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Media Buyers:NBA Could GetA Bounce

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A season that started with concern about games being missed because of a lockout has turned into a strong one for the NBA, helped by strong ratings and, yes, a dose of Linsanity in New York, media buyers say.

The NBA was in the middle of nowhere until a settlement with the players’ union ended the lockout. Still, the cancellation of games in last year’s fourth quarter, along with concerns that the labor problem would let the air out of the season, led some marketers to take their NBA ad dollars off the court. (Both Disney, parent of ESPN, and Time Warner, parent of Turner Broadcasting, said the lockout hurt fourth-quarter ad revenue.)

“Some [dollars] went to the NCAA, some went to the NFL,” said Gibbs Haljun, managing director for media investments at media agency MEC. “It is relatively easy to replace GRPs [gross ratings points] in December, and even to a certain extent in January. It’s a lot harder to replace those in the playoffs, when you start coming around to May or June.”

With ratings up despite the lockout and emerging stars on the court including Jeremy Lin, Derek Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers generating more interest, Haljun expects that whatever basketball money was held back by sponsors waiting to see how the NBA recovered will return to the market. Prices for spots in the scatter market are up from last year in the mid-to-high single-digit range, he said.

Maureen Bosetti, executive VP for national broadcast at Optimedia, noted that with ratings up, the networks have a bigger supply of NBA ratings points to sell during the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. She also estimates that ESPN and ABC, which will air the NBA Finals, are about 60%-70% sold at this point, which is normal for this time in the season.

On the other hand, marketers in categories that buy sports, including autos, retailers, financial services and the movie studios, appear to be spending. “They want to be in those big games and those big events that people are watching,” Bosetti said. “I think they’re posed to do well, but I think they have to be reasonable in pricing, given that ratings are up.”