NBC Sports figures it can kick up ratings for English Premier League
soccer games, and it wants advertisers to pay for those higher numbers.
Despite what media buyers say
is a 25%-50% price hike from
what Fox and ESPN charged
last year, several advertisers
already have bought seven-figure
sponsorship packages that span
380 live games and 600 hours of
other Premier League programming
that will be broadcast on NBC and
Telemundo, televised on NBC Sports Network
and other NBCUniversal cable channels and
streamed through NBC Sports Live Extra.
Early sponsors include automakers General
Motors, Chrysler and Land Rover; financial
services companies such as Geico, Liberty
Mutual and Morgan Stanley; brewer Anheuser-Busch; Burger King; EA Sports, which
makes a soccer video game; and Sports Endeavors,
an online sports equipment retailer.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg because
we are working to establish the
premium we believe the sport deserves.
So some of our negotiations
are a bit slower than we might have
liked,” says Seth Winter, executive
VP for ad sales and sales marketing
at NBC Sports Group. “When all
is said and done, you’ll see a very
healthy cross-section of advertisers.”
NBCUniversal paid $250 million over three
years for Premier League rights, a big jump
from the $80 million Fox paid the past three
years. The season began Aug. 17.
Paying for the Right Audience
While ratings won’t be huge to start, Winter
has been telling advertisers that the Premier
League’s audience profile will be similar to
what the National Hockey League attracts:
upscale young men. “It isn’t football,” he says,
“but our clients have received this extraordinarily
well. They believe in the audience, but
they’re struggling with the premium that we
put against it….We’ve accelerated the pricing
that both ESPN and Fox had in the prior year.”
That means that even as the season starts,
the games are not sold out. “We’re going to
be very well-sold and we’re going to grow
from there,” Winter says. NBC is betting on
its ability to increase the Premier League’s
audience by selling mainly one-year sponsorship
deals. “We believe that in year two, we
can have accelerated the sport so much from
where it has been that we will start doing our
multi-year deals probably in year two.”
Dave Campanelli, senior VP, national
broadcast at Horizon Media, says that at
a time when NBC, Fox and EPSN are involved
in an arms race to pick off rights for
their sports networks, the Premier League is
that rare property with a potential upside.
“It has a long season from August through
May,” Campanelli says. “That’s a lot of
weeks on the air. That makes it attractive to
advertisers who want to have that kind of
prolonged exposure. It will have a bigger
profile on NBC Sports Network than it did
on Fox Soccer. They’re making it a crown
jewel, so to speak, so we expect an uptick in
ratings, with another World Cup cycle that
usually boosts soccer.”
Winter says he’s looking to add two kinds
of sponsors. Some are brands that advertise
on other sports properties looking for male
consumers. Others are less traditional TV
advertisers that believe Premier League
soccer is a good fit. Those advertisers would
include international companies that sponsor
the league and its teams in the U.K. and
soccer endemics, such as makers of boots
and other equipment.
One factor that might be on NBC’s
side: the large number of executives with
European background at marketers and ad
agencies. “I think there’s an affinity for and
knowledge of the Premier League amongst
those folks that helps the perception of the
sport in that community,” Winter says.
Most of the advertising time during the live
matches will come pregame, postgame and
during halftime. Unlike football, basketball and
hockey, there are no TV timeouts and the clock
continues to run. NBCU doesn’t plan to run
commercials as part of a split-screen during the
action, the way Fox and Turner do during
NASCAR, and it doesn’t have rights to superimpose
sponsor logos on the field during play.
“One of the things we always take pride in
at NBC is a pristine production,” Winter says.
“I’d rather have the right production that brings
viewers in day after day, week after week.”
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