MBPT Spotlight: NBA’s TV Partners Say Ad Sales Pacing Ahead Of Last Season

With the NBA season ready to tip off six nights from now, the league’s TV partner networks say they are pacing ahead of last season’s ad sales, with TNT saying it has sold more inventory at this point than it has since it began televising NBA games 30 years ago.

“All indications are this will be the best ad sales season for the NBA we’ve ever had,” says Jon Diament, executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales & marketing. Diament says fourth-quarter NBA in-game commercial inventory is about 80% sold (up from 75% at this point last season) for telecasts on TNT and NBA TV. Turner sells advertising for both.

And while he would not talk about sellout percentage, Ed Erhardt, president, ESPN global customer marketing and sales confirms sales for NBA telecasts on ESPN and ABC are running ahead of last season.

Both Turner and ESPN have also sold a significant amount of advertising across their digital platforms that carry NBA-related content, with each saying that marketers investing in the TV telecasts are also spending on digital.

“We sell the NBA as a multiscreen buy,” Erhardt says. “We don’t just sell the NBA TV telecasts, but all of our digital assets as well, including ESPN online and mobile. We offer good quality video on our digital platforms that drives usage and enables us to monetize it.”

Erhardt adds that for the month of September, ESPN’s digital platforms had 94 million unique viewers, compared to 85 million in August and 75 million in July, when the network televised the World Cup.

All ESPN NBA games will be available on computers, smartphones, tablets, Xbox, Fire TV and Apple TV via WatchESPN.

Diament says his sales force integrates advertising on NBA.com and NBA League Pass with its selling of NBA TV and the NBA on TNT.

It’s not like the NBA’s ratings from last season are driving marketers into the telecasts, but more that the NBA audience includes younger, harder-to-reach men—and women.

Last season, ESPN’s regular season games averaged 1.7 million viewers, while the games on TNT, which airs exclusive Thursday night NBA doubleheaders, averaged 1.9 million. Both were down slightly from the 2012-13 season when ESPN averaged 1.8 million viewers and TNT averaged 2 million.

Last season’s viewership on ABC—not including the NBA Finals—was down considerably. ABC averaged 3.6 million viewers for the regular season, compared to 4.7 million for the 2012-13 season, a decline of about 26%. However, the NBA Finals on ABC averaged 15.5 million viewers per telecast, up from 15.1 million in the 2012-13 season.

But the league did lose two of its biggest stars for the season due to injury—Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose—and both play in large TV markets—Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively.

However, marketers seem to be flocking to the NBA this season for more than just ratings comparisons. It’s a way to consistently reach a live audience of viewers that most likely are not watching primetime broadcast TV or maybe not even nightly cable.

“Our NBA telecasts offer primetime advertisers a chance to reach a sizable number of millennials from fourth quarter through second quarter,” Diament says. “We offer strong 18-34 ratings and our Thursday night game telecasts consistently win that demo on the night. Many marketers also want to advertise on Thursday nights to reach consumers before the weekends.”

Erhardt says the ESPN telecasts not only draw millennials but also other 18-49 adults not watching broadcast primetime, including multicultural consumers and an audience that is upscale.

What’s helping drive more dollars to the NBA telecasts on the national networks has been the movement of free agent players, such as LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Miami Heat, and him being joined there by Kevin Love, who left the Minnesota Timberwolves to play alongside James. Lots of off-season publicity keeps the league in the news, stokes fan interest during the off-season and ratchets up excitement for the start of the season.

This season’s NBA All-Star Game is also being played at New York’s Madison Square Garden in February and that means lots of events and sponsorship avails in a major market, which gets marketers more excited than usual. And, TNT televises the All-Star weekend events with Spanish bank BBVA Compass the title sponsor of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 13 and State Farm the title sponsor of the Saturday, Feb. 14 All-Star Saturday Night competitions.

Diament says in addition to the major NBA sponsors that include Anheuser-Busch, State Farm, Gatorade, Sprint, Samsung, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Kia, McDonald’s, Pepsi and Geico, who buy advertising across the season, fourth quarter ad sales have been heavier than usual in categories such as movies, gaming and technology.

Diament adds that over 90% of the NBA advertisers on TNT will also have a presence on NBA TV and on NBA.com. New NBA advertisers on TNT and NBA TV include Pizza Hut and United Airlines.

Erhardt says ESPN has signed up new NBA advertisers in categories such as hotels, insurance and delivery services, the latter being a category that has been heavy in NFL telecasts but is growing its ad spending in the NBA.

