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MBPT Spotlight: Regional Sports Net MLB Ad Sales Should Reach 75% Sellout Level By Opening Day

Ad sales for the regional sports networks’ upcoming season baseball telecasts are expected to reach a 75% sellout level by opening day, with cost-per-thousand unit pricing up mid- to upper-single-digit percentages over last season.

Craig Sloan, senior VP of Home Team Sports (HTS), a division of Fox Sports Media Group which sells advertising for RSN telecasts for every MLB team except the Toronto Blue Jays, says overall sales are about on par with last season, but that’s after three consecutive years of double-digit increases.

“A lot of money continues to flow in as we get closer to opening day,” Sloan says. “While we’re not showing the large percentage of year-to-year growth we did over the past few years, we are still very bullish and MLB at the regional sports network level is poised to have another strong ratings year this season.”

Sloan says over the past three seasons an average of 22 of the top 25 advertisers on the national level have returned each year with most back again this season. HTS sells advertising for each regional sports net, but also sells assorted national packages that allow marketers to buy multiple markets.

New national advertisers for the upcoming season include Jaguar, New Amsterdam Vodka, Super Cuts and Chevrolet. The automaker is an official MLB partner but is advertising for the first time on the RSNs this season. Another official MLB partner, T-Mobile has also increased its national ad spending across the RSNs, as has Honda.

Other major advertisers who’ve bought national packages include Geico, AT&T U-verse, Wendy’s, Coors Light, Southwest Airlines and Bridgestone-Firestone.

Since each RSN televises close to 150 games, it is nearly impossible to sell out every ad unit in every market prior to the start of the season, but some RSNs are pulling in more advertising than others.

“There have been lots of trades and players changing teams due to free agency, so that leads to changing fan interest in different markets and could result in a spike in ratings for some RSNs once the season starts,” says Sloan.

Sloan adds that some RSNs are strong ad draws every year, despite the records or position in the standings of the teams the previous year. Others do well based on the previous season’s record.

Among the RSN’s getting higher demand for their ad units are NESN (home of the Boston Red Sox), FS Midwest (St. Louis Cardinals), FS Detroit (Detroit Tigers) and Fox Sports South (Atlanta Braves). Sloan says the San Diego Padres, which made several trades during the off-season and changed the face of its team, is getting more advertiser interest on its RSN Fox Sports San Diego. One other RSN whose teams did not fare that well last season is also selling well so far—Comcast Sports Net Chicago, which televises the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs games.

One big data stat that HTS uses in selling both its regional and national ad units is that 11 teams’ RSNs last season had the highest-rated and most-viewed local programming in primetime against both broadcast and cable programming. Those markets include Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco and Phoenix (Arizona Diamondbacks). Another six teams ranked in the top three—Cincinnati, Tampa, Minneapolis (Twins), New York (YES which covers the Yankees), Atlanta and San Diego. And two networks that weren’t among those Top 11 during primetime—the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers—were both televised on RSNs that were not fully distributed in their markets.

The most-watched RSN last season was Fox Sports Detroit, which averaged an 8.58 household rating per telecast. Among household ratings, ranking behind Fox Sports Detroit were ROOT Sports Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh Pirates) at an 8.49; Fox Sports Midwest (St. Louis Cardinals), 8.23; Fox Sports Kansas City (Kansas City Royals), 7.25; SportsTime Ohio (Cleveland Indians), 6.68; MASN/MASN2 (Baltimore Orioles), 6.25; Fox Sports Wisconsin (Milwaukee Brewers, 5.8; Root Sports Seattle (Seattle Mariners), 5.71; CSN Bay Area (San Francisco Giants, 4.86; and NESN (Boston Red Sox), 4.85.

Tops in households last season were: YES (New York Yankees) with 254,000 households per telecast; Fox Sports Detroit at 159,000; SNY (New York Mets) with 130,000; CSN Bay Area at 122,000; NESN’s 118,000; Fox Sports West at 107,000; Root Sports Seattle’s 106,000; Fox Sports Midwest with 103,000; Root Sports Pittsburgh’s 100,000; and Sports Time Ohio, with 99,000.

HTS is also relying on one other big sales tool—data results from a SmithGeiger study conducted in a dozen MLB markets among RSN viewers. One stat finds that home team fans are nearly twice as likely to watch an entire game on their RSN than when they watch a generic out-of-market game on ESPN. Another finds that RSN fans are 2.7 times more likely than primetime viewers to feel loyalty to a brand whose commercials they see during a game telecast.

HTS last season entered into a partnership and sales alliance with Access Sports Media, under which HTS sells advertising in more than 50 professional sports stadiums and arenas. That arrangement continues this season.

National advertisers will be able to reach fans during live sporting events through the Access Network of over 20,000 concourse screens in MLB and NFL stadiums, and in NBA and NHL arenas. The screens play live feeds during the games and pregame; in-game and advertising between innings is also available. So marketers advertising on the RSN TV telecasts and on the RNS websites also have the option of running ads inside the MLB baseball stadiums.

Access Sports Media network is measured by Nielsen and according to HTS generates more than 370 million impressions annually, reaching over 70 million fans per year.

Sloan says the amount of marketer interest in including Access Sports Media advertising in ad buys has increased for this coming season. “More agencies and their clients are looking for video opportunities outside of the traditional TV commercials,” Sloan says. “They want to reach the fans every way they can.”