fox Sports says several of the official MLB sponsors have increased their postseason ad spending compared to last season, and Taco Bell, Bank of America and T-Mobile will have in-game enhancements throughout the postseason telecasts along with the traditional commercial time. General Motors returns to host the pregame and postgame show, while Anheuser-Busch has signed up Budweiser as the presenting sponsor of the NLDS and will also be a heavy advertiser in the telecasts.

Falco says top growth categories include technology and financial services. In the tech category, Apple, Samsung and Amazon will all be big postseason spenders, along with the Big 4 telcos—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. “Telco has really ramped up,” Falco says.

At TBS, Diament says in addition to tech and insurance, other strong postseason categories include auto, pharmaceuticals and beer/liquor. TBS is televising one of the two Wild Card games and Budweiser is the presenting sponsor of that game. T-Mobile is the presenting sponsor of the ALDS.

Diament says TBS is about 85% sold out of its postseason inventory and is deliberately holding some back for potential under-delivery. There are avails left for sale, however.

New advertisers in the TBS postseason telecasts include Hyundai, Sprint, Oberto, Supercell and Voya.

Demand For This Audience

Diament says demand is always there for postseason MLB not only because the telecasts are live and “DVR-proof,” but because the audience is an upscale one, more upscale than golf viewers. “The telecasts also draw a lot of fans who aren’t regular TV viewers which helps marketers get their message to harder-to-reach consumers,” Diament says.

October is also a month in which many marketers are beginning their holiday advertising. “Postseason baseball gives them several weeks of being able to present a continuous message to consumers,” Diament adds.

MLB Network is televising NLDS games on Saturday, Oct. 4 and on Monday, Oct. 6. Geico is back for the third consecutive year as presenting sponsor of those division series games.

MLB Network has also done some postseason sales deals for its regular network programing during October.

In a joint deal between MLB Network and MLB Advance Media, Chrysler will sponsor a “Keys to the Game” segment on the network the night prior to a next day’s game, and that Chrysler-branded content will then live on the next day leading up to the first pitch. There will also be a social media component.

To coincide with Sam Adams’ 30th anniversary, the beermaker and MLB Network have created a bracket-style promotion in which fans can vote via Twitter to choose the best World Series Championship team from the past 30 years.

Bacardi will return as presenting sponsor of MLB Tonight through the postseason and the U.S. Army will be the presenting sponsor of MLB Network’s Intentional Talk series during the postseason. The Army will also begin as presenting sponsor of MLB Network’s MLB Now show during the postseason and that sponsorship will continue into the offseason.

Liberty Mutual will begin a sponsorship of MLB Network’s High Heat with Christopher Russo during the postseason and that will run through August 2015.

MLB Network will also bring back an updated version of A Field of Dreamers that will air prior to both of its NLDS telecast. The segment brings current MLB players to life on the famous Field of Dreams baseball diamond using rotoscope technology.

The postseason starts with the American League Wild Card game on TBS on Tuesday Sept. 30. On Wednesday, Oct. 1, ESPN will televise its lone postseason game when it airs the National League Wild Card game.

The ALDS will air on TBS between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8, while the NLDS will air between Oct. 3 and Oct. 9, with games on both FS1 and MLB Network.

The ALCS on TBS begins on Friday, Oct. 10 and if all seven games are played, can run through Saturday, Oct. 19; the NLCS will be split between Fox and FS1. Fox gets the opening game on Oct. 11, FS1 gets games 2-5, Fox will televise Game 6 if the series goes that far, and FSI would televise Game 7 on Oct. 19.

The World Series begins on Fox on Tuesday, Oct. 21 and if all seven games are played, it will run through Wednesday, Oct. 29.

There have been some rumblings among media buyers about so many games airing on FS1 this season rather than Fox, but Mulcahy says that is part of Fox’s plan to develop and grow the viewership of the year-old all-sports cable network.

“This was part of the plan when we started the network,” Mulcahy says, “to get live major sports telecasts on FS1. This is what we promised advertisers we would do. And this is what we are doing.”