Harman International recently signed a multiyear marketing and merchandising partnership with the NBA for its JBL brand, making it the official headphone, speaker and audio partner of the league. Erhardt says JBL will be a major sponsor of the NBA Christmas Day tripleheader on ESPN and ABC. ESPN will televise a game at noon between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks and then ABC will open its season coverage of the NBA with a 2:30 p.m. game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, and a 5 p.m. game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, which will feature LeBron James’ return to his former team. JBL will also sponsor music performances during NBA All-Star Saturday Night.

TNT will also air two games on Christmas night—an 8 p.m. contest between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers and a 10:30 p.m. game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.

TNT tips off the NBA regular season with an opening night doubleheader on Tuesday, Oct. 28, featuring the Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks at 8 p.m., with the second game at 10:30 p.m. between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets. A special one-hour TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com beginning at 7 p.m. will feature coverage of the Spurs team members receiving their championship rings.

TNT will televise a 53-game regular season schedule including 19 Thursday night doubleheaders and featuring 10 appearances by the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. ESPN will televise 75 games, including 34 doubleheaders, with 10 appearances by the Cavaliers, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and the Portland Trailblazers. NBA TV will televise 97 regular season games and ABC will televise 15.

Kia will sponsor the TNT opening week of telecasts under the moniker Kia NBA Tip-Off ‘14. TNT’s studio show will be part of a day-long on-site attraction in New York City on Oct. 28 open to the public and sponsored by 2K and Samsung Galaxy. Beginning at 10 a.m., there will be fan events in Times Square and there will be autograph signings by NBA legend players and retired New York Knicks players, along with entertainment performances. There will be a Samsung Galaxy-branded basketball court, an NBA 2K15 gaming lounge, NBA Game Time app demo areas, an NBA on TNT social media vending machine, Samsung Galaxy Experience, and a video board where fans can watch the NBA on TNT pre-game and half-time shows and the post-game Inside the NBA presented by Kia show.

Samsung will also sponsor an hour-long opening week special to air in Cleveland titled NBA on TNTComing Home Thursday presented by Samsung Galaxy Note 4 that will feature a musical performance by Kendrick Lamar and a fan viewing party held outside the Cavaliers Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night Oct. 30.

And Samsung will sponsor the NBA on TNT Coming Home Concert microsite, presented by Samsung Galaxy Note 4, on NBA.com and NBA Mobile. The microsite will include live streaming of select songs during the Kendrick Lamar concert, a curated music playlist, behind-the-scenes video and a social conversation mosaic.

Samsung also returns as the season-long sponsor of The NBA Style digital platform, as well as the fourth quarter sponsor of TNT Overtime.

Sprint returns as season-long presenting sponsor of the Halftime Report on both NBA on TNT and on NBA TV, as well as sponsor of Fan Nigh on NBA TV.

Kia will be the season-long sponsor of Inside the NBA Presented by Kia on TNT, as well as sponsor of all Inside the NBA content on NBA.com.

AutoTrader.com, which recently renewed a multiyear partnership with the NBA and Turner Sports will continue to have a significant presence across TNT and NBA TV broadcasts throughout the NBA season beginning with opening night. It will continue its role as presenting sponsor of NBA on TNT Premiere Week presented by Autotrader.com, TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com, and all NBA TV pregame shows. Overall, AutoTrader.com will partner with TNT and NBA TV to provide sponsorship elements to more than 200 combined NBA games during the season, including programming during the regular season, NBA All-Star weekend and NBA playoffs.

AutoTrader.com and Turner Sports are also teaming up to produce a new linear TV and digital series titled Celebrating 10 Years. The series will offer a nostalgic look back at some of the best moments of the past 10 seasons of TNT NBA Tipoff presented by AutoTrader.com. The moments will live on a dedicated section of NBA.com, along with other offers presented by AutoTrader.com.

Marketers who are not official NBA sponsors and who have not already bought into the ESPN, TNT and NBA TV coverage still have opportunities to do so, particularly beyond fourth quarter.

Diament says there are still All-Star Game weekend avails, including in the game, and while a “significant amount” of commercial time has been sold for the playoffs as part of season-long packages, there are still plenty of avails during what is an eight-months-long season.

Erhardt says there will be an influx of calendar year advertisers beginning in first quarter, adding that interest in remaining playoff inventory usually heats up around March when marketers can start to visualize what teams will be advancing.

Erhardt says movie advertisers are traditionally among the biggest spenders in ESPN and ABC’s May and June NBA coverage as they begin promoting summer launches. He says while any movie company can buy commercial time in any of the playoff games, ESPN and ABC sell exclusivity to one movie company per round, which enables it to run special promotions and get integrations in the telecasts.