Ad revenue sellout levels for the regional sports networks’ Major League Baseball season telecasts, which began Sunday, are at 80% with cost-per-thousand pricing increases up 6% compared to last season.
Craig Sloan, executive VP of Home Team Sports, a division of Fox Sports Media Group, which sells the ads for the RSN telecasts for every MLB team in the U.S., says several national marketers are running ads for the first time, and many returners have boosted their ad investments over last season.
While he wouldn’t give specific spending levels of the newcomers, Sloan says Exxon, Choice Hotels, Snapple, Hankook Tires, TruGreen and King’s Hawaiian have all jumped in with ad investments of more than $1 million.
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Among the returning advertisers who increased their spending on RSN MLB telecasts this season are: State Farm, Volkswagen, Ford, Ace Hardware, AARP and pharmaceutical company ABVIE.
The top ad spenders overall across the RSNs this season include MillerCoors, Apple, T-Mobile, Taco Bell and USAA. T-Mobile and Taco Bell are official MLB sponsors.
Sloan says the 80% sellout level entering the season mirrors the sellout level of last season, although marketers have paid that average 6% increase. Ratings across the 29 RSNs were flat last season compared to 2015, but Sloan says flat is good in a TV marketplace where ratings for most programming is declining year after year. He also says that numbers can be considered solid since the ratings are for more than 4,000 televised MLB games across the 25 markets that the RSNs are located in.
Sloan adds that because each RSN televises nearly every local MLB team’s regular season games, Home Team Sports can hold more inventory back because at any point during the six-month season from April through September, marketers will be looking to come in with various seasonal or unanticipated campaigns.
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He says buying in the upfront is always best, however, because once the season begins in earnest and teams in various markets begin playing well, scatter prices can rise to be 30% to 40% higher than upfront prices.
Sloan says while there are some marketers who cut back on RSN spending, there are a “good amount” who moved ad dollars back into the RSN telecasts for this season, particularly in the past month as the content problems with YouTube and Google surfaced.
“Major League Baseball telecasts are a safe, family environment,” Sloan says. “There is not a much safer environment than professional baseball for advertisers.” And he adds that the passion fans show for their local teams with telecasts on night after night is also a motivator for marketers.
“We are not only getting sports dollars from these national advertisers, but we are also luring away some national primetime dollars.” Sloan says.
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Clients that buy all 29 markets get an aggregate rating guarantee for each night, similar to what CBS and Fox do when selling their Sunday NFL national ad packages – combine the ratings for all of their regional telecasts into one national ratings number.
Adam Schwartz, director of national broadcast for sports at Horizon Media, says a couple of his agency’s major clients – GEICO and Capital One–are big-time advertisers with the RSNs.
“I’m a believer in the RSNs,” Schwartz says, adding that Home Team Sports' handling of national ad sales for all 29 RSNs facilitates the one-stop shopping aspect for the agencies and clients.
“If you buy baseball, the RSNs are a great place to be because you reach a large audience in every market every night because they tune in to watch their home team,” he adds.
But Schwartz says while many clients are moving some dollars out of primetime entertainment and into sports, some are still hesitant about the RSNs because they see obstacles in ad tracking across the different local markets.
However, he says more traditionally non-sports advertiser clients are “poking around” RSNs and other sports. “More advertisers are beginning to experiment and kick the tires.”
The RSNs getting the most attention from advertisers include CSN Chicago, which televises the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Fox Sports Midwest, which televises the St. Louis Cardinals games, Fox Sports Kansas City (Royals) and NESN (Boston Red Sox).
“They were our Big Four in terms of advertiser demand, but other RSNs also drew significant interest,” Sloan says.
“The Cubs have put together a young player model that sets them up for success for years to come and gets the team attention,” he says. “They will be in contention for a while and marketers recognize that and want to be part of it.”
Sloan says CSN Chicago was second in household ratings for the Chicago market in primetime for the entire six month season. And that is competing locally against all the broadcast and cable entertainment programming in primetime as well as against ESPN. That’s impressive for a large market like Chicago.
In fact, 23 of the 29 RSNs ranked among the Top 5 in household ratings among all TV programming in their markets when their local games were televised head-to-head.
FS Kansas City (Royals) averaged a household rating of 11.4 last season, while FS Midwest (St. Louis Cards) averaged 8.56. All teams combined had a cumulative household rating of 3.04 in the 25 markets they were televised in.
Based on viewers, SNY, the RSN that televises the New York Mets, averaged 223,000 persons per telecast, followed by YES, home of the New York Yankees with 184,000; CSN Chicago, home of the Cubs telecasts with 172,000; NESN (Red Sox), 170,000 viewers; and FS Detroit (Tigers), 139,000 viewers.
It’s also important to point out that the Yankees games on YES were not televised on Comcast last season due to a carriage dispute, or the YES totals would have been even higher. That dispute has been settled and Comcast is carrying YES this season.
For the third year in a row, HTS is also selling advertising in most of the baseball stadiums via a partnership and sales alliance with Access Sports Media. National advertisers can reach fans during the live games through the Access Network, which has concourse screens set up in MLB Stadiums. The screens play live feeds during the games and pregame and marketers can buy ads between innings. And Access Sports Media viewership is measured by Nielsen.
Another important part of the HTS sales opportunities for marketers are highlight packages that it puts together to sell ads in and distribute to local newspaper and TV station websites in each market. The program was started last year. Each RSN produces the local game telecast and MLB cuts the game content into highlights from each night’s game. The packages are then distributed each night with HTS selling ads that run pre-roll and overlay during the highlights.
HTS is also rolling out live streaming of the local MLB game telecasts on the RSN websites. Last year it was beta-tested by a handful of RSNs but this season it is being expanded to about 24 or 25 markets.
Ads will be sold separately for the streamed telecasts each night. Advertisers can run in some or all of the markets, with the ads dynamically inserted. Advertisers who aren’t advertising in the TV telecasts can advertise in just the streaming telecasts.
HTS is also selling ads to run with branded RSN content on Facebook and Twitter, Sloan says. Content including player interviews and local analysis will be put together by the local RSNs and posted on Facebook and Twitter for users in each market. Sloan says the RSNs cumulatively have 5.5 million Facebook followers and 2.5 million Twitter followers.
Sloan is upbeat about the potential of streaming the RSN telecasts as a way to draw in new, younger viewers.
“Major League Baseball has had a big influx of new, young stars all under 25,” he says. “And that is drawing a younger fan base to watch the games. Streaming will help draw in those younger fans who are used to watching streaming events digitally.”
MLB last week also got a big boost from Band Keys, which the RSNs and national broadcast and cable networks who televise its games can use when selling ads.
The 25th annual survey of professional sports fan loyalty conducted by Brand Keys found Major League Baseball had moved into the top spot for the first time in 10 years.
MLB in this latest survey passed the NFL to move from second place to first.
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