NBC Aims High WithPremier League Sponsors

jlafayette@nbmedia.com | @jlafayette

NBC Sports figures it can kick up ratings for English Premier League soccer games, and it wants advertisers to pay for those higher numbers.

Despite what media buyers say is a 25%-50% price hike from what Fox and ESPN charged last year, several advertisers already have bought seven-figure sponsorship packages that span 380 live games and 600 hours of other Premier League programming that will be broadcast on NBC and Telemundo, televised on NBC Sports Network and other NBCUniversal cable channels and streamed through NBC Sports Live Extra.

Early sponsors include automakers General Motors, Chrysler and Land Rover; financial services companies such as Geico, Liberty Mutual and Morgan Stanley; brewer Anheuser- Busch; Burger King; EA Sports, which makes a soccer video game; and Sports Endeavors, an online sports equipment retailer.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg because we are working to establish the premium we believe the sport deserves. So some of our negotiations are a bit slower than we might have liked,” says Seth Winter, executive VP for ad sales and sales marketing at NBC Sports Group. “When all is said and done, you’ll see a very healthy cross-section of advertisers.”

NBCUniversal paid $250 million over three years for Premier League rights, a big jump from the $80 million Fox paid the past three years. The season began Aug. 17.

Paying for the Right Audience

While ratings won’t be huge to start, Winter has been telling advertisers that the Premier League’s audience profile will be similar to what the National Hockey League attracts: upscale young men. “It isn’t football,” he says, “but our clients have received this extraordinarily well. They believe in the audience, but they’re struggling with the premium that we put against it….We’ve accelerated the pricing that both ESPN and Fox had in the prior year.”

That means that even as the season starts, the games are not sold out. “We’re going to be very well-sold and we’re going to grow from there,” Winter says. NBC is betting on its ability to increase the Premier League’s audience by selling mainly one-year sponsorship deals. “We believe that in year two, we can have accelerated the sport so much from where it has been that we will start doing our multi-year deals probably in year two.”

Dave Campanelli, senior VP, national broadcast at Horizon Media, says that at a time when NBC, Fox and EPSN are involved in an arms race to pick off rights for their sports networks, the Premier League is that rare property with a potential upside.

“It has a long season from August through May,” Campanelli says. “That’s a lot of weeks on the air. That makes it attractive to advertisers who want to have that kind of prolonged exposure. It will have a bigger profile on NBC Sports Network than it did on Fox Soccer. They’re making it a crown jewel, so to speak, so we expect an uptick in ratings, with another World Cup cycle that usually boosts soccer.”

Winter says he’s looking to add two kinds of sponsors. Some are brands that advertise on other sports properties looking for male consumers. Others are less traditional TV advertisers that believe Premier League soccer is a good fit. Those advertisers would include international companies that sponsor the league and its teams in the U.K. and soccer endemics, such as makers of boots and other equipment.

One factor that might be on NBC’s side: the large number of executives with European background at marketers and ad agencies. “I think there’s an affinity for and knowledge of the Premier League amongst those folks that helps the perception of the sport in that community,” Winter says.

Most of the advertising time during the live matches will come pregame, postgame and during halftime. Unlike football, basketball and hockey, there are no TV timeouts and the clock continues to run. NBCU doesn’t plan to run commercials as part of a split-screen during the action, the way Fox and Turner do during NASCAR, and it doesn’t have rights to superimpose sponsor logos on the field during play.

“One of the things we always take pride in at NBC is a pristine production,” Winter says. “I’d rather have the right production that brings viewers in day after day, week after week.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.