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MBPT Spotlight: RSN’s Ad Sales Strong As NBA, NHL Seasons Approach

Ad sales for the upcoming NBA and NHL seasons on the regional sports networks are as strong as they are at the national level with virtually all marketers who advertised during the 2012-13 season back for 2013-14 for coverage of both leagues.

Kyle Sherman, executive VP of Home Team Sports—which sells ads to national advertisers for the Fox RSNs, some of the Comcast RSNs, MSG and NESN—said 23 of the biggest NBA ad spenders are back so far this season, while 22 of the top 25 NHL advertisers have also returned.

Major NBA advertisers coming back include MillerCoors, KFC, Geico and AT&T. Taco Bell, which bought into the NBA telecasts toward the end of last season, has purchased inventory for the entire season this time around. Sherman says the auto category is very strong with big brands including General Motors and Kia.

One surprising new fourth-quarter advertiser for both NBA and NHL telecasts on RSNs is the federal government, which will be running informational ads about the Affordable Care Act, letting viewers know how to enroll.

Sherman says the government is planning to run ads in 28 states where the state governments have not allocated funds to promote the insurance exchanges. “The RSNs we represent are in about 23 of those states,” he says.

Sherman also said HTS is making more inroads into men’s healthcare products and is in discussions with both P&G and Unilever for potential brand deals in that category.

NBA ad inventory for the RSNs is between 70% and 80% sold out for the regular season at ad rates that are 5% to 7% higher than last season, and Sherman says sales revenue at this point is between 9% and 11% higher than last year at this point, about a month before the start of the season.

Post-NHL Lockout Challenges

Sellout levels for the NHL RSN telecasts, which begin Oct. 1, are in the 70% to 75% range for fourth quarter. Sherman said because of last season’s lockout, there were no fourth-quarter telecasts so comparisons can’t be made. But he said the HTS sales teams had to work hard to get advertisers who reallocated the fourth-quarter money they had earmarked to the NHL to come back this season with fourth-quarter NHL ad dollars.

Sherman said one of the sales tools his staff used to sell this season’s NBA ad inventory was a viewer engagement study that HTS commissioned Nielsen to conduct last April. It polled 9,800 TV viewers in eight local markets—Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa—about their viewing and engagement habits.

The survey found that home team fans are 60% more likely to buy an advertised product than the general TV viewer. It also found that home team fans are 1.7 times more likely to recommend a product and local sports viewers trust ads on home team telecasts twice as much as primetime entertainment TV viewers.

Some of the other questions and results include:

I trust the ads I see in:
Fox Sports Net NBA telecasts: 50%
Generic NBA Games: 32%
Primetime entertainment shows: 26%

I would rather buy a product featured in:
FSN NBA telecasts: 41%
Generic NBA Games: 24%
Primetime entertainment shows: 23%

I watch an entire NBA game:
FSN viewers: 36%
TNT viewers: 20%

I’m interested in the outcome of the NBA games:
FSN viewers: 72%
TNT viewers: 44%

The average annual income of the participants in the survey was $80,000.

Sherman said although there were a few questions in the survey about TNT, which televises NBA games nationally, HTS for the most part is not competitively selling against TNT or ESPN for NBA telecasts, or against NBC and NBCN for NHL telecasts.

“We are going after more of the ad dollars being spent on the entertainment networks in primetime,” Sherman says. “We are touting our highly engaged, loyal audiences, which generally skew much younger than the broadcast networks. While we are competing against TNT, ESPN and NBCN for ad dollars from national advertisers, we aren’t out there trashing them.”

What are the markets where the RSNs are getting the most NBA ad dollar interest? Not surprisingly, Sun Sports, which televises the world champion Miami Heat’s games, averaged a 7.1 household rating last season, up 10% from the previous season, and is at one of the highest sellout levels. Fox Sports Oklahoma, which televises the Oklahoma City Thunder games and averaged an 8.6 household rating last season, up 27%, is also well sold, as is Fox Sports Southwest, which televises the San Antonio Spurs games. The Spurs lost to the Heat in last season’s NBA Championship Finals.

Other RSNs with strong ad sales for the coming season include Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West, which televised the Los Angeles Clippers games; MSG, which televises the New York Knicks; and CSN Chicago, which airs the Chicago Bulls.

The regional sports networks that Home Team Sports represents have an overall demo breakdown of 69% male and 31% female for their NBA coverage, Sherman says, which is consistent with most sports telecasts.

For NHL ad sales, the most sold-out RSN is CSN Chicago, which televises the regular season games of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Other strongly sold RSNs include Fox Sports West, which televises the Los Angeles Kings games; Fox Sports Detroit, which airs Detroit Red Wings games; NESN, which televises the Boston Bruins; Fox Sports Midwest, which covers the St. Louis Blues; and MSG, which covers the New York Rangers.

Sherman says the NHL RSNs skew a little more heavily male than the NBA RSNs. He says the percentage is about 72% male vs. 28% female, with the exception being on ROOT Sports, which covers the Pittsburgh Penguins and has an audience breakdown of about 60% male and 40% female.

Sherman adds that the NHL audience is less ethnically diverse than the NBA audience and its median age viewer is also a few years younger.