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MBPT Spotlight: NBC Sports Group's NHL Ad Sales Pacing 30% Ahead of Last Season

NBC Sports Group's NHL ad sales for the 2015-16 season are mirroring NFL ad sales in terms of pacing but at a lower revenue level, according to Seth Winter, executive VP, sales and marketing.

Fourth quarter ad avails for hockey on both NBC and cable network NBCSN are "exceptionally tight," Winter says, but first and second quarter ad avails, along with the Stanley Cup playoffs, are less tight.

NBC Sports Group will televise 105 NHL regular season games beginning with an opening night doubleheader on Oct. 7, featuring the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers at 7 p.m., followed by the San Jose Sharks meeting the Los Angeles Kings at 10 p.m.

"The amount of ad revenue we've already taken in is 30% higher than at the same point last season," Winter says. "I know it sounds like a broken record after our strong Premiere League and NFL ad sales, but we have been very fortunate with the popularity of the NHL telecasts among advertisers."

Much of the strong ad sales is the result of solid ratings the NHL telecasts produced on both the two networks last season. Although ad sales is just a fraction of overall NFL ratings and sales, the vast number of games telecast (compared to NFL's 17 Sunday Night Football games on NBC) through the Stanley Cup Finals, and the ability to reach young, upscale males, make NHL season-long buys a staple for many large advertisers.

Last season the combined NBC/NBCSN viewership for the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs averaged just over 1 million viewers. The playoff viewership averaged 1.7 million, while regular season averaged 491,000. Those numbers are up 79% for the combined regular season/Cup telecasts since NBC Sports began televising the NHL during the 2005-06 season. Regular season viewership over that period is up 73%, while playoff viewership is up 109%.  

Some of the reasons for that – NBC, along with the NHL, co-founded the outdoor, the New Year's Day Winter Classic game, which has drawn a strong national audience; started its Wednesday Night Rivalry telecasts which brings together many of the Original Six teams along with regional team rivalries, and began televising every playoff game nationally.

What has also helped viewership has been the strong seasons teams in major markets like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Boston have been having, Winter says.

Pricing is up by about 5% per ad unit for the coming season, Winter says, and the major advertisers from last year have returned.

"Major brands like Discover, Honda, Geico and McDonalds have been major supporters of NHL telecasts and will continue to be this season," he says.

Other major brands in this year's telecasts will include Samsung and Microsoft, Subway, Wendys, and Coors, as well as all the major autos – Ford, GM, Chrysler, Lexus and Mercedes, among others.

Winter says most of the ads are sold in season-long packages for both regular season and playoffs. "We sell each advertisers about two or three units in each game for the season, he says. "The demo for NHL is mostly male, with a strong concentration in the 35-45 age range with incomes in the $85,000 range.  Many are also tech savvy. So it's a desirable audience for marketers to target, especially luxury auto."

As for categories, strongest include auto, insurance, financial services and fast food. However, much like with the NFL, the fantasy sports category will be a major new entrant for the coming season.

"We are also finding that marketers, unlike for primetime entertainment programming where they are buying closer to air times, are wanting to commit earlier for NHL telecasts," Winter says. "Some are concerned about getting shut out. While we do have avails for first and second quarter and the playoffs, some marketers did get shut out late in the last season, so they want to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Last season was the second-most watched Stanley Cup Final ever and the third-most watched NHL post-season in the past 18 years. This season NBC will air 12 regular season games, while NBCSN will televise 93, and all games will be televised via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Bridgestone is back as presenting sponsor of the Jan. 1 NHL Winter Classic between the Montreal Canadians and Boston Bruins at 1 p.m. from Gillette Stadium, home of the Super Bowl champ New England Patriots.

NBC will also air the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, featuring the Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild on Sunday Feb. 21 from TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, and the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche at Coors Field, home of MLB's Colorado Rockies on Sunday, Feb. 27 in primetime.

The NHL All-Star Game will be televised on NBCSN on Sunday, Jan. 31, and Discover returns as title sponsor of the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown with a doubleheader on Black Friday beginning at 1 p.m. when the Boston Bruins host the New York Rangers. The 5 p.m. game will feature a rematch of the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and the Blackhawks.

NBC and NBCSN will combine to show a tripleheader on "Hockey Day in America," on Sunday Feb. 21, and NBCSN will televise 24 Wednesday Night Rivalry telecasts, that will include additional late night telecasts during six of those nights.

The Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues will each make 12 appearances across NBC and NBCSN and another four teams will appear 11 times. Every NHL team will appear at least once during the regular season.

NBC Sports also has the right under its TV deal with the NHL to add bonus games to the schedule during the season.

NBC's coverage begins on Friday, Nov. 27 at 1 p.m. with the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown game.

The 2015 Stanley Cup Final series on NBC and NBCSN averaged 5.55 million viewers, trailing only the 2013 Final, which averaged 5.75 million viewers. The total 88 games Stanley Cup playoffs across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA Network averaged 1.4 million viewers, making it the third-most watched in 18 years.

The 2014-15 regular season on NBC averaged 1.24 million viewers, up 9% from the previous regular season, excluding the outdoor games.

NBCSN averaged 349,000 viewers over 91 telecasts last season, second-best since NBC Sports Group acquired the NHL rights. The 24 exclusive Wednesday Night Rivalry telecasts averaged 565,000 viewers, up 1% from the previous season, and seven of the 10 most-watched NBCSN games last regular season were Wednesday Night Rivalry games.

Last season's NHL opening game on NBCSN between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins averaged 956,000 viewers, the most-watched cable season opener since 1993.